Monday, September 21, 2009

le 21 septembre

1. I am starting to get the hang of laundry machines over here.

2. I am becoming way too obsessed with Longchamp, reading status updates on Facebook, and making collages.

3. I just finished reading an incredible book. In French the title is Elle s’appelait Sarah, but I believe in English it is Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. Thank you Jessica Phillips for recommending it!

4. Classes are really difficult. Who knew that in the French language there are 6 different ways to speak in the past tense (and that each is really specific and has a definite right or wrong time to be used based on the nuance of the sentence)? Not to mention that real French people don’t use three of those ways but my teacher is still making us learn it. My GRAMMAR BOOK doesn’t even have one of the tenses we learned. Thankfully, this is the last week of the “intensif” program…real classes start on October 5th and will be much more laid-back. Instead of grammar, I will be taking French literature, culture, and classes of that nature.

5. Next week I have a vacation. My itinerary: Ireland and Paris. YAY!

6. Better blog coming soon. There is so much I want to write about but haven’t had time lately. Coming soon: “The secret Paris of Coco Chanel”; “Why 1989 is the most important year in modern history (and it’s not because it’s the year I was born)”. Stay tuned.

7. For a class project, I had to interview French people about national pride. When I asked, “At what moment have you been most proud to be French,” four out of five responded: the moment France won the World Cup in 1998. It was definitely a great moment, I remember. Nonetheless, the frequency of this answer surprised me…a soccer match is really how they identify themselves as French? Another answer that surprised me: Opa telling me that he is not proud of the French Revolution. I said, “but Opa, you believe in democracy and liberty, right?” He said, “bien sûr, but one must remember that if it weren’t for the kings of France, there would be no France. The revolution was too bloody and violent.” He has a point. But it still surprised me. Considering that he is Napoleon Bonaparte’s #1 fan (if you’ve ever seen his Napoleon-ornamented office, you know what I mean), I figured that he would be a fan of the revolution, too. The only response that all the interviewees had in common was that they are proud to be French because it is the birthplace of le droit d’homme…the rights of man (thank you Montesquieu, Voltaire, etc…). This is home of the democratic promise, and it is interesting to see how the government and the people relate to that idea in an era of diminishing global prominence and an increasing immigrant population…a population of people who come to France to be part of that promise. It’s quite a controversy these days in the French media.

8. I used today’s blog as a means to procrastinate from writing a paper based on the research done in #7. I should probably start writing my paper now.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Skinny Love"

Marion Cotillard Lady Dior Ad Campaign

French women are often stereotyped as being skinny or thin. Well, I know their secret(s). Discovering this secret was somewhat anticlimactic, though, because it is summed up in three boring words: the grocery store. Their trick to being thin has nothing to do with themselves but instead with the structure of French towns and where the grocery store is in relation to the city center.

It is important to first understand a major difference between American cities and French cities. In France, and elsewhere in Europe, there is a strong concept of a “centre-ville”…everything is at the center of the town. City life is very centripetal. For example, in old towns, streets are not built in blocks but, rather, all streets lead to the center. Looking at a map, the roads look like a spider’s web. Conversely, in America, city life is centrifugal…people flock to the suburbs for shopping, eating, and other commercial things.

Because of the centre-ville, it is almost impossible to drive to the grocery store, which is typically at the very center. If you live in the center, this is the grocery store you go to, and if you live in the center, you probably don’t have a car. Furthermore, even if you did have a car, the grocery store doesn’t have a parking lot.

Now that I have explained the centre-ville, I can tell you the secret(s).

Secret #1

French women walk to the grocery store and, consequently, carry their groceries all the way home.

Secret #2

Having to carry groceries all the way home, French women only buy what is necessary.

Secret #3

The French government passed a law banning all non-degradable plastic bags ( Because of this, French women must buy a large, reusable bag from the grocery store. So, not only do they only buy what is necessary because they don’t want any extra weight to carry; they also only buy what is necessary because it all has to fit in their large, reusable bag. It’s not hard to make sure everything fits into your bag, however, because as you shop at the grocery store, you do not have the luxury of using enormous shopping carts (like the ones we have in the States). If you want a big cart, you have to pay for it (and I wouldn’t suggest doing this because it probably wouldn’t fit down the aisles anyway). So, shoppers are left with the option of carrying a shopping basket (which, because of the weight it accumulates on one’s arm, makes it very easy to only buy the minimum) or pushing a shopping cart designed for Polly Pocket (I’m not kidding).

One might think that this would result in French women’s making more trips to the grocery store in order to get the same amount of groceries as normal people. False. Going to the grocery store in France is like going to a Turkish bazaar, minus the bargaining. The hassle is just not worth multiple trips.

It all makes sense, right? I kind of like it this way. It makes me realize what grossly easy access to food we Americans have. Not that it’s bad to have easy access (I’m very grateful for it) and not that the French don’t have easy access…I mean, relatively, France is still one of the richest countries in the world. Nonetheless, it almost seems shocking to me now how many times I’ve filled my gargantuan shopping cart at Kroger or Wal-mart with pointless food, simply because I know that I can just roll it on out to my car, fill up the trunk, then take “trips” back and forth from my car to the door to my house which is maybe five feet away. Now, because of all of the effort I put into carrying my groceries all the way back to my house, I almost feel a little pride as I cook that which was so carefully chosen. There’s no harm in working for your food. It seems a little more natural that way. Plus, I feel healthier now because of all that effort.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Angers: pour tout de suite et pour longtemps

One might think that when living abroad, the most difficult adjustments to make in one's daily life, or vie quotidienne, would be those that result from cultural or linguistic differences. I, however, have found that my most baffling experiences yet have had to do with laundry. It has been the pursuit of a washer and dryer and, even more befuddling, actually figuring out how to use the machines, both here and in Rome, that makes me think, "my life in America is SO easy." It is not the fact that there is no air conditioning any where nor the fact that you have to pay to use public restrooms; even the reality that everything here is at least half the size of things in America (cars, rooms, people) is easy to accept. Consistently, it has been my experiences with washers and dryers that make me think to myself, I heart the U.S.A.

There are other aspects of daily life here that make me think the contrary, I heart la France:

Castles less than 500 metres from my house; the impression you get when walking down the street or sitting at a restaurant that there is no rush. Take your time. Something that I particularly like about Angers is the abundance of crêperies (if you sit down, the meal usually consists of 1) a galette, which is a crêpe with eggs and ham or vegetables; 2) a dessert crêpe...just with sugar is really yummy. Another favorite is chocolate and banana; 3) cidre, the cold, alcoholic, bubbly cider that one traditionally drinks while eating galettes, grâce à la Bretagne) and kebab stands that stay open all night.

The history in Angers is fascinating because it is the heart of French history. It is out of this region, Anjou (of which Angers is the capital), that the lines of French kings came. This is where France was born. Angers is also really different from the France I am used to, la Provence. The fashion here is so preppy. Everyone wears pastel Ralph Lauren and Lacoste polos; boys even wear them with beige sweaters wrapped around their shoulders. Furthermore, no one is without the ultimate prep accessory: the classic Ray-ban Wayfarer. And, bien sûr, all the girls carry Longchamp and boys carry man-purses. I love it. Thankfully, I also have my faithful wayfarers and Longchamp.

My classes here are great. For the month of September I am doing an intensive French program. This means that I am in French language and speaking classes for about 8 hours a day. It is indeed intense, but I love it. I love le français. And, so far, I love Angers.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I like lists...

My bedroom
My bedroom
My hosts' beautiful courtyard behind the house

1. I am in Angers! My address here (for those of you who wish to write me...I loooove mail!) is:

Mademoiselle Emilie Dayan
Chez M. et Mme. Bereau
45 Boulevard du Maréchal Foch
49100 Angers, France

2. My hosts are super classy. They are both musicians.

3. Monsieur Bereau is a wine connoisseur. Last night at dinner, we had four different bottles of wine (ones that he chose to specifically match each course), and with dessert we had cognac. As far as the food, which was delicious, we started with an aperitif of pistachios, tomatoes, and olives served with a local white wine. The first course was salad that consisted of fresh spinach, roquette, grapefruit, avocado, and a balsamic vinaigrette. This was served with a bottle of smoky tasting wine. Afterwards, the main entree was chicken with a curry sauce and an eggplant ratatouille-ish dish (but it only had eggplant) with a coriander sauce. We had a very delicious red wine with this entree. The cheese was then served and came also with its own wine. I drank the wine but didn't eat the cheese. For dessert, Madame Bereau made a lovely peach tart which we ate while drinking another type of red wine. Then, after dessert and before coffee, came the cognac. I learned a new use of a word at dinner. Here, they call designated drivers l'honoré, "the honored." I would like to start using this in the states. Who would say no to being asked to be "the honored?"

4. I think this is really cool: When my hosts retire, they want to buy an old, run-down chapel in Basque Country, renovate it, and spend all their time having concerts in the chapel.

5. There are two Sephoras, a Zara, and a FNAC all near my house.

6. There is a gothic cathedral outside my window.

7. My room is huge, and so is the house. This year they are renting rooms to four students (including me). Usually they keep three floors to themselves and put all the students on the fourth floor (because usually they only have three students), but they made an exception for me and put me on the third floor by myself. The room is very spacious with a marble fireplace, and I also have my own bathroom. On the fourth floor, there is a kitchen for all of the students to share; I am excited about this. I am hoping to do a lot of cooking this semester. The other student who has already moved in (his name is Alban, he is from Normandy) has suggested having theme nights throughout the semester (i.e. "French Night"- he has already decided that he is going to make raclette...a cheese fondue that you eat with bread. This is the kind of thing that we always eat when it's cold in Lozere or Vars (I have a feeling this is making my mother and father very jealous :). I need to decide what to cook for "American Night"...any suggestions?).

8. Angers is ranked as having the second highest quality of life in France. Cannes is #1.

9. It is definitely a college town. Walking around, I have only seen young people. There are about 150,000 habitants in Angers--20,000 of them are students. The house where I am living is right next to all the campuses and nightlife.

10. I felt very French this morning. I was starving when I woke up but didn't have any food to eat. So, I walked to the grocery store that is down the street, bought groceries, then went to the boulangerie next store and bought a fresh baguette and came home and ate a piece of baguette with boursin (my favorite). It was the first time I have ever walked to a grocery store (and it was a very little one indeed). Oma gave me a basket to do my shopping, because in France they don't have plastic bags to carry groceries...every one brings his or her own basket. Walking around town with a basket full of groceries in one arm and a baguette in the other gave me a very happy feeling...much more so than throwing all the groceries in a car and then driving home. It felt completely non-commercial, very French, and very, very precious. I think it is going to be a good semester.
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