Friday, November 28, 2008

Joyeux Jour d'Actions des Graces

I'm gonna have fun with this one and write in PURPLE! Haha, sorry...totally random...


ANYWAY.

Last night the French-American Alliance threw a Thanksgiving feast for us Americans. It was really sweet of them, and the food was delicious! Granted, there was no pumpkin pie and I didn't get to watch my Dallas Cowboys whoop up on the Seahawks, but I did still have an awesome time :) Since we are in France, we had a typical French dinner, meaning there were at least 5 courses. When we got there, we were introduced to a bunch of old French ppl, some of them having emigrated from the US to Caen several years earlier. Suzanne and I were placed at the North Carolina table (sadly, they did not have a Texas one), and we began to mingle with everyone. I sat next to an older gentleman who was absolutely hilarious. He cracked jokes about every 5 seconds and laughed more than that. He used to live in Chicago w/ his wife (that's where she's from), but now he's back in France. Oh! And they have friends in Denton!! His English is very good, so when there were language problems, he was able to switch back and forth. I actually spoke mostly French the entire night, and there were only a few instances where I didn't understand ppl. I can tell that my French is greatly improving. For instance, the man told a James Bond-like joke about drinking, dancing, etc. like a Russian, and I understood everything!! :) The couple who sat across from me was also a lot of fun. Dr. Jacques was making fun of me because I kept putting my hair behind my ear since it was getting in my face. He proceeded to mock both me and stars he had seen on TV and act all haughty while doing it - and he's bald. There was plenty of entertainment throughout the night.

Our menu included:
  • Hors d'oeuvres of different pastries and some beef wrapped in baco
  • Pastilla avec des petits legumes et frie (turkey pot pieish thing w/ a lemon on top)
  • Rotisserie-style turkey w/ little cranberries, a small helping of mashed potatoes, and a stewed tomato w/ red onion on top
  • Trois fromages et une petite salade (to cleanse the palate)
  • Creme brulee
  • Cafe (coffee)
After dinner, the Franco-American Alliance wanted to get what seemed like hundreds of pictures of the 17 of us and had us introduce ourselves as well. There are 4 ppl from Connecticut here, and the last one to speak, Aaron, said he was also from Connecticut, clearly the better state. Since I'm Texan, and I was alone last night, I showed my Texas pride and proudly claimed right after, "Je m'appelle Courtney, et je deviens de Texas, le vrai meilleur etat." I'm Courtney, and I come from Texas, the truly better state. That got quite a few laughs from people.



Pictures: 1. Dr. Jacques, his wife, and me



2. The funny guy and me (never got his name sadly)


3. John, Henry, and me (John is from CT, Henry is from PA)



4. Thomas and me again!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

We will never forget...

This weekend I took a spontaneous road trip to Bayeux. One of my friends Thomas lives there, and I wanted to go visit both him and the D-Day cemetery at Omaha Beach. Originally I was going to take the bus to the beach, but because it was Saturday, they were shut down. Lame. However, Thomas invited me over for tea and then took me to the museum and beach. His house is unbelievably beautiful!! I seriously cannot tell you how gorgeous his place is. It was built around 1740 (if I remember correctly), and Thomas took all last year restoring it. It is three stories of absolute beauty. Outside there is a garden and some stone walls covered in English ivy. The fireplace has a little soufflier start the fire; most of the floors are wooden; there are 4 bedrooms, each with their own theme; and the parlor where we sat made me feel as though I lived in the glory days of France during Rousseau and Beaumarchais. Thomas used to own a B&B, so the decorations are exquisite and perfectly chosen. I might take him up on his offer to stay there one night!

After tea, we went to Omaha Beach and visited the museum that was constructed last year. It was a very, very good museum: totally modern in appearance, but very detailed in the history of what happened 60 years ago. There was a name database that allowed you to search for soldiers buried there by name, unit, and state. I was easily able to find John Pavlich, the soldier whose grave I visited 5 years ago. They had detailed information on Patton, the Flyboys, what happened on D-Day in 2 hour segments, and plenty of videos and paraphenalia. I learned two very surprising things there: 1. Teddy Roosevelt's son, Teddy Jr., fought and died during Operation Overlord. 2. Saving Private Ryan, one of my favorite films EVER, is actually based on the true story of the Niland brothers. Fritz Niland (James Ryan in the film) was the last brother remaining, so the US government sent him home. It was cool to read all the different stories of people who died there and the sacrifices they gave (some the ultimate sacrifice, others lucky enough to survive).


Pictures: 1. Omaha Beach


2. John Pavlich's cross


3. The brothers whose lives are what Saving Private Ryan is based on

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fall Break '08

Fall Break this year was like a whirlwind. I spent 4.5 days with one of my best friends, but it was over way too quickly. I thorougly enjoyed spending time w/ her and her friends. It was so unbelievably amazing to be able to get a hug and talk with someone I've known almost since birth. Definitely needed a change of scenery, and I got it.
Monday consisted of me being able to sleep in until 11 while Christian went to class. That afternoon we went to her geography class, which I had a blast in. I learned all about rocks, volcanoes, tectonic plates, etc. I found out why Alaska and the Netherlands are rising, as well as why Venice is sinking. Speaking of Venice, if you haven't been, you should probably go. Prof. Brack was saying that it might be gone by this time 22nd century. I also went to Christian's Modernism class, where the teacher was Irish, A.D.D., and pedantic. He was...interesting. Apparently he did his doctorate on why Ezra Pound is not that great of a poet. Later that afternoon, Christian led a Bible study. I was really REALLY excited to be a part of an all-girls Bible study again. I haven't been able to go to Bible study since being here because I still haven't found the Baptist church. This one was also in English, so that helped lol. At six I went to play practice which was absolutely hilarious. Franklin College is putting on The Complete History of America (Abridged). I don't remember who it's by, but it's a satire on our history. I was rolling with laughter on many occasions. Some included: the farce on the Kennedy assassination conspiracy, the birth of John McCain (which according to them was 17000 B.C.), anagrams of American and Spiro Agnew, and conspiracy theories in general at the end. One part that made my jaw drop was when Bryan gets asked to play the piano 19th century style. So, what does he do? He lays on the piano and plays "The Entertainer" upside-down. UP-SIDE-DOWN. It was freaking amazing!!

Tuesday morning I was a nerd and went to French class. Yes, I know, I was going to be skipping French class in France Wednesday morning, so I figured I would make up for it. It was worth it because I learned something that my grammar teacher didn't teach me! Woot! Christian took me to a chocolate factory about 15 minutes from her apartment. It was cool to watch the chocolate get packaged and shipped, and we got free samples! I definitely did some of my Christmas shopping while I was there. :) Since we had a couple of hours to kill, we decided to walk to Italy for lunch. Yeah, I said it. We took a train for about 10 minutes and then walked across the border into Italy. There's a video on here showing the two countries. We ate at a wonderful Chinese restaurant (go figure) and had pineapple gelato for dessert. I was going to go to Christian's seminar, but I decided to take a shower and pack. It's a good thing I did, too! We were in a hurry to get me on my train (which we wound up missing by literally 5 seconds). I hugged everyone goodbye, and May gave me some of her fabulous Bahranian beef and Thai coconut stew for dinner. Then, I rushed off to the train station where I finally took one to Milan for the night. I met a very nice police officer who wants to go to America who helped me find my hostel. Now I'm back in Caen and ready for my last month to fly by!!

Pictures: The cow at the chocolate factory
The pineapple gelato we enjoyed
Another bit of Swiss scenery

video

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Swiss Saturday

Hello everyone! Yesterday was my first full day in Lugano, Switzerland. It started off fabulously with a special trip to the Breggia Gorge in Balerna. Christian and I woke up around 745 and headed off on a hike, with the beautiful sky above us and the gorgeous mountains in front of us. Everyone has been telling me I'm really lucky it's not raining here because it's supposed to around this time of year. I laughed and told them I bring the absence of rain most places I go. I spent 10 days in London a few years ago and never saw even a drop of rain. Hopefully, the weather will continue to stay nice until I return to France. Anywho, the hike was BEAUTIFUL. God's creativity and masterpieces are unfathomable. It was a geology field trip filled w/ note taking for most of the kids; I got to tag along for the ride. However, I did feel incredibly intelligent because I knew what Professor Hale was talking about concerning rock formations and tectonic shifts. Speaking of Hale, he is a military brat who graduated from Duke, studied abroad in Germany, did research in Sweded, lives and teaches here in Switzerland now, and oh yeah, knows EIGHT languages. No big deal, right? My jaw stood agape for a good minute after hearing this. He speaks English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, and Gaelic. HO-LY-COW. Anyway, back to the field trip...we got to see quite a few waterfalls and springs, where the water was so clear, the depth was extremely deceptive. You probably could have dove into the water and not hit rocks, even though it looked like you would. All the leaves were changing color, so the scenery was just amazing.

After the gorge, Christian and I watched some House and got ready for Indian night, a.k.a., Diwali. It was a blast! For 5 Swiss Francs, we got a sample of some Indian food, henna, and a presentation of an Indian dance, as well as some Indian pop and hip-hop to dance to all night. I'm getting more henna done by Mai, Christian's roommate before I leave, but for now I have a fowl on my hand. The coconut dessert that we had was phenomenal, and the dance was awesome! The girls (and guys for that matter) were so talented! The dress was legit and the dancing was so expressive. Everyone really got into it. I'd say about 150 ppl were there last night. Seeing as there are 300ish ppl at the school, that's a huge success!

Pictures: 1. Breggia Gorge cascades
2. Random scenery
3. Henna picture
4. Christian and I before Indian night


video

Friday, November 7, 2008

Sono nella Svizzera!

Buon Giorno! That's the equivalent of bonjour in Italian. And, the title says I am in Switzerland! I will be able to get around with my French for the most part, but the large majority of ppl here speak Italian. I actually got around in Milan by myself with only French!! But let's start from the beginning...it's a very good place to start :)

Yesterday was a really rough day, so I decided to skip classes and just head for Paris. It's a good thing I did, too, because the train conductors decided they wanted to go on a greve. That's a strike, in case you were wondering. An Australian couple asked me if there was one going on because they had briefly read something about it, and they couldn't get to Rouen until 1800 that night. I didn't think there was, but I asked the bartender in French if there was one going on and how long it was going to last. He said he had no idea how long it would last, so I'm hoping I can get back to Paris on Wednesday morning. When I got to Paris, Emily and I went to Les Deux Magots, the place where Picasso, Hemingway, and Sartre were inspired. I felt almost existential...until I saw my 7€ bill for my hot chocolate. That's right. I paid 7€ for some hot chocolate - and it was totally worth it. It was THE best hot chocolate I have EVER had, which is good b/c the restaurant is known for it. It was almost like drinking pure chocolate soup. So fantastic!!

After the snackage, Emily and I went our separate ways. She headed for south Paris, and I went up toward Sacre Coeur and Montmartre. The hostel I was in was in a "dodgy" part of town. It wasn't a bad hostel, though. I was, however, followed by a creepy Tunisian guy that I tried losing. He mentioned that he wanted an American girl as pretty and sweet as me, blah blah blah. I finally found my hostel and said au revoir and didn't look back. When I entered Friend's Hostel, there were two blatantly American guys there. I told them about the Tunisian guy, and about an hour later, I was hangin' out w/ them in their room until 1am lol. Before that though, I talked to the co-owner of the hostel, who is from Morocco, for 30ish minutes...all in French!!! I was so proud of myself! I even got a history of the colonization of Morocco and understood all of it! Jacob, the American guy from Wisconsin, was very impressed when I told him I had only been studying a year. It's amazing what immersion into another language will do for your skills. He and Theo (the other guy) are studying at a university in the Netherlands, but they go to college in Iowa. Apparently the rumors are true: they do only have corn.

I woke up at 430 the next morning, hailed a cab in a matter of seconds, and was on my way to the bus station. The guy in there was texting while driving and kinda sleepy. It scared me to death. Fortunately, and obviously, I got there safely. He knew I wasn't French because I was struggling a little bit (who wouldn't be at an ungodly hour?), but get this: he totally thought I was Italian!!! That's a first. I've gotten Canadian, British, Minnesotan, but never Italian. And, I got Irish for the first time today, too. A Canadian who speaks w/ a British accent b/c his parents are from the UK this morning thought I was Irish. Apparently when I spoke French to him it was with an Irish accent. How weird! It's really fun experimenting with all these different accents, though. I'm still speaking w/ a heavy Chicago accent, though, and I blame it all on Theo.

Getting to Milan was mostly easy. I slept for about an hour on the flight, and Matthew (the Canadian) waited for me. It was really nice because no one else spoke English around us, and we wound up having to get the same trains to get from Bergamo to Milan. It was a little hectic since neither of us speak Italian, but we managed. :) I even was brave and once I got to Milano Central, stepped out into the city and looked for lunch on my own. I got a few sneers when I used French just by habit (the Milanese apparently detest the French), but I wound up getting a Siciliana pizza for, get this, 3.20€. A whole pizza!!! My hot chocolate cost twice as much, and I couldn't even finish this pizza! It was fabulous, though :) It was hard getting to Lugano because I missed my train by 2 minutes and had to wait another hour. What was also frustrating was when I went to the police ppl looking like a dumb tourist, only one of them spoke English, and his English wasn't even that good. I said as blatantly American as I could, "I'm lost." He said, "What did you lose?" Ugh. I knew this wasn't going to go well. So I said je suis perdu. That he understood perfectly and proceeded to help me the rest of the time in French. Thankfully I understood him.

I'll post pictures of Switzerland tomorrow, but I have included a view from my travels here.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Obamania has swept France...




Obama is adored by about 80 percent of French people, but I haven't met any of those 20 percent who would rather see McCain get elected. Friday night, if you were able to read my FB, you noticed that I was going to be participating in a debate at the City Hall of Herouville, a suburb of Caen. I got an official email from the mayor's office and everything! I had trouble finding the actual Hotel de Ville because it was hidden amongst a circle of buildings.

When I did finally make it into the City Hall, I was greeted by 3 ppl who only spoke French and one American who was fluent in French who helped me out. I had no idea he was an American at first because his French was perfect! It turns out that Thomas from L.A. has been living and working here for 14 years. He was going to be debating for Obama, which, as it turns out, everyone else was doing, too. Unbeknownst to me, I would be the only McCain supporter in the entire building.

Before the debate started, we met the mayor and went into his personal office to have a radio interview with some blond reporter. That was absolutely terrible because I didn't understand anything and my French came out in spurts. The mayor was really nice, though, and said my French was very good for only having studied the language for a year. I certainly didn't think it was anything to be proud of lol. The mayor was dressed very spiffy in a brown corduroy suit with matching tie and appeared to be about 40 and graying early. He was awesome to talk with, especially since he tried using English sometimes. Most of the time it came out very well, but his first attempt at English was rather amusing. Instead of inviting us to sit down, he merely yelled "SIT DOWN!" Apparently my facial expression was one of being taken aback, and he laughed and repeated in a much smoother voice, "I mean, sit down...please!" smiling as he said it. We all laughed and talked about American politics and university life for about 20 minutes and then went to the debate.

When I got in there, with the exception of the few American students who showed up for about 30 minutes, I was the youngest in the room by at least 15 years. I was most certainly the youngest who was actually debating. My first task was to paint a picture of who McCain was and what he stood for, since most of the ppl in the room only knew what Obama stood for, and even then they didn't really know the grand lignes of his campaign. So, I explained that he was a senator from Arizona who got into politics after being a POW in Vietnam. I gave a few of his ideas on health care and economic reforms and such, but it was very difficult to do in French. I told them at the beginning to bear with me because I didn't know very much but that I was trying. They seemed appreciative, but apparently one lady didn't think anyone was comprehending what I was saying and came to translate for me. I was grateful but also kind of hurt because Thomas has sat next to me so that he could translate for me, and he had given no indication that my French was not being understood.

Some of the highlights of the debate: a guy who couldn't have been younger than 75 said he was glad I was so respectful of veterans and of the POW situation, esp. since I was such a little girl when it happened, but wanted to know what else was good about McCain besides personality. He wanted facts. I didn't have the heart to tell him I wasn't even thought of when McCain was a POW lol. I told him that I thought his military experience would carry him far and that it was very important seeing as we have so many troops overseas right now. Another guy later, who seemed very angry with me as though I were McCain himself, asked how I could possibly paint McCain as being a moderate. I had to remember that to the French, Democrats are moderates and Republicans are as far right as they get, no matter how moderate that Republican may be. I told him that McCain was a very moderate Republican because of his views on gay rights and abortion, and the fact that he was willing to take flack from his party and vote against them because he didn't agree with them. The number one highlight, and not a good one at that, was when I was trying to explain that America was founded a lot of things; one of them being that if you work hard, you will be rewarded. We have a strong work ethic in America, especially compared to the French, who get 5 weeks paid vacation every year!! I explained that Republicans believe we should not share the wealth. We have organizations like Medicare and Medicaid to help out the elderly, poor, or people who can't work, but it is not our job to watch over them, which translated to "babysitting" in French apparently. They did not like that at all; a huge gasp went around the room. That's not what I meant, and I grimaced, but Thomas told me there was no real way to explain this concept of strong capitalism to a country who has had socialized healthcare since before they can remember.

All in all, I thought the debate was a total disaster lol. I was so unbelievably nervous, and it was excruciatingly hard to express my ideas in a different language. The people on the committee of the debate and a French guy who is a part of Obama's campaign in France (his name is Archippe) however said that I was very brave to sit in front of about 100 ppl and express my opinions and beliefs which directly contrasted with those of everyone in the room. "You are so young and so small, but you are strong!" were the words I heard over and over as we talked about the debate and American politics over dinner. I told them that if that didn't jumpstart my political career, I don't think anything will.

One of the funniest things of the night, though, was the mention of Chuck Norris. Yes, the French ppl know who Chuck Norris is. He was mentioned because I had told them that I wasn't really fond of McCain; I had originally wanted Mike Huckabee. Archippe knew that Chuck Norris had endorsed him and was travelling with him. Without thinking, I was like, "Oh yeah, Chuck came to my school and he goes to my church," as though this was no big deal. Wrong. The entire table shrieked and started freaking out about how I "knew" Chuck Norris. Immediately the Chuck Norris jokes came. Oh yes, the French know all about the jokes. I was rolling with laughter as one by one I heard the most famous ones in French (and actually understood them). I even piped in and said one of my favorites in French and they started laughing harder. It was a great ending to a nervewracking night.