This past weekend, France had another holiday. I mean, it’s kind of a joke that the French love their holidays but let me break down my past several months for you. I arrived in January, and in February I had two weeks of holiday, in March we had a long weekend for Easter, and then in April I had another two full weeks. During the first week back from that, we had another day off for labor day on May 1st. Then, last week we had half of the week off for L’ascension. There’s still another jour ferié on the 20th of May. So obviously, I haven’t been blogging cause I’ve been too busy being on holiday. My life is so hard. But I’m going to play catch up, because my hard drive is full of photos of beautiful places. First off, Mont Saint-Michel: the place I’ve wanted to visit since I first learned about it in my 8th grade French class and the destination of the most recent holiday.
Mont Saint-Michel is place that feels like it’s a site straight out of Tolkien’s imagination. It’s a monastery in Normandy, France built on a tidal island. The magic of the place is the tide, because when it’s low you’re surrounded by miles (kilometers?) of nothing but sand, but during high tide it almost feels like you’re on an island. We arrived during low tide, and me and the boys were pretty eager to march barefoot out to the boats we saw docked far off in the sand. It was almost exactly like walking in the ocean, but without the ocean. Obviously, when we got there I had to take a photo like I was master of the ship until the actual master came up from the cabin. She was really sweet about how I was taking weird photos by her boat, and seemed really surprised that an American would be at this world famous tourist site.
Despite the serenity of most of the photos, I think the one with a million people is a more accurate representation of the experience. All day I was trying to take photos without blurry heads in the foreground. As I was snapping the very last shot, one man put out his arms to block a herd of people from ruining my shot. After touring the abbey, we were able to watch the tide come in. We snuck off for something warm to drink, and by the time we were done the Mont was surrounded by water. We left late that night, and headed to Rennes for the next part of our journey.
It’s been a little while between updates, and I have no idea where to start to sum it up. I’m kind of wishing I would have shared more over the last month, but sometimes the sun is shining or I’m a little tired from dancing the night away. And sometimes I have these wonderfully profound thoughts when I’m walking home and the light is gold, but I’ll be damned when I sit down to write about it ma tête est vide. Or all the words are wrong, at least.
Lately, my thoughts have changed from how much time has passed to how little time is left. I’m really feeling as though six months is not nearly long enough. While I still have a few more adventures up my sleeve, there’s still so much more I want to see and do.
“To come home from another home is a weird feeling, because people expect you to be the person you were when you left, and that’s impossible. You expect things to be exactly the same as when you left, and that’s impossible. Maybe it’s impossible to even truly come home once you’ve gone away because of those changes. Coming home is strange, because now that place is just a tiny bit less of a home.”
In France, the Monday after Easter is a jour férié. So instead of the Friday before being considered a holiday, it’s that Monday when school is closed and work is cancelled.
But a day off definitely must be used to the fullest, so we took the train to Saintes for a small adventure. It was a perfect Spring day, and our hearts were light from spending the day outside in the sun. We had another baguette & cheese picnic in the park. I’m sure everyone in the town must have been out that day too. I found a yellow flower and wore it in my hair, and we took photos in front of pink trees. After an afternoon’s exploration, we settled down next to the carousel for a café. I think we all would have stayed there forever. Instead, we played “La Vie en Rose” as we walked back to the train.
Seriously, as I’m trying to write this out, to save and share the memories, I just feel so grateful for all I am seeing and experiencing these days. Life abroad can be hard, and sometimes embarrassing, but when it’s good, oh is it good.
It seems I spoke too soon on my last post. I did start feeling better, but then this weekend I caught another cold. I’ll admit, it’s probably my own fault I got sick the second time. It’s just so hard to stay home and rest when it’s Spring and I feel like my time in France is racing by. Today is officially the end of my third month in France.
Here are some tiny things about my life during the past month:
There’s been a surprising sense of patriotism that has come out while I’ve been abroad. Every once in awhile, I just want to tell everyone all the awesome things about the US.
At the same time, I absolutely wish I were French and never want to leave.
It’s not terribly wise to point out things that are difficult for you to pronounce to a native speaker, especially when it’s a word you use often. It will cause the person with whom you’re speaking to snicker every time you use it thereafter (those darn “R”s can be tough).
Turns out, the word for shirt and folder are the same in French (or at least in my region). This is pretty confusing when a student asks you to get a “chemise” for her professor, and you don’t see a blue/green shirt anywhere in her locker.
My neighborhood must be some sort of retirement community, because I only ever see older folks when I’m out walking. This means a lot of precious old men in berets smiling as I pass, which I don’t mind.
Running for a train will never not seem romantic.
A boy told me I was perfect because I said I love wine, bread, and cheese. Why am I not living here forever?
Being a foreigner teaches you important life skills, like how to make friends with anyone who seems like they might be in their 20s.
Dinner should always follow this formula: aperitif, salad, entrée, cheese, dessert.
Espresso should always be served with a chocolate on the side.
As a surprise to both me (and Rachel), I was unable to post on Tuesday because of a flu/cold/complete-body-shut-down that happened to me that morning. I’m feeling better now.
This week our theme was “Head in the Clouds.” My photo is a mix of the old and the new, and inspired by every time I take a walk. Maybe you have already visited and seen Rachel’s lovely self-portrait she shared Tuesday, but if not you really should. It’s right here.
It seems that my little town has a few unexpected treasures. This weekend there was a music festival. Think a little like SXSW, except much smaller obviously, where several bars in the area host shows and people change places throughout the night. I loved that the usually rather quiet streets of Niort were very much abuzz with the energy that only music can bring. Both nights the bars were packed with concert goers, though we somehow managed to squeeze into the front row for most of the shows even when some people were still hanging out on the street. It turns out, I enjoy a good dubstep session and can really break it down (which is really to say, it’s the perfect style of music for my lack of serious dance skills but love for a good dance party). I was also pleased to discover a native Niortais band that is wonderfully reminiscent of Phoenix, French accent and all. Here are some of my favorites from the weekend:
This is the band from Niort, Colours in the Street. Take note that when you’re a band from France you can have live music sessions in what appears to be a dungeon (and probably is because there is a dungeon that happens right in the center of Niort).
This is another from Colours in the Street. This song was my favorite from the show because it gave me another opportunity to break-it-down. Everyone knew it, and were singing along. Good crowd vibes.
Uke, trumpet, French guy rapping. What more could you ask for in a song.
This was one of the most fun sets with a really unique style. Something like electro-jazz.. They used the song “I Wanna Be Like You” from the Jungle Book for one song. Dancing to a remixed version of a song from the Jungle Book wasn’t on my bucket list, but it should have been.
If I were a writer, I think St. Jean de Luz would be the perfect place to go to find my stories. It was quiet, and unassuming. Near the mountains, and the sea. A place that was once home of the King.
This was one of the three towns we visited in the Basque country, and it was only a few kilometers from the Spanish border. I noticed much more Spanish influence as we wandered around the quiet town. It was a refreshing change. It seems like the whole town decided on that deep red, doesn’t it?
The theme for this week’s photo for my collaboration with Rachel was ‘outfitted’. I really hope all those who know me well have a bit of a laugh at this photo. I have to fight myself to not wear this everyday, but especially while I’m traveling. It’s what I’ll wear when I’m on some great adventure, or when I really want to be (always). Imagine me in the mountains with my hair blowing in the wind to get the full picture (or look at this actual picture of me in the mountains with my hair blowing in the wind). After typing all of that, I realized I just posted a photo of me in this outfit in St. Jean de Luz. I’m not kidding, I love it.
This was the last weekend before one of the other assistants returned to Germany, so we spent the weekend creating a few new memories together. We had a party on Saturday, and we were together on Sunday too. We even celebrated St. Patrick’s day at a pub in town after the party and wore some ridiculous hats while drinking a pint of Guinness. Favorite moment of the evening was definitely singing along to Born in the USA. I really get a kick out of being a foreigner sometimes. I also faked my way through a conversation when I couldn’t understand French over the music. Hopefully my excessive nodding and smiling wasn’t too obvious (or charming, at the very least).
On Sunday, we went on a little day trip to explore the area. We drove to several villages along the Marais Poitevin (I don’t even know how to describe this, so I linked to wikipedia). We were thrilled when we arrived in one of the villages and heard drums playing and found everyone gathered near the river. There were children in fairy costumes in wagons pulled by donkeys, and there was a boat in the river with a mannequin burning. It was so bizarre, but also the most exciting thing to walk into unexpectedly. Small towns with crazy traditions are great.
My favorite way to experience a new place is by eating something that is a specialty in that region. In Bordeaux, it was the cannelés that we ate for dessert with our sunset picnic on the Garonne. In the Basque country, it was gâteau Basque. We ate our cake by the sea and old men wearing berets wished us “Bon appetit!” as they passed, which made the experience all the more enjoyable.
I’m determined to find and master a recipe for this cake that is comparable to what I had that day. It’s crumb is dense and the middle is filled with cherry jam or vanilla pastry cream (I tried both, naturally). It’d be great with a cup of coffee, but wasn’t too sweet without.
If you ever find yourself in the Pays-Basque, make haste to the closest patisserie and have yourself a slice. In fact, go to the Pays-Basque just to eat this cake. It’s worth it.
Bon week-end! Hope it’s filled with sunshine, cake, and maybe some Guinness (that’s what I’m hoping for, at least).