Joie de Vivre and Quiche

Trip Start Aug 16, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of France  , Provence,
Sunday, September 5, 2010

So today (4/9/87) I got to sleep in and have a relaxing breakfast. Then I packed my new satchel (which I won at the lottery of stuff former students left behind) and headed out for one of my new favorite pastimes, aimless wandering.  I picked a direction I hadn't been to yet and headed off to see where the road went.  I ended up finding one of my new favorite places in Aix.  I’m sure I will be returning there many times especially once my landlord fixes the flat tire in the bike she has for her students.  It’s this really cool trail along the river below Aix.  At several points the trail widens into a couple small cute parks.  There were bikers and people walking their dogs and reading along the banks, very picturesque.  I exited the park at what turned out to be this athletic complex that was having some kind of expo.  It was pretty cool.  I found where I was on the map and headed back to town and then to Parc Jourdan to relax.  On the way I ran into some Mormon missionaries, they were nice enough.  I talked to them for a couple minutes about America and things that we missed from home.  One of them said he had been there for almost two years and was looking forward to going home where he could get Mountain Dew.  It hadn’t even occurred to me that I hadn’t seen any Pepsi products since I got here, only coke and sprite.  Soda really isn’t as prevalent here, unless you’re drinking Fanta or Orangina.  I told them that I was getting cravings for some bad American food, specifically Nacho Cheese.  You know the really bad slightly spicy kind you get at baseball parks.  I turned them down as politely as I could when they started trying to make an appointment with me to discuss their religion at greater length, and continued on to the park.

I found a nice sunny spot laid out my blanket (which I stole from the airplane on the trip over) turned on my favorite podcast, (Stuff You Missed In History Class) and ate my apple.  When that podcast was over I turned on my new playlist of French Music and read some more of "French or Foe" which is this really interesting book on French culture.  This particular chapter was all about French history and how it has created the modern French culture.  I never really realized how much Eleanor of Aquitaine did that affected so much of history, (pretty much starting the 100 years war for one) and how interconnected so many huge historical figures are, because for some reason all the history classes and specials always study them as independent events or people.

While at the park I also got to do one of my favorite activities here, French people watching.  The way they act and interact with each other is at the same time so similar and yet so different from us.  I feel like I’m doing some kind of anthropological research.  They are such an interesting people.  They have such beautiful parks and they really take advantage of them in a way I’ve never seen Americans do.  They take the time to just sit and lie and enjoy being outdoors.  The park is filled with people reading, sketching, children playing, dogs running free (oh my god! No leashes! The world is going to come to an end!), teenagers and college students hanging out and talking, old people resting on benches etc.  And this is every day!  This seems like such a stark contrast to American parks where besides the few toddlers on the swing set parks seem reserved for joggers and people walking their dogs at dog walking hour.  At least in my experience when American youth hang out, they seem to always be “going” somewhere, either to the movies, the mall, the city, out to lunch, clubbing… whatever.  Not that they don’t do that here as well, but they also take the time to just sit and talk and enjoy life.

That takes me to another feature of the French mentality, their ability to slow down and just enjoy life and what they are doing, especially if that thing that they are doing is eating.  And do they enjoy eating!  There are more restaurants and bakeries than anything else.  And they are always full, as long as it is dinner or lunch time, (they are closed otherwise, no restaurants are open from 9-11 they have lunch time and dinner time).  There are very few places to get “to go” food.  When they eat, they sit down to eat and enjoy what they are eating.  And the food is so good, I can completely understand that.

That brings me to my next topic.  My host is a lovely cute little old French lady, Madame Cheminade.  She is an amazing cook.  The first night she made Quiche Loraine, it was amazing.  Having only ever had quiche from Costco, I had never thought much of quiche, but sometimes it is nice to be corrected.  Almost every night she makes a simple salad of lettuce, olive oil and balsamic.  So I’m learning to enjoy salad.  But the main course is always amazing followed by cheese.  The other night I mentioned that I liked blue cheese and she got all excited “Tu aime le Roquefort?” she asked.  “oui! J’aime le Roquefort” I replied.  I told her how most people thought I was weird for liking it, but she was very excited.  The next night she told me that she had bought some Roquefort for that night’s meal.  It was fantastic.  She explained, (in French) that it came from the village of Roquefort and was made naturally in the caves.  I never realized that the cheese was named for a town, but I suppose I should have since most cheeses are.  It was fantastic.  I seriously can’t describe how good this cheese was.  Tonight we had crepes with ham, cheese and some kind of spinach concoction.  I couldn’t get enough.  Then for dessert we had crepes with homemade strawberry jam and crème fresh, amazing!

The other room is currently being rented by two Japanese girls.  They are really sweet, but their French is even worse than mine.  One of them knows a little English and my Madame, (that’s what I call her) speaks absolutely no English.  So communicating at the dinner table is interesting.  The first night was really funny, my Madame kept pulling out the dictionary in order to ask me questions and the Japanese girl who speaks a little English and I kept trying to translate for each other when there was a word we didn’t understand.  But I’m getting much better and my Madame keeps correcting my grammar, which is good and part of the reason I wanted to live with a French family.  The night of the Roquefort we had a whole conversation about cheese, (I convinced the Japanese girls to try it and they decided they liked it, especially with wine) and about the catacombs of Paris.  I was really excited to be having a relatively complex conversation, at least in subject material if not in vocabulary, entirely in French.

So I’m finishing this post on Sunday since I didn’t have time to finish and post it last night before I went out.  I was supposed to go to a house warming party at the apartment of some of the other students in the CSU program.  But I ran into a group of French students, some of whom will be going to the same university as me.  I had met them earlier at the park and they asked me, (in French) where the dorms were.  I had actually just found them earlier that day while wandering.  As I was trying, with difficulty to explain in French where they were, they must have picked up on my accent and asked if I spoke English.  I responded in the affirmative and two of them spoke it relatively fluently, so I gave them directions and they went on their way.  Anyways, I saw them and asked them if they had found the dorms.  They stared at me blankly for a moment then realized that I was the English guy they had gotten directions from, thus making my sudden question to them slightly less out of the blue.  They got all excited and we started talking.  We had only been talking for a few minutes when a guy came up to kick us out of the park.  We had re-met accidently in the park as we were both cutting through it to get to town.  They invited me to come eat with them.  I already had eaten but was excited to meet some nice French students and practice my French, so I went with them.  We had a good time and I am hoping to hang out with them soon when they move into the city permanently for school.  I found out later that the party that I ended up missing had been broken up by the cops and that the hosts potentially faced a ticket of 450 Euros.  I hope that that is just a rumor.

This morning I went to Mass at La Cathedral  St-Sauveur.  It was just as beautiful as last time, but I think I understood a little bit more than last time so that’s a plus.  This week there were no trumpets but there was an OK choir and a lot of people dressed up for some event.  They looked like provincial peasants from the 17th century, but I’m not sure and couldn’t find a flyer.  I think the priest explained it but I couldn’t follow it close enough.  They led the procession out of the church at the end of Mass playing flutes and drums. 

Now it’s time to get to my homework for French class tomorrow.  Then I think I will head back to the park for some more Joie de Vivre.
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