Journals from AUCP Aix-en-Provence
2008-04-21 Katie's Petite List of Cultural Goodies
And so our saga continues the second week and life is changing fast. Ive found a nice little groove, sans jet lag, with a much better comprehension of the French around me. I no longer feel completely foreign, which is nice. I still only understand half of what I hear, but it doesnt give me quite as big of a headache when I dont understand. Ive found some nice places to eat, I have a good sense of the busses and a better sense of direction (I get lost a lot, but its always nice to find new things).
The family: after the weekend skiing, Anne is much more agreeable. Didier is, as always, terribly funny, and Martine is wonderfully accommodating. I had the lovely surprise that what I thought were two large fish tanks (one downstairs, one upstairs) were actually full of turtles! And the weird thing on the dryer in the kitchen was not an herb garden but a hamster cage for Chocolat, although he might be a rabbit And I finally met Sandrine, the eldest daughter. She is FAR more talkative than anyone else in the family and has no concept of volume. She seems nice enough, but I think they find her tiring. I dont mean to jump to conclusions, but she came over again yesterday morning (around 8am) and I was just waking up. I could hear every word she said and both Martine and Didier were trying to shush her, without success. I came down just as she was leaving (denoted by the door slam), and Martine apologized saying that clearly Sandrine had woken me. They both looked rather annoyed. Anyway, we went to the Mediterranean Coast today for Urchins. Yes, friends, Sea Urchins. Apparently, its illegal to fish for them, save two months out of the year (January and February), so everyone, their mom, their dog, and their pack of cigarettes, heads to the sea for a prickly snack. They cut them in half, revealing a star-shaped pattern of orange and black goo, squirt some lemon, and spoon out the orange stuff, which they eat with bread and butter (similar practice with oysters). Didier eats the black stuff too because it tastes like the sea. I did my part and tried them. The orange isnt bad, but the black is like licking the bottom of an old fishing boat " not really my thing. I prefer mussels cooked. I thought I was accustomed to seafood " and I would be wrong. Ive almost always had salmon or swordfish, and Ive never eaten fish so dense as I have here. Its delicious and not too fishy, but thick and often with a creamy sauce. Oh! The French sauces I wont even start. There seem to be frequent traditions surrounding seafood and food in general. When it comes to hunting and fishing in France, it seems like everything is illegal " cant fish this, cant hunt that " but theres always an exception and its always precise. Like, you cant fish this type of fish except for the second Wednesday of every other month. And its always legal in Spain and Italy. The good news is, crepes are never illegal! And Saturday was the day of Crepes! I couldnt quite understand why, but the 2nd of February is, like, National Crepe Day. Maybe its a Provenal thing. Like aioli on Fridays. Seriously. Aioli Fridays. Beautiful.
In discussing weekends and courses and vacations and the like, I discovered that the family goes to Barcelona every three or four months. I have no idea why but theyve been doing it for a while. I have a sneaking suspicion that they go to buy cigarettes because theyre cheaper in Spain. They have cartons and cartons that I think they bought on their trip to Egypt a couple months ago. Anyhoo, theyve offered to take me with them! How magnificent! Of course I said yes. Then we got to talking about the host families that dont take their students anywhere and they dont do anything. Naturally, its an issue of money, but Didier says he likes to do weekend trips and the like to relax before the menacing work week (and he complains about work all the time). Personally, Im all for it, as I told him, and he said that was good and they would make sure to take me with them. So, in a couple weekends, they are going to visit Martines brother in Monaco, and I GET TO GO! WOOOOOHOOOO! Im SO excited! And the weekend after that, Barcelona!
On the more academic side of things, courses began this week, and I am glad to report that are magnificent. The first week, we can attend any/all classes to try them out before we decide. So, I will be taking French Cultural Patterns with a guy thats rather reminiscent of Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast (the candlestick guy), except he isnt a big flirt. Then theres Written and Oral expressions (French class) with a lovely woman who is reminiscent of my freshman English teacher from high school. The painting class is a laid back, project based class with an American professor (who speaks French) and she looks a lot like my friends mom. I almost took 19th Century French Literature and Paintings, but it was packed and the Provence Literature and Film Class seemed like it would serve me better in knowing the area and improving my French. Finally, there is the French theatre class!
Now I have to explain that in order to have a course at AUCP, there have to be at least 4 students and no more than about 15, with very few exceptions. And the theatre class didnt exactly go so well last semester. There were strikes for teachers at the University during a really tough period of exams where the students need the help of their professors if they plan to graduate. So Monsieur Andre Not, the theatre professor, was rather preoccupied and just didnt show up for a few classes. Then they had to make up the classes at the end of the semesterduring finals. It wasnt pretty. But I love theatre, and I find myself pretty accommodating, so I went to the first class. The class is three hours Tuesday morning and thats it " once a week. So I go, and there are five girls there (apart from myself). One of them had done theatre before (in high school) and the others were timid and had been encouraged by the director to take theater. We waited and waited. The professor never showed. The secretary couldnt get ahold of him, he never called, and so the stories go. Needless to say, the last thing I wanted my last semester of college was three French lit. classes, a mountain of homework and a void in my soul where theatre once sat. Then Wednesday rolls around and there are notices that the theatre class will meet Thursday morning for three hours then return to its normal schedule. While I was mildly agitated, I was willing to forgive, but Im afraid it deterred some students. Alas, there are four students, and the class will continue. The professor, Mr. Not (pronounced No and appropriately so), is a glorious character of the Frenchest nature. Were more or less doing a French Theatre History sampling with some scene work, pronunciation and breath support, and a petit showcase at the end of the semester. I m really excited. If anything, I can always benefit from the practice teaching others. Im not here to create masterpieces but to continue learning. AND, he is active in the local theatre scene, so Im going to try to sneak my way into some groups or some backstage work. Ill keep you posted.
As for my magnificent language partner(s), Pierre and Laeticia, we went out Tuesday night for a beer and a chat, and I found that he does not work for a travel company but for some business having to do with Nuclear Power. Hes a project manager. And he has an interview with Westinghouse sometime in the next couple of weeks. And his first time in the U.S. was in Philadelphia. So one of the first things he learned there was oh, fuck, man, that shit is and you get the idea. As we left, they took me past a club and told me that if I thought it was cool we could come back another time. Its a tiny discotheque thats known in Aix for being the first stop of the night. It was pretty crowded (they said it was nothing), and the music was pretty good. Laetitia LOVES to dance. Shes so funny. As soon as we heard the music, she was movin. I think they knew the bouncer and he told them that it was American girl night because the French university students are finishing final exams for what we would consider Fall semester. I plan to return.
The next night I went to see Asterix auc Jeux Olympiques with Anne. For those of you who arent familiar with Asterix, its a French comic (typically for children), about two friends in the last village in Gaul, while the Romans are taking over. The village has a sorcerer that makes a magic strength potion, so theyre insuperable. Asterix and his oversized friend Obelix go on adventures and say silly things and so on and so on. The movie, a sequel of sorts, is not a cartoon but played with live actors, and this version features a grand array of French athletes and such. Obelix is played by the well-known French actor Gerard Depardieu. It is HILARIOUS! I cant think of a cultural equivalent but Ill try.
And last but not least, American Girls. Its so hard. Its like your freshmen year in college when you live in the dorm with a whole bunch of people you dont know and probably wouldnt like normally, but you dont know anyone and youve gotta start somewhere. Luckily, I found a few that I like pretty well. Weve formed a little band for the time being. Im sure things will change but theyre quite nice for now.