Carbon Neutral for a Day

  1. Click here: http://oneday.brighterplanet.com/users/4833/passes/public/WVT-S62
  2. Put in your name and email. You are magically carbon neutral for a day (and by magically, I mean that Brighter Planet will donate an average day's worth of carbon offsets in your name)!
  3. Pay it forward.
(The link is good for the first five people to click it.)


You can't rush art (or a French meal)

Nearly six hours ago, I sat down to lunch with about 25 French people, most of them related to my host dad, to celebrate Papy Claude's 80th birthday. After singing Happy Birthday - in English (apparently it's très à la mode) - we started the meal. First came the champagne and hors d'oeuvres (which aren't called hors d'oeuvres in French, as far as I can tell), then the cold salmon and white wine. That lasted maybe an hour. Then a break for collective singing of a 20+ verse song one of Papy Claude's sons had rewritten detailing his life story, which took easily 15 minutes to sing. Then came the main course (filet of duck with potatoes and green beans) and the red wine (I bowed out of the alcohol at that point - I'm not French enough yet), bringing us to the two-and-a-half hour mark or so. A pause for conversation, then cheese and salad (and more wine, of course - it was flowing freely at this point). Then more champagne with the cake...and chocolate, and cookies, and fruit. Four hours. Coffee and tea - at this point I was just sitting back and admiring the eating prowess of the people around me - four and three quarters. Christelle and I left to go pick up Nico from rugby practice and came back to find that the 60-and-up crowd had left...and the rest of the adults had pumped up the dance music and were bringing out more wine. We're at the six hour mark and they're still partying it up downstairs. I cannot but admire the sheer amount of energy they still have after the marathon meal. I'm not sure even the lengthiest Thanksgiving/Christmas/Easter dinners I've had at home could rival it. Personally, I'm exhausted, but well-fed and relaxed and quite ready to admit that the French may have something here with this cultural tradition. (Though in light of the dance music, my dissertation isn't looking like getting written tonight. :P)


Daily Bread

This weekend was the regional retreat for GBU, which was a lot of fun and very much like any other church retreat I've ever been on - very little sleep, not nearly enough showers for the number of people (really, churches should know better by now, they host these things all the time), lots of singing and Bible study and silly games (biblical trivia = excellent, except that all the names are different in French, which tends to be a problem). The biggest difference was that I have never spent that much time on meals at a youth retreat. I know I've already mentioned the sanctity of food in French culture, but really now. The buffet line is apparently just not something that's done. Even with 30-odd college students, we still set the table for every meal and laid out all the food in serving dishes. Thankfully we stopped just short of having one person serve everyone (which would have taken forever), though the curious resistance of the French to the serve-yourself mentality produced some hiccups in the dish-passing, with some people attempting to serve everyone around them as well. Really, I find it quite charming, it's just so different. The fare was pretty typical for big groups - spaghetti bolognese, grilled cheese sandwiches (albeit in the elaborated French version of croque-monsieur), rice and sausage and vegetables. And all quite excellent. No disasters like the infamous burnt scrambled eggs from one UM ARMY trip in high school. All in all, I think I like the food culture here. Just in case I wasn't already aware of that.

Also, another thing that is Just Not Done here: eating in cars. We left Friday night around 7:30 (or 19:30, if you prefer), for a three/four hour drive, so obviously there was eating to be done in the meantime. There were bags of sandwich-makings in the car, and our group was the last to depart, so I figured we would eat on the road. No. The other two cars stopped and waited for us at a Shell station (I was amused that they exist here too), and we went inside, sat down at a table, made sandwiches, and spent a good 45 minutes having dinner. You just can't rush these people with their food. Later in the weekend, discussing this curiosity with Christelle, I remarked that obviously there exist French people who eat in their cars, given the presence of the McDonald's drive-through. Oh no, she said, giving me a half-shocked, half-amused look, that's not what drive-throughs are for here. People pick up their food and take it home to eat. I mean, okay, so car culture isn't as big here - I haven't met anybody yet who lives in their car the way my family does at home (the minivan is more or less an extension of my mom's purse) - but still. On occasion, while doing errands, a hamburger in the car is not all that bizarre a concept. Except that yes, here it is. Vive les différences culturelles, I suppose.


Overview of Life

I have been shamefully neglectful of this blog of late. For a brief overview of the past week-ish:

  • Church Sunday + meal after church = finally the kind of political interest I had been waiting for all week. Only nearly nobody was excited that Obama had been elected, given my church's extremely evangelical tendencies and the number of conservative American ex-pats it attracts. And during a crowded/noisy lunch with far too many people to have a real discussion is not the time to be practically alone in one's political/social convictions, especially if one lacks the necessary vocabulary to explain them adequately. And if one is being lectured to more than discussed with by overconfident French people. It was not ideal. Also, the French have the somewhat unfounded idea that they are not at all racist merely because they don't have the same history of slavery as America. In fact, France doesn't seem to be terribly diverse, and the Asians/Maghrebins/other people belonging to minorities I talked to in my church disagree quite strongly. So I did not appreciate being lectured about how the French are so open-minded in comparison to Americans when, excuse me, who just elected a black president?
  • For your general-interest (well, if your general interests comprehend linguistics) reading: Verlan, a French slang formed by inverting words. It's pretty cool and basically American English sucks because we don't have any linguistically interesting argots that anyone actually uses. Also interesting: Louchébem, which is remarkably similar to Pig Latin, and Javanais, which is sort of like a language game in English whose infix I can't actually remember. (For all three articles, if you read French, check out the French versions - they're more complete.)
  • Quote of the evening from dinner after yesterday's Bible study, while trying to explain Thanksgiving: "So it's kind of like a Bar Mitzvah?"
  • This weekend: retreat with aforementioned Bible study group, at some church in Orléans, with all the other GBUs (Groupes bibliques universitaires) in the region. Which should be very fun, even though it will take three and a half hours to get there by car because we'll be taking the routes nationales, because apparently all the actually efficient highways are really expensive toll roads. Hurrah.


Christmas Morning

Mommy, mommy, there's a new president in my stocking! ...Sorry, I'm a little giddy. It's so weird being the only one awake and caring here in my house. I'm really hoping for some more excitement when I get to school today. I also have to say I'm pretty impressed by the mostly-classy concession speech from McCain. It was genuine (except maybe the part where he called Sarah Palin an exceptional running-mate...) and whatever else you can say about him, he is not short on love for his country. Unfortunately, judging from the booing from the crowd when he talked about how the American people had chosen Obama over him, his supporters' hierarchy is more like McCain and then America. And Obama's victory speech...well, he could have said pretty much anything, people were so excited, but he sure is good at the powerful delivery. That man was born to be an orator. I know it's cheesy, but I'm so proud of my country today. How much people cared about this election, how many people voted, and yes, it's really cool that this election broke down the historic racial barrier, though I wish people (ahem, McCain) would stop talking about it like that's the most important aspect of Obama's being elected. I know the U.S.'s issues didn't disappear overnight, but I feel like I no longer have to be on the defensive about my nationality over here. I'm severely disappointed that I don't have an "I Voted" sticker to wear today, but it doesn't change the fact that I helped elect this president (well, technically I didn't, actually, as my state's electoral votes went to McCain, but in spirit...). And that is a happy, hopeful, exciting thought. Now, back to regularly scheduled living.


Stuff French People Like

  • IKEA. In a serious way. A new one opened in Tours a few days ago - an hour and a bit away from Poitiers - and I decided to go with my host parents on Monday morning, because I've never actually been to an IKEA. It was less like a shopping center and more like some bizarre home-decorating-themed amusement park. It was absolutely massive, and absolutely packed. There were probably 20 cash registers, and each one had an hour-long wait. At the café upstairs, equally massive lines. Even at the mini-café/fast food counter downstairs, Bruno must have waited 20 minutes for our sandwiches (still beating Brenda, of course, who was stuck in the check-out line). Fast food is quite the novelty for French people. They have McDonald's (which is not cheap here; also, they sell beer - ah, cultural differences) and a chain called Quick, but that's literally about it. IKEA's version is set up very much like an American fast food restaurant, with self-serve soda fountains - something that is practically unheard of over here. The soda is all off-brand, and the food is along the lines of McDonald's, but people were flocking to it like mad.
  • The dining experience. Not just the food, but the rituals that go with it. Sit-down family dinners are a fact of life; we always set the table (no serving from the stove or fetching your own dishes); someone (usually Brenda) always dishes everyone's plates. And there is always, always cheese after dinner. When we were in Sarlat last weekend at the antique market, the vendors had brought their lunches with them, but there was none of the sandwiches and paper plates business that would have showed up at an American incarnation of this sort of affair. They had folding tables (some of them had brought tablecloths), real dishes and cutlery, wine glasses and bottles of wine. Ice chests held entire pork roasts and salads. And obviously you can't forget the baguettes. A lot of stereotypes of French culture that I'd read about have turned out to be outmoded, possibly by several centuries, but this one hasn't changed - the French are serious about eating.


Weekend in Dordogne

Since a picture is worth a thousand words and all that, I will send you first to my Flickr page to look at pictures. But I still get a few words, since some of them require elaboration/there are things I didn't get pictures of. The itinerary for the weekend was:
  • Friday
    • bumming around Bordeaux with the other Poitevines (cathedral, wandering around carnival, pizza)
  • Saturday
    • Grotte de Rouffignac (really ancient cave art)
    • lunch in Eyzies-de-Tayac (salad! duck! tomato encrusted in spices and cheese! pie!)
    • Musée national de préhistoire (ancient bones and tools and all the things we learned about in 9th grade anthropology)
    • Lascaux II (facsimile of really ancient cave art, more famous than Rouffignac but not as cool, in my humble opinion)
    • Chateau de Beynac (with gorgeous views and hot air balloons and sunset on the ramparts - one of those "wow, I'm really in Europe" moments)
    • dinner in Sarlat (more duck! weird soup with meringue! chocolate fondant and lemon sorbet!)
  • Sunday
    • 2-hour tour of Sarlat with a history prof (we were very well-informed)
    • bumming around Sarlat (paninis, ice cream, antique fair)
I think that's most of the high points. One of the cool things at Rouffignac (apart from the whoa-really-ancient mammoth drawings and cave bear claw marks on the walls) was all the really old graffiti from before people really figured out there was prehistoric art - written on the ceiling in candle smoke and dating from the 1700s. Elizabeth found the IHS symbol (first three letters of Jesus in Greek, common in church decorations) on the ceiling of one of the caves. There were several priests who signed their names. Holy graffiti, anyone?

In any case, it was an excellent weekend. Now I'm going to be late for class because I've been typing this on an infernal French keyboard and it's taken me far longer than it ought.


Good bread, good meat, etc.

I don't generally think much of the theory of Platonic Forms (an ideal coke can? really?), but I after today I am convinced that somewhere, floating in the metaphysical ether or what have you, is an ideal church potluck of which all other church potlucks are projections into the material world. It is apparently impossible to have a church luncheon without the presence of potato salad, meatballs (boulettes de viande, though apparently it's not a very French concept - they were brought by a Finnish church member), copious amounts of chicken (here, rotisserie rather than fried), and deviled eggs. The only thing missing was the little-old-church-lady banana pudding, an oversight somewhat ameliorated by the arrival of half a dozen fresh baguettes in the middle of the meal, and all but forgotten after the lemon cream pie. There's also something apparently sacrosanct about the second Sunday of the month and potlucks. It was excellent, and I felt very much at home.


Trop fatiguée d'inventer un titre intéressant

Highlights of the week: 
  • Virtual Xenia dinner on Sunday night (in the wee hours of Monday morning for me), despite being able to actually hear very little and despite having to get up for an early class on Monday...which was cancelled, but I didn't know that until I'd gotten there. I miss Midd professors who email you when they aren't going to show up.
  • Mysteriously nonexistent bus on Tuesday led me to try walking home from Hôpital de la Milétrie - I arrived about an hour later, by probably the most circuitous route possible. Fortunately, it was a pleasant day for walking.
  • Three hours of outlining with my partner for an oral presentation on Balzac and mimesis. French students are every writing teacher's dream: they start by brainstorming, progress to outlines, leave the introduction and conclusion for last, consider revision a mandatory process...it would have been my own personal nightmare in English, but in French the organized method cuts down on comprehension problems. And I'm sure we're going to come out of it with a very good presentation.
  • Les Bacchantes for Elizabeth's 21st birthday (a little anticlimactic, seeing as how she could have bought a drink just as easily the day before) and folk dancing, which was excellent. I learned how to dance the mazurka, at least well enough to follow my partner. It's Polish and lovely and counted in 9 beats, and the music is generally melancholy and romantic. I'm a fan.
  • Waking up this morning for an 8 a.m. class after a mere 4 hours of sleep, and with a sore throat to boot. I more or less slept through said class, and afterwards braved a French pharmacy to get cough drops. Procuring anything remotely medicinal (up to and including contact solution) requires interacting with a pharmacist - no running into the grocery store to grab a bottle of Advil. On the one hand, they know quite a bit; on the other hand, I don't like being stared at while I decide what I want. Bah.
  • Chest x-ray today to confirm that no, in fact, I don't have tuberculosis and it really is okay for me to stay in France for a year. I fail to comprehend the reasoning behind the procedure, since surely a short-stay visa still gives you sufficient time to infect people with TB. Who knows. It was also an object lesson in the casual French attitude towards nudity - in the U.S. they tend to give you a gown if you have to halfway disrobe for an x-ray. Oh, Europeans. On the other hand, I didn't have to wait at all - in fact, there was almost nobody in the hospital. It was faintly creepy. I walked home afterwards by a much more direct route, though it's still a solid 40 minutes. But a sunny 40 minutes, so no complaints.
Now just tomorrow to get through. Plans for the weekend: sleep. Lots of it.


Vive la Révolution

I've been to Bible study a few times now, so I decided it was time to buy an actual Bible. In naive American fashion, I thought this could be accomplished at a bookstore, so I went to Gibert Joseph - a chain, maybe not quite as large as B&N or Hastings, but same principle. First I looked around the religion section - nothing. Then I asked the saleswoman, who looked surprised by my request but directed me to the Livres de poche section (practically everything comes in a Livre de poche - literally, pocket book - edition) - nothing there either. So I asked another saleswoman, who looked similarly surprised and flagged down a coworker, who informed me with a shrug that they were out of Bibles. I waited momentarily for something like "...and we'll be getting more tomorrow." No such luck.

I recounted this experience to my host family over dinner, and was laughed over indulgently. Apparently no self-respecting French bookstore sells Bibles. I have to go to the librairie biblique for that, and, as Christelle said, I will never find it on my own (hopefully there was an implicit "I'll take you sometime" in there). The Revolution did its work well and thoroughly - most French people are aggressively secular, like my history professor, who finds it necessary to preface every remark vaguely pertaining to religious belief with "in the Christian imagination..." On the other hand, whenever I'm in churches (which is fairly often - I love them) I see a good number of lit candles and one or two people saying their rosary or praying to a saint - and this at random times on weekday afternoons. It's like the country has a split personality. Honestly, I think in all their efforts to separate religion from the state they've just made religion an even more constant specter - in the U.S. you can walk into any Wal-Mart and buy a Bible off the tiny book aisle and nobody thinks twice about it. Here I feel like any religious reference is followed by an awkward half-second pause. Ah well, hurrah for cultural differences. 


The Bises Problem

So when I idly posed the following math problem in my last post, I wasn't really thinking about it, but it's actually a little bit interesting. 

The Question: If a party of nine people is breaking up, in which there are five girls, four guys, and no relations, how many kisses will be exchanged?

The Assumptions: Any pairing involving a girl (that is, girl-girl or girl-guy) will result in two kisses (one on each cheek). Since none of the guys are related, any pairing of two guys will result in no kisses.

To warm up, let's consider the Handshake Problem: If a roomful of n people all shake hands with one another, how many handshakes will be exchanged? For simplicity's sake, let's say n in this case is 10. That means each person in the room shakes hands with 9 other people, so you might be tempted to multiply 10 by 9 and arrive at 90 handshakes. Actually, though, you've double-counted each handshake, since A shakes hands with B and B shakes hands with A, but that's only one handshake total. So you divide by 2 and arrive at 45 handshakes. Or, more generally, in a room with n people, you will have [n*(n - 1)]/2 hanshakes.

My problem is a little more complicated, since the guys don't faire les bises among themselves and instead of one handshake, we have 2 bises. If you look at the picture (sorry, it's not the most beautiful graph ever, since I drew it by hand and photographed it with my webcam, but it will have to do), where G = girl, B = boy, and each line = 2 bises, all the girls are connected to everyone else but the boys are only connected to the girls. For the moment, let's pretend kisses are like handshakes, i.e. one between two people. All you have to do is calculate the number of kisses for a normal group of 9 and then subtract the number that aren't being exchanged by the group of 4 boys, in other words:

(9*8)/2 - (4*3)/2 = 36 - 6 = 30

Now, remembering that each exchange of bises actually involves 2 kisses, we multiply by 2 to arrive at 60 total kisses in the above scenario. In other words, Elizabeth wins!

(Is it glaringly apparent how much I miss math?)


Les Expressifs

Starting yesterday, there's been some sort of street fair going on on downtown Poitiers called Les Expressifs. The idea seems to be to get together a bunch of street performers, plus some musical groups. I heard very loud rock music coming from the tent in the square in front of the Hôtel de Ville this afternoon, and this morning I watched a guy engage in pseudo-juggling (à la Renfest, rolling them down his arms and around his body and such). I'm pretty sure the story he was telling to go with it was some sort of political allegory, but a) I couldn't hear very well and b) I don't know enough about politics to get it even if I'd understood. There were a lot of crunchy-granola types (or whatever they're called in France) in attendance; in fact, I have a feeling this whole festival would be very at home in Vermont.

The actual point of going into town today was to get my receipt for my application for a titre de séjour (residency permit), which took all of five minutes but required an hour of waiting in line at the Préfecture. Everything administrated by the government, from drivers' licenses to citizenship applications, goes through the Préfecture - not very efficient, in my opinion. Waiting at the DPS is bad, but at least you're only waiting behind other people wanting their drivers' licenses. So that was a pleasant way to pass an hour's worth of my afternoon. On the other hand, I bought a nice scarf in order to blend in more readily with the French population (staying warm being a secondary motive).

I went to Bible study again last night, which was great fun (much more lively discussion/analysis of the text this time around), involved another dinner of crepes (never a bad thing), and was like a miniature cultural education in and of itself. I think I've finally properly decoded the ritual of les bises (cheek-kissing). If there's a female involved, two kisses are pretty much automatic (but occasionally just one; for example, you've boarded a bus and see four or five of your friends and are trying to greet them all while not falling down or knocking anyone over). When two guys greet each other, if they're related, they'll probably kiss on one cheek (more on greeting people you're related to later); if they're not related, they'll shake hands, varying from a warm clasp to a manly grasp depending on the age of the parties involved (manliness being inversely proportional to age, amusingly enough). That being established, the question is obviously when this ritual is necessary. It doesn't appear to be normal to thus greet people you live with (hence the two-related-men scenario only occurs if, say, Bruno's older son who lives in an apartment comes over to visit), unless you haven't seen them in a few days and/or they're leaving for a prolonged period. On the other hand, anyone you have even a passing acquaintance with is fair game, which means you'll probably end up faire-ing les bises with half the students in any given class every time it meets. People you don't know at all are equally fair game, sometimes as a precursor to an actual introduction, sometimes just to be friendly (several girls in my history class greeted my like this three weeks in a row before I actually figured out their names). If it's obvious you're foreign (like me), there's more likely to be hesitation on the part of the other party, though usually they can't overcome the impulse. Other foreigners are the trickiest, especially if you have no idea what part of Europe they're from: to faire or not to faire, is always the question. And the most tiresome manifestation of the habit is when leaving a gathering, whereupon you are morally obligated to kiss everybody in the room, which takes absolutely forever if everyone is leaving at once.

I leave you with a math problem: if a party of nine people is breaking up, in which there are five girls, four guys, and no relations, how many kisses will be exchanged?


Those who cannot write, translate.

Due to the interesting scheduling habits of the university, all four of my translation classes meet on Monday and Tuesday, which is fine and all except for the part where I have three translations due at the beginning of every week. Ah well. Today we looked at the extract of Toni Morisson's Song of Solomon we had to do over the weekend, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I'd made a lot of the same choices as the native French speakers in the class. (Today's the day to get a bit of a morale boost before M. Fryd's class tomorrow, in which I will undoubtedly discover that I can't speak or write French.) I spent most of the class period wishing that everyone but the ten or so of us who actually cared would just go away (I haven't seen a teacher have that much trouble keeping a class quiet since the year I read to the kindergarten class every week), but the professor had some interesting insights (including one spot where she'd actually understood the English better than several of us anglophones...that was slightly embarrassing). After class, I checked out a copy of Le chant de Salomon from the university library, and discovered that the translator had rendered most things the same way we had in class; in some cases I even think we did a better job. So, yay for us.

In between classes, I went into town with Elizabeth to attempt to pick up the books we'd ordered for our literature class. First the bookstore was closed over lunch (only on Mondays - I'd understand if it were everyday, but what about Monday particularly necessitates a long lunch break?), and when we returned, the saleswoman told us one of the books was indefinitely unobtainable; no, she didn't really know anything, would we please hurry up and go away. So that was frustrating. In the interim I tried to procure makeup, having had a clumsy moment with my powder that ended with it everywhere except in its container, but a) the color Matte Ivory doesn't exist in France and b) when the saleswoman found another color that would work for me, it was out of stock. Today hasn't been my day for shopping.

My second translation class (French to English) was predictably frustrating, since the professor and I do not speak the same version of the English language. It's doubly frustrating because she will commend all sorts of approximate, even verging on ridiculous, translations from the French students, but she has no problem shooting down reasonable suggestions from the anglophones in the class if they don't match her specific idea. "Approximate" is probably the best way to describe her style of translation. Given that, it's fortunate she doesn't have us tackling canonical French literature the way my other professor is going after serious English/American stuff (Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, Garrison Keillor...oh wait). Instead, we've been translating excerpts of murder mysteries and newspaper articles, though I disagree strongly with some of her pronouncements about journalistic style. Can you tell I'm really a fan of this professor? I'd like to poll the audience: is "a pressure cooker ready to explode at any moment" a legitimate metaphor for a tense situation (think riots, racial conflict, etc.)?

I don't mean to give you the wrong impression; despite wanting to engage this professor in argument after every sentence, I think I'm learning a lot from the class, probably exactly because I disagree with her so much. I'm also learning how to keep my mouth shut and carry out these arguments in my head. I'm coming to the conclusion that translation is something I really could enjoy as a career.


At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender...

So tonight I went to see a movie with my host family. Mamma Mia, in fact. Dubbed in French, except for the songs. It was incredibly bizarre, partly thanks to the French, but mostly just on its own merit. For one thing, Colin Firth is getting old; for another, Pierce Brosnan really can't sing. And is a lot sexier as James Bond. Meryl Streep was pretty good, as was the girl playing Sophie. Much as I hate dubbing, they did a decent job finding French voices that matched the actors' voices, so it wasn't as jarring as it could have been when they broke into song. But dubbing as a concept sucks. I have no problem watching subtitles. Still, ABBA music is infectiously cheerful, so it was a pretty nice evening.

Other than that, I spent the afternoon wrestling with my translations. I made a decent effort at appropriately rendering the dialogue in the Song of Solomon excerpt, but I'm not at all satisfied. Apparently there are at least two different translations of the book in the university library, so I'm hoping to check those out after class. I'm very curious about how the professionals handled it. When I finished, I turned to my other French to English translation...which is an excerpt from Oscar Wilde's The Fisherman and his Soul. All sorts of fancy old-fashioned language. They aren't messing around with these classes. Really, I'm enjoying myself immensely.


Walk in the Park

Wednesday: Not much in the way of interesting for classes. Not that they were boring, just nothing you would be interested in reading about. I'm surprised how easily I've adjusted to the long class periods, given that I found 1:15 French classes at Midd somewhat murderous. Wednesday evening I had dinner with Elizabeth at the crêperie in one of the university restaurants, which was excellent, then spent the evening hanging out at her house, making applesauce in the microwave (something which had never occured to me) and watching a very French movie on TV before heading to Les Bacchantes for an evening of French folk music/dancing. It was very fun, though I had more success with the couples dancing than the pseudo-contra dancing (turns out it's a lot harder with nobody to call the steps). My favorite dance, which can be danced to pretty much any music and of which I've forgotten the name, is a sort of cross between polka and merengue: one-and-two, three-and-four, one, two, three, four. I have a feeling a lot of waltz steps/turns could be adapted to work pretty well with it; I was itching to try open spirals or flip-flops, but a) I don't lead very well and b) the dance floor was small and very crowded. Oh well. It reminded me somewhat of Dr. Quiring's classes in College Station, plus alcohol and cigarette smoke. But people actually asked other people to dance in a non-sketchy manner, and it was all very social and fun.

Thursday: After not nearly enough sleep, we presented ourselves at a high school in a section of Poitiers I've never seen before (the city is actually quite large, there's just not much occasion to go anywhere other than downtown) to take the TCF (Test de connaissance de français, same principle as the TOEFL). It lasted an hour and a half and reminded me strongly of the written tests we took for Texas French Symposium in high school. I was torn between wanting to do well because...well, I like to be good at things, and not wanting to do too well as we'll be taking it again at the end of our stay to ascertain whether we've actually improved. (Un)fortunately, I don't think doing too well will be a problem. It wasn't awful, but there were definitely questions I wasn't sure of. It had an annoyingly SAT-like tendency to present two answers that each seemed about half-correct. Apparently standardized testing is subject to the same weaknesses in any language. I came home for the afternoon and intended to take a nap, but instead watched The World is Not Enough (Pierce Brosnan as James Bond is not at the top of my list, but he's a little bit swoon-worthy) before leaving with Brenda and her friend Magalie for Tours to see the sketches put on by Christelle's business school orientation program. The drive was gorgeous - an hour and a half of afternoon-sunlit farmland (the kind little kids draw pictures of) interspersed with clusters of houses, each with its own suitably ancient-looking church steeple. I saw plenty of signs for castles once we entered the Loire Valley, though no actual castles. I'm definitely scheming to return there, though. The sketches themselves were amusing parodies of commercials (business school, after all), but the best part was the musical interludes between acts. It doesn't get much better than "Hit the Road, Jack" in a French accent. It was followed by a cocktail party with absolutely gorgeous hors d'oeuvres and miniature éclairs and such (and absolutely fake chips and salsa, which amused me), and then the same drive home, which was not as pretty, what with everything being dark and me being tired.

Friday: More catechising in my history class, though we finally got to some actual French history in the last hour. I spent about 20 minutes being very confused because the city of Reims is pronounced more like "Rhince." Three hours of time-killing and a literature class later, I found myself with at least an hour until the prospect of a bus, so I decided to head downtown and check out the Parc de Blossac, which satisfies every cherished notion of a park (except perhaps the presence of an antique carousel). It's built partially on the remnants of some 12th-century ramparts, and from one end you can look out over the River Clain, which was sparkling charmingly in the afternoon sun. There are proper tree-lined promenades, a fountain, a grapevine trellis, and a grassy amphitheater. Sadly, I've lost my tourist instinct to take my camera everywhere, so I don't have any pictures yet. I'll definitely be returning. Upon returning home, I (sleepily) ate dinner with my host family (it's very comforting to know that French people occasionally eat fish sticks and mashed potatoes too) and watched Die Another Day, sadly concluding the Pierce Brosnan missions. Oh well.

Today: Almost nothing. I finished one translation and tried to start another, but it's a passage of Toni Morisson's Song of Solomon, and there is no good way to render it in French. Either I don't attempt to represent the dialect and strip the text of half its meaning, or I render it in some French dialect that has completely inappropriate sociocultural/economic connotations and adds a layer of meaning for native French speakers not present in the original text. It's impossible. I'll try again tomorrow. Instead, I watched Licence to Kill and determined that Timothy Dalton is not worth it. I'm definitely getting some sort of cultural education by being here...I'm just not sure it's particularly French. Ah well.


In which the author waxes lyrical about etymology

Today was a fairly uneventful day of classes. My hand nearly fell off from taking notes in interpretation, since the entire class consists of writing madly in an attempt to glean every detail from a two-minute discourse in French or English, and then resting your hand while some brave soul has a go at rendering it in the other language. The limit seems to be about six per class, after lots of "um" and "euh" and (finally) explanations by the professors, and since I gave it a shot last week, I won't get to go again for a while. So basically it's a class in note-taking skills. Still, I enjoy it.

My other class today was translation: version (i.e. English to French). Turns out I was the only one to send my translation to the professor ahead of time like he said we could - hurrah for currying favor with vaguely evil professors. There was plenty of red on the paper, but at the bottom it said très bien pour un premier devoir (very good for a first assignment), so I am not without hope of doing well in the class, despite his severity. He knows a lot about etymology* and is extremely good at his subject - several of the translations he proposed made me quite green with envy that I hadn't thought of them. My little red book of conjugations has already come in extremely handy, and today I bought another book called Vocabulaire de l'anglais contemporain, which is actually meant for French people but should also prove very useful. It's comprised entirely of thematic vocabulary lists, with English on the left and French on the right. They're excessively thorough, and two of my translation professors handily reference appropriate sections at the top of the page of text for translation. So hopefully I will soon be up on idiomatic usage and all that jazz.

Tomorrow I have more classes, including the one for which I have to read the amazingly long 16th century travelogue, then Bible study, then my first intentional experience with French nightlife. Several of us are getting together with Jeanne to go to Les Bacchantes (of host-family-dancing fame) to dance to French folk music. Hardcore partying, as you can see. I'm spending the night with Elizabeth, due to my far-away habitation. Thursday morning is the TCF, a national French exam Midd is obliging us to take. We'll take it again at the end of our stay here, so they can reassure themselves that this program actually worth their effort, I suppose. I'm sure staying out late and dancing is an excellent way to prepare for said exam.

Today I talked to a girl who is (I think) a student of my host mother - she's looking for someone to help her with her English, which I think will be fun and indirectly good for my French. She tried to vouvoyer me on the phone though, which was just weird (you use vous ("you") to be polite to people who are older than you or whom you don't know well, but generally young people don't use it with one another). Kind of like the shopkeepers who call me Madame, or back home "ma'am." I'm not old. Stop it.

Apparently it doesn't matter how many days I write about at a time; if you give me space, I will ramble on. I would apologize, but as nobody is obliging you to read this, I suppose it's unnecessary. And now, off to dinner.

*Including English etymology. Today we got the etymology of negation in both French and English. In French, it was originally just ne ("not"), plus whatever appropriate noun you wanted to employ. So il ne marche pas means literally/originally, "he doesn't walk a step." For other situations, you would use other nouns. Only a few got retained and normalized as part of generic negation, so you have ne...point, ne...pas, etc. In English, the word "not" comes from three Old English words (he was explaining this in French and not writing anything down, so I don't know exactly what they are), the first of which sounds like "na" and the last very much like "whit," meaning "not," "least," and "twig." When slurred together, they ended up as "naught" and "not" in modern English. So actually, the phrase "not a bit" or "not a whit" is a holdover from the older expression and is etymologically sort of redundant. Oh, how I love words.


La samba des jours avec toi

Time for another "brief" resume...er, no, that's not actually the word in English...what am I trying to say? Summary. While I wouldn't say my French is improving in leaps and bounds, I'm definitely getting worse at English, for whatever that's worth.

Friday: First day of class for "Religion, pouvoir et société en France: XVI, XVII, XVIII siècle." We spent most of the (three hour) class covering the basics of Christianity, by which our professor actually meant Catholicism. As in, "to be a good Christian, you must believe in the edicts of the Pope and the councils, which are comprised of representatives of all Christian priests." Um, right, about those Protestants and Orthodox churches...Still, he's an interesting lecturer (for which I am excessively grateful, given the length of the class period) and I think it's going to be a really good class. It's also quite comforting to have other Middkids in the room. Also the first class for "Histoire de littérature du Moyen Age," which...isn't as interesting as it sounds, so far. The professor printed out the notes for us, and then pretty much read them aloud for the hour and a half class. At least it won't be much work. Thanks to the foibles of the bus system, I had a few hours after that class finished before any prospect of getting back to Mignaloux would present itself, so I headed into downtown. My jeans have been getting a bit loose, so I figured the obvious solution was to eat more pastries and hence bought an extremely tasty and beautiful strawberry tart, which I consumed in the sun in the Place Charles de Gaulle. Just in case that didn't work, I went to Monoprix and bought a belt.

Saturday: Into town a bit early so I could peruse the market in front of Notre Dame by myself before meeting the rest of the group. This is a serious market. You can (and people obviously do) buy all your groceries for the week there. The dead chickens (with head and feet attached) disturb me, the bread makes me drool, and the flowers are a constant temptation. Fortunately, I know they couldn't survive a day of wandering around with me, so my pocketbook is safe. I did indulge in fresh raspberries and a baguette (I refrained from the amazing and huge donut-shaped loaf of bread). Then I met some other Middkids plus Jeanne, a former Middlebury French T.A. and Poitiers native, and we had a picnic (I tried pâté - and didn't like it at all - but was fairly proud of myself for being brave) before heading off to see a few things for the Journées de Patrimoine, i.e. "all those cool buildings they don't normally open to the public are on view this weekend." The things we visited weren't really what I had in mind, but we did see a pretty nifty little chapel absolutely covered in wood carvings, the inside of a nunnery (disappointingly modern - turns out it's also a retirement home, run by the nuns), and the Baptistère St. Jean, which before it was a baptistry was a Roman villa, and after it stopped being a baptistry was a workshop for a bell-maker who used the baptismal pool for casting. There are some neat frescos on the walls. I thought about striking off on my own after the group disbanded, but I'd had enough walking so instead headed home, where Christelle and I were abandoned by the rest of the family, who had various things to do. We foraged for dinner and ended up making a salad with grapefruit and corn (such obvious things as tomatoes being lacking), and I was told off for not being familiar with Moby (a singer, apparently?). It was really quite a nice evening.

Sunday: Church as usual - it's getting harder to understand the American pastor as I get more acclimated to hearing actual French people speak French. Also, the really weird non-liturgical communion thing is getting old. This coming Saturday night I'm planning on checking out mass at the Catholic church in Mignaloux (never mind that I can't take communion there at all). Afterwards, Christelle and I were supposed to pick up Brenda from the friend's house where she'd stayed the night, but were instead invited to join them for lunch. It turned out to be a whole crowd of British people, two of whom own this gorgeous and huge property that they've turned into a sort of auberge thing, the rest of whom were just down for the weekend (would that I had that much money). They were practically caricatures of themselves, gossiping about the royal family, discussing football, and saying "tremendous" every other word. It was quite charming. The oyster I choked down to be polite was not so charming. Followed by seafood pie, which I also ate (not wanting to be a stupid American is making me very adventurous). At that point one of the British guys started quizzing me on American politics, making it very clear that he was very right-wing, but also much better informed than me, so I mostly made polite, noncommital hem-hemming noises. It was awkward. The afternoon was passed working on my English-to-French translation homework, which was truly evil - obviously chosen for all the descriptive language, whose plethora of English synonyms boil down to three or four French words. And then dinner with my family, which was...seafood casserole, and whole miniature lobster things. Christelle had to crack mine open for me, as I had no clue what I was doing. I nearly chickened out, but I peeled off its little claw-foot-things and ate it mostly without shuddering. But really, I almost had a heart attack when Brenda took the lid off the casserole dish.

Today: I'm starting to get acclimated to this early morning thing, though I wouldn't say I enjoy it per se. I went to second-year translation this morning (my first time, having missed it last week), and it would have been excellent if the students would just stop muttering all the time. I could barely understand the professor or the person reading their translation. My third-year translation class this afternoon was about half the size and therefore didn't have that problem, but my professor drives me a bit nuts. She's English, and we clearly don't speak the same version of the language. I'll translate the French in a way that sounds perfectly natural to an American, and she'll look at me like I have three heads before giving me a brusque "no" and telling the class the only right way to translate it (her way, obviously). It's a pity, because French-to-English is the side of translation I actually want to be able to discuss in depth and talk about nuance and interpretation and such. Oh well. In between my classes (a space of five and a half hours - quite long, but not long enough to make going home worth it), I went to the library (which is dead quiet and full of silent, studious people, quite a contrast to the section of the Midd library I'm used to working on) to read more of my Histoire d'un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil. I probably covered 80 pages in the space of several hours' concentrated reading. So, you know, only 500 more to go. I might make it by the end of the semester. Upon getting home, therefore, I did the responsible thing and watched a James Bond movie. My host family has the complete collection, and I've only ever seen the most recent, so I watched GoldenEye. It was pretty excellent, in a cheesy action movie sort of way. I have a feeling I will be taking further advantage of their DVD collection. Although I had to change the region settings on my laptop in order to watch it, which I'm slightly displeased about as apparently you can only do so five times (which seems quite arbitrary). Oh well.

And now, having caught up with myself, I am going to head to bed. I really want my 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. sleep schedule back.


Histoire d'un voyage faict en la terre de la France

Yesterday was a bit of a red letter day in that I spent more time enjoying myself than not. In other words: hurray.

My first class was called "Littérature et histoire: représentations de l'Amérique." I was hoping it would count for CMP credit (comparative cultures - i.e. other cultures with North America, because clearly we're the only people who count) at Midd, but it turns out the class is based around a book called Histoire d'un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil. The spelling is funny because it was written in the mid-1500s by a guy by the name of Jean de Léry, French Protestant missionary and explorer of the area around present-day Rio de Janeiro, which the French briefly colonized before being routed by the Portuguese. I think it's going to be a really interesting class, though the book is 600 pages of 16th-century French, which isn't hard to decipher, it just doesn't go nearly as quickly as normal French. Even cooler, Jean de Léry had a contemporary named André Thevet who was a Catholic missionary (so even though they were there at the same time, they didn't do much interacting - the Catholics had the island, the Protestants the mainland) who also wrote a book, of which there's a copy of the original printing in the Médiathèque François Mitterand here in Poitiers. So anyway. I'm going to spend a semester learning about cannibals and French missionaries. Fun stuff.

After a rather tasty pizza (which doesn't much resemble American pizza) at the cafeteria, I proceeded to "Théorie des genres et poétiques comparées: la mimèsis," which would have been not at all what I was expecting, except that I had no idea what to expect. Mimesis, for those who (like me) have forgotten all the technical terms they learned in lit class, is "representation or imitation of the real world in art and literature." We mostly read excerpts of Plato and Aristotle and talked about how Plato thinks mimesis is bad (one step further removed from the ideal) and Aristotle thinks it's normal (representation is how we give meaning to the world). It was more philosophy than literature, but quite interesting. We'll see how that goes.

I then ventured into town to look for books for my classes. There's nothing like the Midd bookstore (I actually miss it, even with its exorbitant prices; at least everything is laid out in an orderly fashion), more along the lines of Barnes & Noble crammed into four or five very small floors with amazingly inadequate signage. I did not spend €60 (nearly $90) on the recommended dictionary for my translation classes, going instead with the €20 variety (what's 100,000 words either way? If I need more I'll go to the library). I did purchase Bescherelle: la conjugaison pour tous, which is a magnificent little book that makes my nerdy heart glow. The first section is devoted to 88 tables with paradigms for every possible category of verb. The second section is all about the grammar of the verb, proper usage, etc. The third section is an exhaustive alphabetical list of every French verb in existence, with numbers to refer you to the appropriate paradigm for conjugation. And it's small and red and shiny and the charts are color-coded and I'm pretty much in love. I found the book about Brazil with no problem, but had significantly more issues with the books for my comparative literature class, La Locandiera (Italian) and Minna von Barnhelm (German), both in bilingual French/original editions. One bookstore told me they might be in Monday (our professor swears she ordered them at the beginning of the summer); the other told me they didn't think those editions were still in print. At that point I gave up and decided to go to the library.

Never having used a French library and having no idea how the cataloging system worked, I went straight to the computer to search, and miraculously found both books in the appropriate editions and available in the library I was in (not a given - there are university libraries scattered throughout the city by subject). So I went to a librarian to ask for help finding them, and was redirected to a pile of small yellow forms, told to fill one out for each book I wanted, and present them to the librarians at the long counter labeled magasins (stores). I did so, they went off to search, and came back 10 minutes later with the books I wanted (there was apparently some issue finding La Locandiera). Apparently they do not trust mere readers to navigate a library. I'm curious as to how they decide what goes in magasins and what in the big room full of books I saw through the door to my right. Oh well. I finished La Locandiera today and very much enjoyed it, though having the Italian and French side by side kept getting me sidetracked on suspicious translation choices.

In the evening I went to a Bible study group that Christelle is a member of, called GBU (Groupe Biblique Universitaire), which, as it turns out, is part of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, to which InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (the student group at Midd) belongs. Small world. Anyway, it was interesting. The point of the group is to be somewhat more academic than religious, making study of the Bible open to people of any or no faith, so there was no praying or singing or anything like that. Students in the group take turns presenting studies on shortish Bible passages; I wasn't overly impressed with the first one -- I thought everything they said was fairly self-evident -- but it's a good theory and I hope some interesting things will come out of it. If nothing else, I'll learn quite a lot of vocabulary specific to religious stuff.

After the meeting, we ate at one of the University Restaurants (or RestoU's), where we had galettes and crepes and sparkling cider (which, as it turns out, is alcoholic in France -- surprise surprise). There were a lot of jokes told, some of which I got and most of which I didn't. Humor and plays on words will probably be one of the last things I conquer. Still, it was fun, and everyone was very friendly and only a little mocking about having to explain everything twice for the American.

Today was spent trying to make a dent in the letters I owe people, which was only vaguely successful (turns out writing letters takes a long time, which wasn't an issue over the summer when I had lots of time), finishing La Locandiera, going to the post office, and working on one of the three translations I have due next week. I love translation so much. I think I'm spending way more time on it than is strictly necessary to do well in the courses, but whatever, I'm learning and having fun. I was surprised this afternoon when Bruno came home at an uncustomary hour with a friend of Brenda's in tow - he speaks no English, she speaks no French. I got some impromptu practice at interpretation, which was pretty cool. Brenda grew up in Zimbabwe, as did her friend Susan, who now lives in England. Tonight at dinner (which was pretty amazing and ended with chocolate soufflés) they told stories about childhood in Zimbabwe, their high school classmates who died in the army (mandatory conscriptions, such a scary thing), what it's like going back now. I was trying desperately to remember enough from my history of Africa class to put it in perspective, but mostly what I could summon up was that Robert Mugabe was/is pretty much a lunatic (now that I'm reading the Wikipedia article, I remember there were a lot of acronyms involved: ZAPU, ZANU, etc. -- what Susan and Brenda were calling the Bush War we learned about as the Second Chimurenga). It was really weird realizing that I was getting more or less the colonialist side of things (they're civilians, obviously, but still). As far as value judgments were made in our class, it was mostly in favor of Africans rebelling against colonial opression, but when someone tells you their high school classmate was killed by African terrorists, you don't really know what to think. Anyway, dinner conversation was incredibly interesting.

Now I should definitely go to bed, as it's up at 6:45 to get ready for an 8 a.m. history class. 8 a.m.'s suck even more when you have to take a 7:30 bus to get to them.


Small Victories (Requiring a Marathon Post)

It's been nearly a week since I posted - apologies. I have been both busy and tired. I will try to briefly* sum up (I wanted to say resume, but realized that only works in French - apparently the language immersion is working!) what I've been up to.

Thursday: Meeting with M. Paoli to choose courses. That was something of an organizational nightmare. On the one hand, we are much "freer" than French students in our ability to pick and choose what we want to take. On the other hand, the system really isn't designed for that. Practically everything I wanted to take was on Monday or Wednesday. The schedule I came up with doesn't particularly closely resemble the one I'm following this week. Oh well. Afterward we had apéritifs with the group, on the college (buying alcohol for its students? Cultural education, I suppose...). Several of us decided that smoothies were a legitimate alternative to cocktails. The funniest part was listening to other people trying to order a White Russian or a Bloody Mary - pronouncing them in English and not being understood by the waitress. I left early, courtesy of the bus system. Sigh.

Friday: "Cultural orientation" meeting with Viviana, to learn about even more forms to fill out and things to buy, including housing and civil responsability insurance. As it was explained to us, if, in opening your shutters in the morning, you should happen to knock a flowerpot of the windowsill and onto someone's head, civil responsability insurance will pay for their hospital bills. It was a very long and somewhat stress-inducing two hours, but we were recompensed with pretty amazing pastries. Macaroons are not the same thing as they are in the states - they are squashier and far more delicious. That evening we (my host parents, Christelle and I) had dinner at the new house of Magalie and David, friends of my host family who had been staying with us the week before. It was delicious and included homemade tiramisu. Then Christelle abandoned ship to go hang out with her friends, leaving me to be dragged by Brenda, Bruno, Magalie and David to a real live French discothèque, Les Bacchantes. I was already exhausted, so I watched them dance exuberantly to 80s music (which sounds the same in any language, apparently) into the wee hours of the morning (2 a.m., to be exact). It led me to wonder whether my middle school teachers rocked out like that on the weekends...I did in fact see some very good ballroom coexisting with the gyrating on the same tiny dance floor, including lindy hop, a complicated waltz-like thing, and even some two-step. I was, however, grateful to get home and collapse into bed.

Saturday: J'ai fait la grasse matinée -- literally, "the fat morning" -- i.e. I slept in. We did some house cleaning, I read more of La gloire de mon père. In the evening, Christelle invited me to come with her to the house of one of the women who goes to her church, an American ex-pat who's been a French citizen for 20 years now. We played Guitar Hero, for which I have developed a certain fondness, and some trivia game on the Wii, which I did not excel it given that I don't read all that quickly in French and don't know much about French culture/history. Which Christelle went out of her way to choose at every opportunity, in retribution for my beating her at Guitar Hero. Anyway, it was fun.

Sunday: Church turned into church + picnic + dinner/Guitar Hero/Wii tennis at the house of the same friend. I learned to play pétanque, a traditional Provençal game quite similar to Bocce (but with more rules). I'm not very good at it. It's really fun, though, and it's like a scene right out of an old-ish French movie set in the countryside - a group of men gathered around a cluster of boules, gravely discussing the scoring and using all sorts of unlikely implements as impromptu measuring sticks. My language comprehension probably improved in leaps and bounds that day, as that's the largest number of people I've interacted with at any one time. It's getting marginally easier to understand people I don't know.

Monday: First day of classes. I arrived early, as instructed by M. Paoli, to check the bulletin boards, since we'd been assured our classes probably wouldn't meet when and where they were supposed to. Sure enough, I ran into the professor of my first class as she was marking the new time (about fifteen minutes from that moment). Only one other girl and I showed up for the new earlier hour, so she sent us away and told us to come back at the regular time and we'd just have a shorter class. The other girl invited me to go have coffee (so much for stuck up French people, right?), which was nice. The class was not so pleasant. It was basically sentence diagramming, but in French, so I didn't understand any of the terminology. I'd decided to drop it within about fifteen minutes. I was hoping to change to the first-year version, but alas, it doesn't fit with my schedule. I then had a good long time to kill until my next class, so I went into town to open a bank account (turns out I need one if I want to apply for something called the CAF, which reimburses a portion of what you spend on housing - which is a lovely thought), which actually went smoothly. I was a little impressed with myself, since the last time I did anything of the sort, it was in English and my mom did most of the talking. My second class of the day was the thème section of my translation class; in other words, French to English. I ended up in the wrong class for the first fifteen minutes, which was awkward, but eventually made it to the right spot. The professor is British by birth, and rather stuffier and more brusque than any French person I've yet encountered. The focus is more on utility than literary nuance, which isn't what I'd hoped for, but it will still be good practice. It's also weird translating into British English, especially as the professor is quite sure that her answer is the only correct one. In sum: it was a long day.

Today: Second day of classes went much more smoothly. The oral interpretation section of my translation class is going to be great - the professors (one French, one American) are really nice and there's no lecture, just lots of practice. Today there were no grades being given, so in a completely uncharacteristic move I volunteered to go first and translate a short introduction, given in English by the American professor, into French. I was shaking like a leaf, but I think it went passably well. Then we had the version section of the class, English to French. That professor is what I was hoping for in the other class - very interested in literary conventions, given to long speeches about word choice, etc. Only it's translation into the language in which I don't really understand nuance. Too bad. Also, he was very adamant, even threatening, about the sanctity and purity of the French language (not kidding) and how he would dock the most points from our translations for misconjugated French verbs. I'm going out to buy Le Nouveau Bescherelle: l'art de conjuger before the next class so as not to pollute his native tongue with my gross grammatical errors. My third class was in comparative literature, and was a bit of a mess. Nobody had the books, including me, even though the professor swore she'd ordered them at several bookstores in town at the beginning of the summer. There weren't enough presentation slots/subjects to go around, so I don't have one and thus have no idea where my course grade is going to come from. When I asked her, all she said was, "We're a little disorganized in this department. Don't worry about it, everything will work out" (the French equivalent thereof, anyway). So we'll see.

Now it's dinnertime, and a rather tasty odor is emanating from the kitchen, so I will bid you adieu, faithful readers.

*So yeah, about that being brief...if you made it this far, you deserve a medal. Thanks for your attention!


Le repos

Today I did nearly nothing, which was exceedingly pleasant. I had a brief run-in with the micro-onde (quite literally, microwave) this morning in attempting to defrost a baguette (freezing them works really well for keeping them fresh, as it turns out) - it kept making noise after it was done reheating, so I kept pressing buttons trying to stop the noise, which probably made it worse. Eventually I left it alone and it stopped after about 15 seconds. But still, weird.

After that I devoted myself to being slothful in a foreign language (mostly): I watched "Chariots de feu" ("Chariots of Fire"), which is an amazing movie, though I cheated and watched it in English with French subtitles because I absolutely can't stand dubbing (the translations were interesting, though). The last time I saw it was in early middle school, and I have since become familiar with Gilbert & Sullivan, the Allegri Miserere, and the hymn "Jerusalem," giving me an overall much greater appreciation for the soundtrack. I wish choir were still a popular thing for young boys to partake in. They have such amazing voices. 

I then started in earnest on La gloire de mon père by Marcel Pagnol, which I only yesterday discovered was a book before it was a movie, and so promptly searched out and bought it, along with the sequel Le château de ma mère. Reading in French is slow going and not the relaxing experience it is in English, but I made it nearly to page 100 in a sitting, which is a lot better than I usually do on books for French class. I can see why they decided these books would make good movies - they're very visually descriptive, and the narrative voice of the little boy is hilarious (it makes me happy that I can understand humor and puns in a foreign language).

This evening I went shopping briefly with Brenda and Christelle at a papetrie (stationery store) to look for school supplies, which are fun in any language. Though I really, really miss my Mead student day planner - I've had the same one every year for many years running, and it's the perfect size, layout and lack of clutter. I'm kicking myself for not bringing one with me. I found one by Clairefontaine (which appears to be the most popular stationery brand over here, and isn't nearly as expensive as in the states) that works, but still...it's not the same. Here ends the lecture on French school supplies.

Tomorrow we have individual meetings with M. Paoli to choose classes. I know I want to take History of Religion in France and a translation course. I suppose I'll fill the rest of my schedule with literature classes. I asked Christelle to look at the bus schedule and confirm that the buses I want to take tomorrow really do exist, which she did, so hopefully tomorrow I will conquer the bus and not vice versa. We shall see.


Le caprice

Most of today was spent at the mercy of the weather and the bus system, neither of which do I have any particular fondness for at the moment. I tried to take a bus that, as it turns out, only runs on Wednesday - something to do with the school system. My bus schedule is gaining asterisks and arrows and circles at an amazing rate. Hopefully I will full comprehend it soon - of course, by that point I may have discovered that there are never any buses to Mignaloux. So anyway, I spent four hours more than planned in centre ville, in a pretty ridiculous rainstorm for the first hour or so. Without my rain jacket, of course, because it was nice this morning (and is currently practically cloudless). I think it's time to invest in an umbrella, à la française. Because raincoats just aren't chic. 

It wasn't all bad, having extra time - I retraced my steps from a few parts of the tours and spent some leisurely time in Notre Dame la Grande and Ste. Radegonde. I adore old churches, in case I hadn't mentioned that before. It also reminded me that I forgot to mention, in my earlier post, that when we were in Ste. Radegonde during the tour, there was a baptism going on - priest, flowers, infant in white, the whole deal - and they were playing Rufus Wainwright's rendition of "Hallelujah." During a solemn Catholic sacrament. It was a little...disorienting.

Anyway, in reverse chronological order:

This morning I met Lauren in town, and we visited le jardin des plantes (literally, the garden of plants - descriptive, if not poetic), which is quite lovely, and the Église St. Hilaire, which is more than lovely. It's more romanesque, whereas a lot of churches we've visited have been gothic. Also, it had a weathervane on top of the spire. Complete with rooster. I'm sure that's of great doctrinal importance. We were going to go see more touristy things, but were prevented by a deluge, which we (mostly) waited out chez Lauren. Then sandwiches from one of the boulangeries with which Poitiers abounds, and onward to aforementioned misadventures with the bus.

Yesterday, Elizabeth and I climbed the very long (217 ± 1 steps) staircase up the cliff that surrounds Poitiers for some pretty amazing views of the city. It was sunny all day for the first time since we arrived, and the rooftops and church spires of the old city make for some excellent panoramas. There's a large statue of the Madonna and child looking out over the city from the top of the cliff, blessing it, and we wanted to climb the spiral stair to the top of the statue, but alas - locked. Still, yesterday was pretty excellent.

Jumping back to the present, Christelle, the daughter of my host mother, arrived back from the U.S. today. I haven't had a chance to talk to her much yet, but she seems nice. I'm looking forward to having someone my age in the house. I think a few friends are coming for dinner tonight, which means I absolutely won't be able to follow the conversation, but it's still fun to watch and (try to) listen.

Still in the future: finding a Nalgene or Sig or some equivalent, which seems to not exist at all here. It's quite a shock, coming from Vermont where they're practically mandatory. Also, I really need a haircut, but I'm worried that I won't be able to communicate what I want to the stylist and something disastrous will happen. Language barriers and scissors do not mix. Although I've generally seen a lot of good short haircuts here, so hopefully it won't be too much of a problem...when I work up the nerve.



I'm very thankful today is Sunday: nothing on the schedule that requires doing battle with the bus system. I went to church with my host mother this morning. It was...different. It's called the Église chrétienne (Christian Church), and is exactly what I expected from the name: not actually in a church, praise and worship music, about as non-liturgical as it gets. Lots of spontaneous praying and hand waving. The pastor is American and speaks French worse than I do. All he did was give a sermon; he didn't even serve or particularly bless the communion; you go up and take it "as the spirit moves you," I guess you could say. Me, I like the ceremony and tradition of liturgical churches. But living in Mignaloux, with no buses on Sunday, I'm not sure what other options I have. We'll see.

Mignaloux does have its plus side, being small and cute. Today there was a big market thing, basically an all-town garage sale (it reminded me strongly of the Kolache Festival, sans kolaches, and with sausage in a baguette rather than on a stick). I saw lots of interesting stuff, including an amazing number of matched sets of beer glasses, piles and piles of the little china figurines that come out of King Cake, Readers Digest condensed classics in French, and tons of vinyls, which Bruno collects (he came home with Johnny Cash and Sting, among others). It was pretty fun. However, it greatly disturbed me that they planned on selling the rabbits at the petting zoo for eating. That's just wrong.

To backtrack a bit, we tried to register at the Scolarité des Sciences on Friday and had all sorts of trouble with our American health insurance not being accepted. The nicest of the ladies told Lauren and me to go to our class anyway and we'd get it worked out later, so we did...and we're not going back. I came to that conclusion more quickly, having understood less of the computer science related material than her, but it's not what either of us was looking for. So I'm ditching math for the semester, which leaves this week pretty much free.

We did two walking tours of the downtown area, one Friday afternoon and another Saturday morning, with M. Fabrice Vigier, a history professor at the university. We saw a lot of churches, including some that have been repurposed. It was all quite interesting, and also damp - it's rained every day so far, and the forecast predicts rain for the foreseeable future. Charming. Tomorrow I'm planning to go into town in the afternoon, when there's at least a chance at sun and I am nearly certain the buses are running to/from Mignaloux, to explore inside a few of the churches at my leisure. I love old churches, and devoutly wish people still habitually built in stone. Though it's awful to see the graffiti and ugly paint and electric lights and other indignities people inflict on beautiful old churches. Progress is all well and good, but it should stay away from certain arenas.

I finally bought a cell phone, which is pretty cute and weighs almost nothing, being as basic as it gets (which is exactly my cup of tea). I had to go with the cards to add minutes, because you can't sign up for a month plan without a French bank account - a credit card doesn't cut it. Minutes are kind of ridiculously expensive, as previously noted, but all received calls are free and work even if you don't have any credit to make calls, and emergency numbers are free as well, so it's good for being reachable and in case of emergency.

In general, I'm getting a bit more settled in, though everything is inordinately tiring, including talking to people. I can understand French if one person is speaking in a relatively quite environment, but start adding people to the conversation and I completely lose it. Hopefully that will get better quickly.



Today was exhausting. Don't ask me what I'm doing blogging about it instead of sleeping; I wouldn't have a good answer. It's a relief to write in English again - we signed the Language Pledge today, so no more cheating by speaking English with my host mother, but communication with friends and family is sort of exempt, so I'm filing blogging in that category. As the day wore on, my French got worse, not better - when I'm tired, I lose all grasp of syntax, grammar, vocabulary (I forgot the word for "dog" this afternoon), pretty much everything you need to communicate effectively. Oh well.

This morning we met with Viviana and M. Paoli for introductions, lectures about French university life, classes, professors, all the logistics. We had lunch at a RestoU, but I haven't really been hungry since I got here (between the walking, the worrying, and the lack of appetite, I'm going to lose weight instead of gain it), so I can't really report on the quality of the food. The afternoon was more lectures and then, for three of us, meetings with professors in the math and science departments. It seems that math professors are the same everywhere - quiet, awkward, hard to engage in conversation - and I felt that he underestimated Lauren's and my level of proficiency. We're both taking Combinatoire (combinatorics) this semester, which is a third-semester course, and for next semester I had to talk him out of wanting me to take courses I've already covered. As it is he barely agreed to let me into a fourth-semester course in Euclidian/Hermitian spaces that I think I'm quite well-prepared to take. Oh well. Lauren and I present ourselves at the Université at 8h30 tomorrow morning to register for our math class, and the class itself starts at 10h30 and goes till 12h30. We'll grab something to eat and take the bus to centre ville to meet M. Fabrice Vigier, a history professor, who's taking our group on a walking tour of Poitiers. Then I'm going to take the bus home and go to sleep.

Speaking of buses, so far I haven't gotten too lost. I almost took the wrong bus this morning, but la conductrice fortunately asked me where I was going (I guess I do look like a foreigner) so it all ended up all right. Living in Mignaloux (a suburb of Poitiers) puts me closer to the campus that most people, but it's a bit of a hassle with the bus system. The routes end early in the evening (we ate dinner in centre ville tonight, so my host mother kindly came and picked me up from the closest bus stop to Mignaloux that I could get to) and you have to call ahead of time to get a bus on Saturday. They don't appear to exist on Sunday at all. I'm thinking of buying a bike, as it's not too far to the Parcobus Champlain stop (though a bit far for walking) where buses run much later and more frequently. We'll see.

I'm pretty nervous about my first class tomorrow, but at least Lauren and I will be together. I'm looking forward to settling into a schedule, at least; hopefully one that permits more sleep than I'm currently getting. I still need to buy a cell phone. I feel slightly naked without one, but they're so expensive here! If you use the pay-as-you-go variety, it's about €40 for the phone, and then €30 for two hours of call time (which comes out to about $0.75 a minute). I'm trying to decide if a one-year plan is worth it. Hopefully I'll have some time to figure that out on Saturday. And now I'm going to bed.


Je suis arrivée

I arrived in Paris yesterday morning after a surprisingly hassle-free flying experience - Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth were both practically empty, no lines in security, no delays, pleasant seat-mates. I found Lauren in the airport with no trouble, and our train was on time (unlike all the trains going to Lille-France, wherever that is). I had a brief moment of panic when I got off the train in Poitiers and didn't know where to go exactly, not being used to train stations, but I mustered up my rusty French to talk to someone official-looking who pointed me in the right direction, where I found my host mother. 

I basically broke the language pledge from minute one, as she started speaking English to me and I was too tired to want to argue, though everybody else at home speaks French - at dinner last night I understood maybe one word in five, and not usually strung together, so I just enjoyed the food and looked politely confused. French classes at Midd have given me the mistaken impression that I understand spoken French to a high degree - actually, our professors just talk slowly and clearly, and I can't follow a real conversation with people all talking at the same time and at normal speeds. However, everyone was very friendly and slowed things down when they asked me questions.

My host parents are Brenda and Bruno, the former a divorcée and the latter a widow, so they have quite a few children between them. Brenda's son is going to college in the U.S. and her daughter, Christelle, who is my age, will be living at home and going to the university here (she's away for the week, so I haven't met her yet). Bruno's youngest son, Tom, who's 14 and just started high school, lives at home; his two unspecified older children have apartments. The son of a friend of Brenda's is also living here: Nico, who's 15 and speaks French, English and Chinese fluently. It's a bit intimidating. In addition, a couple who are friends of theirs (both teachers, I think) have been staying here for the past week, so dinner last night was quite boisterous. I haven't quite mastered the cheek-kissing thing yet.

My room is nice and quite bright and cheerful, which is good since I didn't bring much stuff of my own. My favorite part is definitely the heavy wooden shutters that open outside the window; they're the sort you can throw open dramatically in the morning, take a deep breath, and quite possibly break into song. The neighborhood seemed pretty when we drove through it yesterday, but it's raining today (and most of this week, if the forecast is to be believed) so I haven't gone out exploring yet. There's a little staircase that opens to the outside and leads right up to the hall with my room on it, so I don't have to go traipsing all through the house if I develop a habit of coming home late (ha, ha). And I have internet (obviously), which is excellent. My phone didn't work as promised when I got over here (Verizon, you lie), and I was feeling horribly cut off. I don't know how people traveled like this before the advent of wireless communication. The internet feels like a big safety net, letting me keep track of/in touch with people. Don't get me wrong, I love letters (and had one waiting for me when I got here!), but I don't want to wait a week to hear from someone out of necessity.

In about 10 minutes Brenda is taking me to the bank to cash my traveler's checks and to wherever one gets a bus pass to do that. Then I will start religiously memorizing bus routes. Orientation starts tomorrow with general meetings and such. Lauren and I have a meeting all to ourselves with someone in the math department. I'm thinking of taking the same class she wants to do (something along the lines of probability), since I've never done something like that, I don't really need the credit, and I'd feel more secure in a class with somebody I already know. That's probably cheating, but not really caring...

A few pictures of my room are on my Flickr page, and more interesting things will come soon, weather and/or fatigue permitting. I don't feel awful, I just have no sense of what time of day it is. It's weird and disorienting, so I hope it passes quickly. And now I'm off for some errands. À bientôt!


Bon Voyage

Tonight is my last night in my own room for the next nine months. It's amazingly messy; I'm almost completely packed, and there is still a large amount of stuff strewn about. My suitcases (two, weighing up to 50 pounds each - efficient packing should be a competitive sport) are mostly full of clothing and medications; my carry-on bag contains my laptop, a folder full of important papers (if anyone wanted to steal my identity, it's all right there, conveniently packaged), and sundry travel paraphernalia (e.g. iPod, gummy snacks). The Euros/travelers checks/passport/train ticket are all traveling on my body. And that's pretty much all I'm taking. One of my beds is still covered in clothes (the "no" pile and remnants of the "maybe;" the "yes" pile went into my suitcase); my desk is still full of stationery; my bookshelf is untouched; my dresser displays all but my favorite jewelry. It doesn't really look like I'm leaving. If you ignore the large suitcases on my floor, that is.

After all the preparations for traveling abroad I've been making for the past months, it will be a relief to finally get there, although I'm by no means finished with paperwork. The French are entirely too fond of it. Although I have my long-stay visa, I'll need to apply for a residency permit once I get there, which requires a medical exam and a €55 stamp (which I'm quite curious about). According to the Poitiers transportation website, I need an identity photo in order to get a bus pass for the academic year. I'll need to obtain a French cell phone as soon as possible (in the meantime, I'll be incurring international roaming charges of $1.49 a minute - very short conversations), though I haven't decided between a year-long contract and the pay-as-you-go plans. The normal logistics of college life all seem much more intimidating when conducted in a foreign language.

However, I'm looking forward to meeting my host family and beginning orientation. From the research I've done on Poitiers, it seems like it will be a nice city to live in. The next 18 hours or so, and the leave-taking they entail, seem like the most frightening part of the whole experience. Hopefully that's a good sign, and when next you hear from me, I will be well on the way to immersing myself in la vie poitevine


Study Abroad

Hello, long-forsaken readers (should any of you still exist). In the next few weeks, I will be resurrecting this blog in order to chronicle my year in Poitiers. I leave Houston on September 1, stop briefly in Dallas (because that makes a great deal of sense) and arrive in Paris at Charles de Gaulle on the morning of September 2. At that point, I will meet up with a fellow intrepid study abroad student and take the train to Poitiers, arriving at approximately 16h10 (that's 4:10 p.m. to Americans), at which time I will hopefully be met by one or more of my host family (who, by the way, sound amazing). Orientation commences at 10h on September 4, so I will have a day to adjust to the time difference, unpack and hopefully explore the city a bit. I will be living here:
with Brenda Marshall and Bruno Jorigné, as well as several of their children (including a daughter my age). I am enrolled in the Université de Poitiers, and will be taking classes in French language, literature, history and culture, as well as some math, if I can manage it.

I'm generally very excited, although I still have a longish list of things to do before I leave and there seem to be a daunting number of things to accomplish in my first week there (not to mention a daunting amount of money to be spent in doing them). I will try to post regularly, but I make no promises as hopefully I will be busy. Also, I may or may not write my posts in French once I get there, but if I do I'll be sure to run them through Google Translate for your amusement and (limited) comprehension.

As a final note, my mailing address in Poitiers will be:

Hallie Gammon
Chez Mme Marshall
2 allée des Aubépines
86550 Mignaloux-Beauvoir Poitiers

À bientôt!


Nitwit, Blubber, Oddment, Tweak

The operative word being oddment. To the left is my new favorite desktop image from Pixelgirl Presents. They have a pretty fantastic collection of desktops for people who like colorful, busy backgrounds as well people who really don't like clutter. Or just for the same person in different moods.

In the same vein, my grumpy new Adium dock icon, the devil duck. I think he's cute and feel quite bonded to him. You can find him and others like him at the Adium Xtras page. You should probably get Adium first. FYI, it's a multi-protocol instant messaging application that works with all the major clients and a lot of ones I've never heard of, is highly customizable, and obviously has lots of fun and completely useless add-ons. Its biggest drawback is lack of AV support. Also, Mac only. Sorry, PCs... ;)

And finally, I am addicted to Firefly. I've never really bought TV shows or movies off iTunes before because I don't think the resolution is good enough (and still don't), but I have fallen prey to the ease of downloadable content. Hopefully I can get the rest of the season (how sad that there's only one) on Netflix before I spend much more money.


A Few Of My Favorite Things

Found while trawling the internet, as I am wont to do (insincere apologies to PC users, as two of these don't apply to you):
  • Flip4Mac, a free QuickTime plugin that opens .wmv files in QuickTime Player and lets you stream them in Safari. Bye-bye, Windows Media Player. I always hated you anyway. Opens files with no delay; haven't had a chance to test streaming yet because I don't run across many web videos in .wmv.
  • FlickrBooth, a free Photo Booth plugin that lets you upload snapshots to Flickr automatically or at will. Works like a charm so far.
  • The new version of Flickr Uploadr, apparently standard for Mac and PC (I have no PC to test that theory with). Since the FlickrExport plugin for iPhoto started costing money (heaven forbid), this is my new favorite option, and this version seems far superior to the old one. Since all editing now takes place in one window, you can perform batch operations and then change them for individual photos. You can also reorder pictures (and actually be sure of how they'll show up in your photostream). Now if they would just integrate it with iPhoto, life would be perfect...