J’ai passé un bon week-end (4/12/10)

Well, my friends, it has been another busy few days. This weekend, I decided to stay in Avignon, which was a very smart idea on my part. Because I stayed here, I was able to explore the city like I’ve been wanting to do. I think the best way to tell you is by separating into days. I know it’s a lot, but please stick with me. Here goes…

Jeudi / Thursday

I had five hours of class, and by the end, my head was about to explode. It’s hard enough concentration for that long in a class in English, but this was obviously in French. In these classes, there is no much thing as “zoning out,” not even for a few seconds. If you miss one thing, you get completely lost. It’s also a bit difficult when the professors speak quickly, because when you’re brain is translating the first they say, they’ve already moved on to the next topic. Needless to say, I have to stay on my toes. All the time.

I had my Culture and Société class and my Histoire class on Thursday. My CS professor is bit eccentric, but she knows what she’s talking about. The class is interesting because it’s basically French sociologie (sociology). We learned about the origin of different French salutations, specifically the bises, when the French greet each other with kisses on each cheek. Well, they’re almost kisses; you don’t actually kiss, but you do make the kissing noise. As it turns out, the number of kisses is different depending on where you live in France. The number ranges from two to four. For example, people in Avignon bises three times, while Parisians bises twice. The bises is the equivalent to the American hug.

For history class, our professor took us on a tour of the city. He explained the architecture and the history of particular buildings and churches. Though we walked for two hours, it was much more enjoyable than sitting in the classroom. And the best part, I can actually understand my professor. His accent took me some time to get used to.

Vendredi / Friday

First, let me start by saying that I love not having class on Fridays. After eight full hours of sleep, I awoke to the brilliant sunshine. I started my day with quiet time then homework, and I wrote one of my papers sitting on the terrace in the sun. Instead of cooping myself up in the house all day, I decided to venture on my own Avignon tour, which included me visiting little shops such as Shakespeare, the English used-bookstore down the street. The shop owner is an adorable old fellow. I believe he is from Poland, but his primary language is English. Anyway, I couldn’t have imagined a better shop owner; he fits the store quite well. He is thin and hunches a bit. He speaks slowly and with gentleness. His hair is snow-white, and he wears tiny glasses that rest on the end of his nose. I’m planning to return soon, drink some tea and read a good book. That sounds wonderful to me.

I continued on my way, and I ran into Sammi and Kierstin. Earlier, I had passed a discount shoe shop with a sign in the window saying, “Troisième Gratuit,” meaning buy two, get one free! Sadly, I didn’t find any shoes that I was “head over heels for.” Gasp! I used a cliché. Anyway, the rest of my afternoon was spent shopping for petits cadeaux (little gifts). Shopping for these gifts gave me an opportunity to visit the various candy and chocolate shops of Avignon. It was difficult not to buy anything for myself.

While shopping, we made plans for the evening — have a pique-nique (picnic) at the Palais des Papes. We (Sammi, Kierstin and I) all returned to our respective maisons (houses) for dinner and then met at the Palais at 22h (10:00 p.m.).

Samedi / Saturday

Saturday was a busy day for me as well. I woke up early to go to a cooking demonstration at Les Halles, which is the Avignon equivalent to Pittsburgh’s Strip District. It is a giant marketplace with fresh produce, meat, bread and sweets.

The demonstration consisted of a French chef walking us through the process of salmon tartare, which is raw salmon mixed with cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, and a dollop of avocado cream on top. I was nervous to taste it because the salmon was raw, but I faced my fear of raw meat, and it was delicious. We also received tiny samples of white wine with it. After tasting the wine, I gave mine to Alex.

After the demonstration, we had two hours to kill before the dégustation du vin (wine-tasting). So, Kierstin, Alex and I bought little French pastries for lunch. I bought pain au chocolat amande (chocolate in the center of a croissant-like pastry crust, topped with powered sugar and slivered almonds). We enjoyed the pastries in the Place L’Horloge, a little square near the Palais.

Now, as you have probably already seen in other posts, I don’t like alcohol and I don’t drink; however, I decided to attend the wine-tasting for three reasons. It was free. I’m in France. And, it’s at the most famous place in Avignon, the seat of the old papacy. I figured, why not? This is part of “taking it all in.”

At the tasting, which was only for my group from OU, we tried five different types of wine and also learned how to properly taste wine. First, the wine is poured. Make sure you hold the wine glass at the top of the handle, but underneath the actual glass. Second, swirl the wine around in the glass. Smell it. Examine the color. Then take a tiny sip. Once you sip it, you are supposed to make a swooshing motion with your mouth so the wine spread around in your mouth. Then, drink the wine, or spit it out in special buckets they provide. You aren’t supposed to drink all of the wine you receive.

After the wine-tasting, Sammi and I went shopping with Christelle. Later we met Florian for ice cream. At the last minute, Christelle and Florian invited us to the beach with them Sunday.






Dimanche / Sunday

We left for the beach around 11:30 a.m., and the trip took about one hour and a half. They took us the scenic route, full of mountains, meadows and rustic houses with orange shingles. After arriving at La Grande Motte, like the French version of Myrtle Beach, we immediately went to eat some seafood at their favorite restaurant, L’Oasis, where I tried my first mussel and my first slice raw beef. Loved the mussel, didn’t like the beef. After a leisurely lunch in the sun, Florian, Christelle and I played sand volleyball, while Sam sunbathed. The sun was hot, but the wind was cool. The Mediterranean is blue and sparkling, and is just beautiful. On the beach, we met two of Christelle’s friends, Nicholas and Christophe.

Although the weekend was incredibly packed, it couldn’t have been much better.


Je suis “all grown up” (4/8/2010)

Although I’m living with a host mom, I’m making a slow transition into real “adulthood.” Yes, I know that I technically became an adult nearly two and a half years ago, and going to college was another giant leap, but I’m really starting to feel the responsibility kick in. During the first two years of college, at least at OU, you’re required to live in a dorm, you eat in one of the dining halls for each meal and you have residence assistants watching out for you. Starting junior year, you have your own place, cook for yourself, have more financial responsibility. Well, I’m starting the junior-year transition a little early.

Though I don’t cook for dinner, I have to go grocery shopping for my lunches and budget my money. I must admit, I never really budgeted my money or even kept a running tally of my bank account, but now, I have every purchased logged in a word document (since I don’t have checks or a checkbook), and all of my “books” are balanced. While this makes me feel “grown up,” I’m not sure I absolutely love the responsibility. It’s almost as if France were saying, “Bonjour, et bienvenu à la réalité!” But, hey, c’est la vie. This is a good boost for September, when I have my first apartment.

Alongside me growing up, I’ve tried a few new things this week. Tuesday, my correspondent Florian asked Sammi and I to go to a volleyball match with him. We weren’t clear on the details, but we said yes anyway. As we discovered when we entered the high-school-like gymnasium, we were about to watch professional French volleyball, Avignon versus Poitiers. They play best of five games, like the U.S., and the match was about two hours long.

Though Avignon lost 3-1, it was exciting to watch, especially with all the rowdy French fans. You could compare the crowd to a low-key crowd at a European soccer game, except this was in a gym of course. Because Florian plays club volleyball, he knew some of the pros. So he introduced us to them. The player on the right, Paul, is actually an American playing for France. We were happy to be able to speak English to him.

After the match, we went with Florian and his sister Christelle to Hippotamus, a French restaurant. I’m sad to admit that Sammi and I both failed. We ordered hamburgers, for which Florian and Christelle made fun of us. In our defense, at least it wasn’t McDonald’s. And, this was a real burger, with real beef. It was wonderful. To say the least.

Anyway,  flash forward to yesterday (Wednesday). I went to the post office by myself. Now, before you laugh and say, “It’s just a post office, no big deal,” well, stop, because it is. First, I didn’t know where the post office was. Alex gave me the general vicinity, but I basically found it on my own. It’s an enormous building that resembles a monument in D.C. Wearing my skinny jeans, flats and French raincoat, I walked into the office confidently, even though I had no clue what I was doing. I needed to send a package to a friend in Athens. The package, however, was not wrapped, and I didn’t have anything to send it in.

As I walked through the sliding-glass doors, I saw two lines to my right. One line was for the giant counter with two or three tellers, and the other counter was for purchasing items such as envelopes. Behind the “other counter” stood a older French man, wearing glasses and blue, Hawaiian-style button-up shirt. At the time I approached, he was helping two women. As the women filled out paperwork, he asked me what I wanted (in French). I told him (in French) that I had three questions: 1. Do you accept credit cards? ; 2. What do I need to send this in? ; and 3. How do I send this?

The man in the blue, Hawaiian-style button-up shirt left for a minute to find some envelopes, and while he was gone, the women turned to me with a grin and said, “You know, he speaks English.” Just as the words left her mouth, the man in the blue, Hawaiian-style button-up shirt returned. Apparently, he heard her, so he began speaking English to me. In the midst of our conversation he said, “You speak French very well.” Let’s just say that that made my day. It gave me a confidence boost, which I’ve needed to break this nervousness I have about making a mistake when I speak.

On a side note, after two weeks here, my comprehension has improved enough to understand my history professor and his strong accent. I feel accomplished. I never imagined my comprehension or speaking skills would increase this quickly, but I can honestly say it’s an awesome feeling!