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2008-10-15 Ansley and Emily eat their way through Europe

Life falls into a nice rhythm here: classes, free time to write in my favorite cafe, come home to hang out with my host family each evening, go out on the weekends to explore the country of Provence during the day and the city of Aix in the evenings, and delicious food from all of my new best friends, with a few malentudus thrown in each day just to keep things spicy. I am now friends with the man who sells coffee near the Passage Agard, which is a small alley in Aix that looks like it's from Harry Potter. "Chocolate with your coffee?" he asks each time, like he doesn't already know the answer to that. I am also friends with the man who seels cheap paninis with Nutella and bananas close to the AUCP. And, I am starting to become good friends with Paul, the guy who smokes his cigar and runs the crepe stand in the late afternoon/evenings. I like the size of Aix very much. Even if I'm not exactly friends with someone, I actually recognize many people on the street every day - the old painter who rides my bus, the twelve-year-old kid who always has a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Every week, I think I've found my new favorite place or favorite thing to do in France and then find myself constantly surprised and having to rethink things. That is a good way to look at this study abroad experience: a lot of surprises, many marvelous - more often than not marvelous - and a lot of rethinking the way you've previously viewed the world. On the other hand, there is also a lot of remembering ways you used to think about the world and returning back to those things. I am always surprised by the memories that certain places evoke here. This past weekend, we had an AUCP excursion to Le Camargue, where I found myself constantly reminded of the Everglades in Florida, where I used to go quite regularly when I was younger. it is a region close to the Mediterranean, just west a couple hours from Aix. We saw bulls and flamingos (!) and rode a little train around the countryside that sounded ad moved like a dying chain smoker. The other students decided that it reminded us of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride before it was remodeled, but without any exciting pirates or singing. There were swamps and estuaries and more palm trees. There was a little bar/restaurant tucked into a grove of palm trees in the middle of the country. Right in the middle of the swampy country, our professor read us a poem from a local French poet. The sky was muggy and blue. I fell in love. We visited the "collines du sel", hills of salt, where salt is harvested from the sea. Later, we visited a village called Saint-Mairie-de-la-Mer, which was tiny and tucked right into the crook of the sea. We ate more gelato, of course, and had lunch. Emily and I have decided that this semester is going to be called "Emily and Ansley eat their way through Europe." Each day, I tell myself - no more Nutella! No more pain! No more crepes from Paul! But, later, I immediatly and easily convince myself that life isn't really life without being able to eat whatever you want, especially if you happen to be in France. Diets in France? Just not very practical. In Saint-Mairie-de-la-Mer, we climbed up unto the roof of an old, old church, and looked out over the village and the sea. Sunday, I ran a 5K race with Hannah and my host dad and my little sister - called Cours de l'Integration Algernon. It was very relxed, non-competitive, with thousands of participants. The goal was to run with the handicapped and raise money for them as well. It took place in Marseille, right in the city along the sea. The good feelings and energy in the air were so tangible. Hannah turned to me at one point and said, "THIS is what it means to be in France!" She was so right. Just being there in Marseille and running with everyone else, not having to speak French!, made for a very good Sunday morning. Tha hard parts of studying abroad so far have been feeling detached from home, isolated, out of control, disconnected, especially with things going on in the States like the elections. There are some days that are SO frustrating. The language drives me crazy - I am head over heels in love with French and also driven mad by it at the same time. A few nights ago at dinner, I thought that my little sister said she pushed a handicapped person while she was running the race Sunday. "Anne-Camille!" I scolded. "Quel horreur!" "What?" she replied, looking at me in confusion. That wasn't what she had actually said, of course, and I still don't know what it was she did say. But, I feel like here in France we are all given everything necessary to be completely happy - like trips to swampy everglade-like villages with flamingos and hills of salt and old churches. I mean really, I can't imagine anything better than that. MId-terms are next week, then vacance! I am off to Paris to visit a cousin, then England to visit a fellow Linfield-er. A la prochaine fois! Ansley Clark

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