Thursday, February 12, 2009

I ate rabbit...And I liked it (Hope my vegetarians don't mind it)

Normally I wouldn't write this frequently, but luckily for you, the past few days have been full of note-worthy events.

First things first: I ate rabbit Wednesday night for dinner, and it was REALLY good. Like, "I can't believe it's not chicken!" good (puns! I love puns! 10 points if you understand this reference, Mollie Fox excluded). The Daniels refused to tell us what we were eating until the meal was over, which was both cute and kind of creepy. As it turns out, the morsel I took was
the bum (apparently the most delicious part). I felt really bad after I finished my plate and had a strange desire to track down the rabbit's family and apologize, but then I got over it. My only hope is that Matt Yashinsky does not read this blog.

Thursday morning after class (Contemporary French Press and Media), some friends and I went out for c
offee with our professor Monsieur Desorgues, an adorable old man from Avignon who is genuinely interested in what his students have to say. We sat down at a lovely little cafe in the sun (on the right, with the yellow awning) getting to know each other and discussing university life abroad. I realize I've said this about a million times, but I really do relish the cafe culture here; there is nothing more relaxing than enjoying a small cup of coffee while reading, writing, or just watching people pass by.

Professor Desorgues rarely misses the opportunity to slip in a word or twenty about how much he loves the french language, and I'm beginning to understand why. Most french people I've met so far (especially professors and adults, b
ut many students as well) boast about the beauty and rich history of the french language and rest adamant about the preservation of its formalities. Traditionally, the French have two words for "you" ("tu" and "vous"), and each is reserved is for specific occasions. The "tu" is informal and familiar and is thus used between family members and friends, while the "vous" is much more formal and polite and is to be employed when speaking with strangers, passerbys, and any figure of authority. During coffee, my professor lamented that usage of the "vous" is currently declining and stood firm that its extinction would be a terrible degradation to the French language.

Just as they are shamelessly proud of its conventionality, the French also seem contented with the simplicities and subtle
ties of their language. Even I find that most, if not all things are better said in French. Actually, I think I have an easier time expressing myself in French, especially when I write. In terms of fine nuances, English just kind of pales in comparison. Example one: there is one verb, "tutoyer" for the entire trend I described a paragraph earlier. In English, the most simple translation of this verb (while still being accurate) would be "to use the 'tu' form with someone in conversation". Buuuzz kill. Example two: the grape versus the raisin. In French, what we call a grape is "un raisin", and a raisin is "un raisin sec" (sec means dry). Someone remind me why we made up a completely different word for the same thing? Example three: clever colloquies. Consider the english expression "to be in a pickle" and its french equivalent "être dans le pétrin" (literally: to be in a tight spot). I don't get it. Cool imagery, but the last time I checked, I wasn't stuck inside a cucumber covered in vinegar. But come to think of it, yeah, I am in a pretty tight spot for waiting till the last minute to do my work. Je suis dans le pétrin. Done deal. Fourth and final example (I promise): the use of the reflexive. Alphonse drinks too much one night and tells you how drunk he is. You turn to him and say "I can tell". Or in French, "ca se voit", which directly translated is "that sees itself". It sounds weird, but makes just as much if not more sense because it places the emphasis on the action (Alphonse being wasteyface) rather than the subject (you noticing that Alphonse is wasteyface).

That same conversation also made me realize how un-PC certain french people are, especially older adults. At dinner, it's not rare for the Daniels to make sweeping statements about a certain political party, gender, or race (their personal favorite). They are admittedly old-fashioned and... how do I say this... kind of in awe of anyone who is not white or catholic. And despite his intellect, so seems Professor Desorgues, who continued to make the same mistake (like, 5 times) of calling my friend Tina Chinese when she is really Taiwanese, even after I corrected him. After Tina left, he commented on how k
een and enthusiastic she was and asked me, "ils sont tous comme ca?" ("are they all like that?").

I am genuinely surprised at the frequency of these sorts of fill-in-the blank statements (i.e. "Asians are good at math", "Jews have a lot of money", "Alberta Wright is dumb"), even though I know they are not meant to be malicious. And I thought I overgeneralized! This is of course not to say that the French are more narrow-minded than Americans (auuu contraiiire mon frere); it's more to suggest that France might be more attached to its history and less ready to adapt to the changing demographics of the modern era. You dig?

On a lighter note, the rest of thursday was pretty funny. On our way home from coffee, Talia and I encountered a theater tr
oupe all dressed up in costume and walking around the city promoting for a play. They happened to follow us all the way home, which provided for some great photo opportunities. Then, on our own street, we bumped into another professor. If I had to make one of those blanket statements based on the compilation of my interactions with this professor, it might be that "Arabs stand really close to you when they talk".

Later that day I happened to run into two other friends randomly on the street. First, a french friend whom I hadn't seen in a week, and that evening a friend from Newton (!) who is here on a different program. Aix is so funny like that. It's not tiny, but you still constantly run into people, kind of like earlier this morning when I literally bumped into yet another professor in the dairy aisle of the supermarket, which is helpful when you don't know whether to buy sweet, extra fine, or half-salted butter. Half-salted, in case you were wondering.

Thursday nights events are worthy of their own blog entry, so for your and my sake I'm going to stop here. Lots to talk about next time, so stay tuned!!


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"F***ing Fromage!"

I'm currently writing this entry in my journal, at a lovely cafe off the Cours Mirabeau where I'm enjoying a cappuccino and good conversation with some friends. I find that it's much more pleasant to write outside and on paper than it is to type on a laptop. I feel especially content today for a number of reasons, but primarily because this happens to be the first time I have seen the light of day in 24 hours. You might be wondering why on earth I would ever do that, but believe me, it was not my choice. However, to attempt to make up for my lack of writing recently (and because suspense is kind of fun), I'm going to backtrack and describe the events leading up to yesterday's "situation" in a not-so-chronological fashion.

First things first - vocab:

~coureur du jupon = womanizer (literally, runner of the little skirt)
~je remuerais ciel et terre = i would move mountains (literally, i would stir the sky and earth)
~gonflé = cheeky/full of it (literally, inflated)
coquin(e) = naughty

A lot has happened this past few weeks, but for length purposes and to ensure that you do not fall asleep while reading this, I'll try to recap as much as possible.

At this point, I feel one hundred percent settled in here in southern France. I'm getting used to my classes, my schedule, my surroundings, and the general rhythm of everyday life. This habituation is sometimes not such a good thing, though: I have reluctantly come to accept for example the fact that for the next few months, I will have to live in peaceful coexistence with dogs and their fecal matter. There is so much poop on the ground that I simply can't risk looking up when I walk. I have thus concluded that either French dogs poop exponentially more than do American dogs, or their owners ignore said poop's existence. I'm inclined to believe the latter. A friend wisely affirmed that there are tons of trash cans and tons of plastic bags, but no one has yet made the connection.

I am however relishing certain aspects of life in France. Besides food and wine, I relish France's secularism. I never really took the time to realize exactly how much our country insists on religion in every day life. Take, for example, the pledge of allegiance that many of us had to recite every morning in elementary school. Of course at that age, I didn't take the time to think about what I was saying, but looking back at it now, I have to say I'm a little annoyed: nobody ever asked me if I agree that our nation is one under God! My french family explained to me that this "under God" morsel is comedic to most French people; they apparently laughed whenever Obama uttered "God bless you" during his inauguration. I honor personal beliefs and convictions, but I don't care to be subjected to any religious majority just as I wouldn't wish to subject others to mine. I think the French are just so much more tasteful in what they deem private versus public. They have realized that religion is better left in the private sphere. Think about how many conflicts (forget wars) arise as a result of religious disparities. For fear of starting to sound like a broken record, I rest my case there.

In other non-personal credence related news, France STILL rocks. I'm perpetually on a natural high of genuine contentment with a place that suits me so perfectly. Nothing makes me happier than simply being with friends and learning new things about the people and the culture here in Aix. Two weekends ago, we all gathered at Bellegarde for a musical soirée during which the talented few played guitar or sang, and the rest of us sat around drinking wine, talking, and taking in the music. I forgot how nice it is sometimes to just close your eyes and LISTEN. I remember looking around and not seeing a single person without a smile on his or her face. By the end of the night, everyone's arms were around each other singing anything from Disney classics to Celine Dion to Bill Withers. Simply put, France gives off great vibes.

A week or so ago, the group went over to Mme. Daniels home for a wine tasting class with Guillaume, James Bond's twin brother. It is safe to say that everyone at the table was locked in a wine stupor before you could say "coq au vin". As we ate, Guillaume introduced difference wines and explained which foods go well with which wines, and why. Generally speaking (from what I gathered), white wine pairs well with white meat, while red wine works best with red meat. Also, something about tannins and acid. Sorry, you'll figure it out.

After the wine tasting, a group of us went to a bar/club/who knows called O'Neills. It was the first time since my arrival in Aix that I went out dancing, and I forgot how amazing it feels. Biggest truism of my life right there. It was also a first for me to go out on a Tuesday night (9A: this is beyond plaque-worthy) regardless of the fact that I had class the next morning at 8:30. Oops. Nonetheless, we grooved (haha, I just said "grooved") to music like any white Jewish girl would before parting ways and heading home.

The following week can be defined by the word "oops". Indeed, I refer to the current stage of my life as "the period of the oops", as the past few weeks in Aix have been full of discoveries, the majority of which are inadvertent and rather unfortunate. Kind of like, "oops, I bought toilet paper instead of paper towels", or "oops, I just got sideswiped by a car", or my personal favorite: "oops, I bought the wrong thing at the supermarket and did an entire load of laundry with fabric softener doubling as detergent." Pro: my clothes smell yummy. Prevailing con: they aren't actually clean. It's funny, until you realize that it's not.

This past weekend, Talia and I flew to London and spent a few days there with our friend Morgan from Barnard who is currently studying economics at UCL. To state the obvious, London was wonderful. Morgan was an incredible host, and I let my inner tourist out. We visited several landmarks, including the Big Ben and Platform 9 3/4 (if you don't know what this is, shame on you). Obligatory touristy pictures were taken of red telephone booths and double decker buses. Saturday was perhaps the most quintessentially British day ever: "high tea" at Harrod's. During this time (around 3:30pm), mothers in cardigans and children in button down shirts and sweater vests gather at a table to sip on tea and eat perfectly cut sandwiches -- sans crust, obviously -- scones, and pastry's (see picture). I am convinced that whoever invented the word "proper" did so solely to be able to describe this phenomenon.

It felt weird to be an English-speaking country with skyscrapers and fixed shower heads, and I take that as a sign of successful immersion in France. I definitely missed Aix more than I thought I would, but I must admit was in heaven when I took my first sip of starbucks and had my first bite of pad Thai for the first time in weeks. And don't even get me started on McDonald's. Such delicacies do not exist in France. For the better, definitely. A weekend fix of typically American food was all I needed, and by the end of my trip I found myself longing for a croissant and a croque monsieur. I realized on the plane ride home how happy I am to able to call Aix my home.

Which brings me full circle to yesterday's events. Upon arriving home from a long day of traveling, Talia and I were starving and made ourselves a lovely dish of pasta with cheese and butter and a side of green beans. It was a delicious five-star meal, topped off with a bowl of cereal for dessert. Before bed, I read a few articles and completed some sudoku puzzles (level: fiendish, bitches).

The next day, I woke up with a very odd feeling in my stomach. Regardless, I gathered up the strength and went to class. It became clear after a few minutes that it was only a matter of time before -- well, you know. Miraculously, I made it through class, and told the professor of my next class that I didn't feel well and was going home. It was a race against my body to see if I could get home before serious damage was done.

I won that battle, but I definitely lost the war. I will spare you all the details, but suffice it to say I was very, VERY sick. Within minutes of opening the door and installing myself in the bathroom, I hear the door open and see Talia make a beeline for her bed. With a single glance and without exchanging a single word, it was mutually understood that we had fallen prey to a little virus called food poisoning. And so it happened that I had my first "I want mommy" moment, the two of us spending the entire day in a state of catatonic helplessness traveling back and forth between the bathroom and the bedroom. For those of you who watch Sex and the City, picture the scene where Charlotte and Harry spend the night on the bathroom floor after eating rotten cheese at a fancy restaurant. Only I'm Harry, and Talia is Charlotte. Again, one of those oops' that's funny, until you realize that it's actually not.

With this beautiful story and insightful analogy, I leave you. There are, after all, dishes to be dried with toilet paper and laundry to be softened but not washed.

Bisous a tous!