Archive | September, 2010

Absolutely and utterly random.

29 Sep

An oldie but goodie.

Nothing beats some great Semisonic to make the walk to the university a little more….epic, à la 1998.  Love it.

French Lesson 102

28 Sep

Smoke [smōk] verb: everybody’s doing it!….Seriously, everyone is doing it.

On time [än tīme] adj: 1) a phrase unknown to the French; 2) for the French, on time means ten minutes late; 3) a standard not followed by professors in regard to starting or ending class (yet they are punctual to leave the classroom once class is over and not take any questions).

Beret [bə-ˈrā] noun: a stereotype that has yet to prove itself true to me.

Fedora [fi-ˈdör-ə] noun: a hat worn by French cowboys.

Cappuccino [ka-pə-ˈchē-nō] noun:  an espresso drink made differently at every cafe but usually served with whipped cream instead of foam and dusted with cocoa; as opposed to a hot chocolate that is not served with whipped cream at all…I have yet to fully understand the coffee situation here.

Coffee to go [kä-fē tü gō] noun:  What?  Why would–No.  Just, no.

Sunday [sən-dā] noun: Day of rest. Why leave the house? No need; Streets are deserted.

Bonjour [bōⁿ-zhür] inter.: 1) good day, hello; 2) NOT to be confused with bonsoir and used after about 6pm; you will be called out by your host dad every time you do use it too late.

Cobblestone streets [kob-uhl-stohn strēts] noun: 1) why my feet hurt; 2) with Dog poop: the reasons why my head is down staring at the ground while I walk; 3) an ineffective obstacle that does not stop French women from wearing 3-inch heels.

Walk signal [wahk sig-nəl] noun: as if to say, “yeah the little green man is lit up, and you could walk if you wanted to but I wouldn’t assume you’d be safe from the cars…”

Jambon et fromage [jãbõ e frɔmaʒ] noun: the delicious and simple French PB & J; served on a baguette–not necessarily a croque monsieur.

Butter [bə-tər] noun: where Americans might put mayonnaise on sandwiches, the French use butter (example: ham and butter sandwich).

No habla español.

20 Sep

Two and a half days, 5 French-speaking girls, 1 very large Spanish city = jam-packed site seeing and no communication skills whatsoever, unfortunately making us the ultimate American tourists.

And making us realize and appreciate how much French we know.  We realized we were in trouble–and back to not even square one, but probably negative five–when Mari and I went to get breakfast, and we walked up to the counter and realized we had no idea how to even order a simple meal.  We had lost the edge.

But, that was just a side note to a great/interesting weekend in Barcelona.

To start off with, though, the bus ride there was hellish.  We were picked up en route at 9 PM, and the next five and a half hours turned out to be a horrible start to an otherwise great trip.  The bus was full of only Catalan-speakers, which is fine, but the area we were in was full of middle-aged men who had no consideration for anyone else.  They talked very loudly while everyone else was trying to sleep, one guy was flicking his cigarette lighter very close to Liz’s hair for a long time, another guy just straight up stole mine and Mari’s seats after a rest stop break forcing us to sit on the bench in the back with no support for sleeping except for each other’s backs, and he even called us all “the four whores”.  Very little sleep, cricks in the neck, a toddler having a tantrum, 3rd-grade budging in line at the bathroom and stealing seats, sweating in the sauna (I mean bus), and classy name-calling.  Great intro to Barcelona.

The only highlights of the bus ride: Mari and I watching The Hangover on my iPod and so slaphappy at the absurdity of the bus ride (at least at first) that everything in the movie was hysterical; and me half-way walking up, searching for my shoe with my foot, finding my shoe, groping at it to pull it toward me, and realizing too late that I was stroking the foot of the guy sleeping next to me.  But if you pretend you’re still sleeping and that it never happened, it’s okay…..right?

Once there, we were dropped off at the outdoor bus station before the train station opened leaving us to try to get some sleep on the cement platform and fend off a huge cockroach.  Fortunately an older security guard took us under his wing, found us a better spot to sleep–the ticket office stoop–gave us water, and patrolled us while we slept.  He definitely made up for the jerks on the bus.

After a short sleep on the bus station floor–ending with a swift kick to the foot by a gruff security guard–we headed to the hostels and started the trip!

Wow.  Barcelona is an architect’s (and architecture lover’s) dream.  Passeig de Gràcia alone has so many impressive, but mismatched, buildings all mixed together.

Long story short, Gaudí is a crazy genius.  Crazy.  But wicked genius.  His presence in the city combined with the rich historical setting is really incredible.  La Sagrada Familia is beyond amazing.  To think that’s it’s not even finished and is going to be so much bigger and taller (only 8 of the 18 planned towers have been built) is incredible.  There is so much to look at, so much going on, and SO many contrasting and varying styles of art; I could have stayed and taken pictures all day.

Another one of Gaudí’s, Casa Batllò, was fantastic.  It was an apartment built for one family (which is shocking in itself since it’s so big) that he created to look like the ocean.  Inside and out, Gaudí didn’t miss any opportunity to make it his own.  There were no linear lines anywhere.  Curved everything, foggy “under water” glass, incredible tile work, and impressive innovations.  However, we were told by the audio guide that we were going to use all 5 senses up in the backyard…..we’re still not sure what we were supposed to taste…

The last Gaudí site we visited was Park Güell our last morning–and, luckily, the first blue sky and sun we had.  Basically an extension of all of Gaudí’s works thrown in one park, I found it so weird how one artist could have so many styles that were so different, yet you could tell that they were his.  The view was spectacular–only to be rivaled by the view from the Montjuic Castle on top of another hill/mountain closer to the sea.

In addition, we explored the medieval part of the city, visited the roman ruins directly underground the city, listened to some great street music (playing the hang), walked a TON trying to find our way up to Montjuic, and ended with an impressive show at the Magic Fountain.

Overall a great trip, the weekend was filled to the brim and definitely worth the horrible trek there.  And as a bonus, on the day-time bus ride back, we went through a part of the Pyrenees with some beautiful rolling hills and mountains peaked with towers, abbeys, castles, fortresses, etc.  The internal fight between sleep and staring out the window was fierce.

And since I’ve been getting crap from various people for my lack of pictures with actual people in them, here ya go.  And I gave you a weird one, so there.  haha I’m sorry, I guess people take a backseat to art/architecture and nature for me :/

A Lesson In French

13 Sep

The word for “full” as in “full of” is plein (de)….which is unfortunately very close to a word used to say you’re pregnant, and therefore is not used in the sense to say that you are full after eating a meal.  I hope my friend’s host-mom understands that I’m not actually pregnant.

It’s important to check your surroundings when you first arrive somewhere, especially when that somewhere is your new bedroom….and there is no door.  Hm.  I probably should have caught that.  No worries, it was being painted and was put in a few days later.

The French have a sense of humor, too.  So, when your host-dad yells at your little brother and slaps him hard, and you see your brother fall behind the counter, don’t get freaked out and think it’s real.  They loved the trying-hard-to-be-polite-and-hide-the-shock face, though.  They’re a well-organized comedy duo.

Cigarettes (and the smell) are everywhere, but I’m getting used to it.  Bring on the second-hand smoke.  Non-smoking sections–not so much here (although it is illegal indoors, so, kudos France).

Avoid the grungy-looking guys with the big dogs and the chain accessories who just roam around–we’ve heard they just want to share their music with the world….yet I’ve never actually seen one with a musical instrument.

“Genie pants” (think Jasmine) are très chic.  And look comfortable, sooo we Americans here may be getting our hands on some soon.

It takes a long time to say “hi” to a group of your friends here.  Les bisous, the kisses on the cheek, would never fly in the US.  Although some of the “cool” guys here have adopted the fist bump, so you never know.

Apparently we Americans are relatively paranoid about being clean and germ-free, because there is rarely soap in the bathrooms here.  And also rarely a toilet seat.  Meh, oh well.

There are quite a few stores where they only sell white clothing.  Strange.

When one of your friends comments that she has hardly seen any PDA in Montpellier compared to in Paris, expect to see a ton of PDA in the following week.  It’s too much to handle at times.  For example, do you really need to go at it in the tram…directly in my line of view…while I awkwardly share a seat with a guy and we’re both trying to look out the window for refuge….and it gets heavier for a long time until your friend in the seat behind you finally hits you on the head to stop….but then you take a minute break and you’re right back at it again?  No, I really don’t think you do.  I need to learn to say the equivalent of “get a room” in French.

Currently playing

10 Sep

Ben Sollee

Pain au chocolat = death of me. Foie gras ≠ cheese.

8 Sep

Those are two things I’ve learned so far.  Very important to remember.

Pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) is deadly to the core.  These pastries stare at  you from every which way, and there’s really no defense.  You’re beaten the moment you’ve past your third pâtisserie and you give it a second glance.  Down for the count.  And on top of that, Magnum ice cream bars–Grandpa, I wish I could bring some back to the states for you.  They are delicious, and since my Grandpa loves them and you can’t get them in the US, I feel compelled to have one, at least.

The French and their amazing food.  And those are just the sweets.  Let’s not get started on the bread, the wine, everything my host dad has cooked so far, just the gourmet everything (but seriously, kudos to my mom, there’s nothing here that you wouldn’t cook amazingly yourself at home; being such a great and gourmet cook, you’ve prepared me very well for the food here).

But I have to point out that foie gras is not cheese.  It may look like cheese as it’s sitting on the counter with a knife next to it before dinner, but one shouldn’t walk by, see it, and cut off a bit and try it thinking that it is cheese.  And then when one sits down for dinner and her host dad brings it to the table and asks if she would like some foie gras, she will realize her stupidity, but she should decline and save herself the upset stomach that was to commence after dinner.  And she should not let her dad serve her the foie gras, thus getting too much, and feel impolite to not eat it all.  Nope.  One should realize that foie gras is not cheese.

New school, new family, new home, new phone

6 Sep

That’s a lot of new.

Things have been crazy busy in the last few days, but I’m finally getting settled in and once classes start next week, I’ll be in my new routine.  It’s been a while since my last update, but I’ll try to go over things quickly and not bore you!

Friday night, we went to visit a ranch near Le Grau du Roi (where we stayed for the weekend) that raised bulls for racing and fighting.  Just the drive there was a treat to see the Mediterranean, vineyard after vineyard, and the flamingos?  Yep, flamingos.  In France.  No one told us about that, but apparently they’re everywhere down here.  In fact, the shops around here all had these souvenirs with horses, bulls, and flamingos.

But once we arrived at La Manade, it turned even more into a “wait, I thought we were in France” moment as it looked like a true ranch with the barn-like buildings and cowboys riding around on horses–but with a French twist, of course.  The cowboys, while totally legit, wore fedoras.  But hey, which came first and which is the “real” farm hat–the fedora or the American cowboy hat??  Regardless though, it was amusing.

We rode on a tractor/wagon and went on a tour of their land and their bulls while the cowboys rode around us and herded the bulls, and we got to see their race track and when we got back we watched as some of the farm hands played/taunted/ticked off the bulls in a ring arena and tried not to get stabbed in the butt.

Afterward, we had a traditional French meal with all of the courses, including a basket of fresh vegetables and the main dish of bull, of course.  It was all really good, and then to top it off, we were invited over to the barn where the farm hands and friends (young and old) were dancing and partying.  We joined in, and it was a lot of fun to see how different the music and the dancing was–it was just fun, everyone just did what they wanted, and even our program directors joined in.  And of course, techno and house (still unsure exactly what house is) without lyrics usually, OR as a remix of an eighties song.  Every now and then, I was pulled by the hand and I danced salsa/swing with some of the farm hands (one a 16 year-old who was especially thrilled to have all of these college girls there I’m sure), and by the end of it, I was given the title of Dancer of the Night.  So, thank you Mom for the cotillion and dance classes!

Saturday, we had a nice boat ride on a great big catamaran on the Mediterranean, but we really only just went around the bay area.  But it was really nice being out on the water–it was so pretty, and there were a lot of other boats out (sail boats, yachts, jet skis).  Afterward, we laid out on the beach and threw the Frisbee around in the water.  I was stupid and didn’t put any sunscreen on and got quite a nice rouge.

Sunday, we went to Arles briefly and visited the Museum of Antique Arts.  It was very cool and definitely a test for my French.  It was all about the Roman ruins and artifacts discovered in the city and in the Rhône River in Arles.  They had a lot of cool things and so much of it was in really good shape.  Their prized possession was a bust/head of Julius Caesar, which was also in amazing shape.  It’s important for two reasons: it’s the only bust of JC in France, and it is one of the only made during his lifetime, so it’s a very true likeness.

After Arles, we went to Aigues-Mortes, which is a completely walled-in city from the time of St Louis (Louis IX) in the 13th century.  The walls are filled in to the brim with little streets full of shops, restaurants, and houses.  It was so pretty, and we ended up walking around for a long time just looking at all of the houses.  We took a tour of the tower, which imprisoned women (the original sinners) of the Protestant Reformation (Huguenots).

Then, it was back to the office to meet our family!  We were all so nervous and the families were so excited, and we all kind of lined up one group facing the other, and we joked that it was like a game of dodgeball.  And once one of the directors started calling out our names to match up, it felt like she was picking teams and the last few of us joked that we were the losers who nobody wanted on their team haha.  My family is great!  The parents are very nice and are so helpful for improving my French, and the little 10-year old boy Matteo is so sweet and cute!  The house is very cool too.  They have a pool (I had no idea) and a faux-lawn with lounge chairs and a bar up above, then a level down they have their house and the dad’s office, and then stairs down to the street (they are kind of built up against a tall bank/cliff).  We are in the old (very old) part of town, they say they’re in a separate village than the rest of the suburb, and it has the typical tiny French streets winding around, and the beautiful windows and houses, and a church from the 12th century (I think).  My room is very cool too; I have a loft where my bed is and a ladder/stairs up to it.  It’s so cool and everything is so French!  I love it.

Anyway, I should go, but I will write more about the French culture and lifestyle more later, I’ll try not to be so boring with just reports on what I’ve done each day!  I miss you all and hope everything’s great stateside!



Here we go

2 Sep

So, I made it!  It was a ton of traveling, zero sleep, and one lost bag; but here I am.  Once we arrived, we received a schedule for the next week or so and were sent to the hotel to relax until orientation tomorrow.  We took a short walk around the hotel, got a croissant and an Orangina (a must), and got a little lost.  But hey, that’s the beauty of being thrown into a new city.  Naps followed and then it was off to the Place de la Comédie for dinner at a café in the square, some great people watching, good food, nice wine, and some more getting lost on the way back.

Finally I get to shower tonight and get some actual sleep (as opposed to the head-bobbing maybe 45 minutes total of sleep I got on the plane).  Then, tomorrow, our program group is going to the Mediterranean coast to stay for two nights and visit the towns in the area and go on a cruise on the sea (!).  Ummmm, awesome.  And we’re visiting Arles and the Museum of Antique Arts soo needless to say, I’ll be in heaven the next two days or so.

Sunday, I’ll meet and move in with my host family, and from there on out it’ll be orientation at the University, taking my oral and written placement tests, and registering for classes.

Here goes nothing!

I hope everyone’s doing well, and I miss you all.  I CAN’T believe I’m in France already.  I feel like I’m on a vacation; it definitely hasn’t hit me yet that I’ll be living here for a few months.

But here’s to some fun and new adventures (and maybe some wine along the way–in moderation, of course, Mom).



Send-off song

1 Sep

Wait, I leave tomorrow??

1 Sep

Well, it’s finally here, and I am a bit in denial.  After all of the applications, dealing with the embassy, getting my visa, filling out paperwork, etc., it’s finally time to go.  I’m not sure that it has completely hit me yet, but I’m confident that very soon I will be on a plane over the Atlantic having a minor freak-out.

We (team Lukens) just finished packing, and by packing, I mean begrudgingly weeding out my pile of clothes until I had a sensible (ish) amount of clothes packed.  It was difficult and there was a lot of fussing on my end, but we made it through and under the weight limit.  With everything packed and (mostly) ready to go, I have a morning of second-guessing/anxiety/excitement/repacking to look forward to, and then it’s off to the airport for a day of flying!

So, the plan for the hours of traveling is finishing Harry Potter 7, brushing up (and by brushing up, I mean frantically reviewing and relearning) on my French, and relaxing to my iPod as long as the charge will allow me my music.  Let’s hope the movies are good, the food is edible, and the screaming babies are kept to a minimum.

After a summer at camp with children, two weeks of being home with pneumonia, and months of planning for this trip, I am ready to go!

Cheers and adieu!