A taxi will be arriving in about 40 minutes to take me to Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport, and my flight leaves at 12:15. After an annoyingly long 8-and-a-half hour flight, I’ll be back in Chicago! It’s been a good trip, but I’m beyond ready to be home.

Since I last wrote here (I can’t even remember when that was, Tuesday? Wednesday?) we’ve done a fair bit. Tuesday we went to the Opéra Garnier and the Church of the Madeleine (Mary Magdalene) then shopped at the Galeries Lafayette. Wednesday we went to Versailles, where I saw more of the palace than I did in November, as well as the two small chateaux at Trianon. Pretty awesome. Thursday we went to Père Lachaise Cemetery, where I saw the graves of Lafontaine, Molière, and Chopin, along with others. Then we went to the Basilique de Sacré-Coeur on Montmartre, and the Basilica in Saint-Denis, a northern suburb, which hosts the Royal necropolis – most of the kings and queens of France are buried there.

Friday we ran like mad around the left bank, seeing the Pantheon (and the graves of Marie Curie, Jean Moulin, and Victor Hugo, among others) and the Sorbonne (one of the first universities in the world), then walked through the Luxembourg gardens (by the Luxembourg Palace, the seat of the French senate) to the church of Saint-Sulpice, which many might remember from The Da Vinci Code, which is actually famous for several other reasons, including a pretty spectacular organ. From there, we walked to Invalides, stopping at the Rodin museum, before we attempted to get to the Army Museum and Napoleon’s tomb. No such luck; they closed early for Christmas eve. So we went back there yesterday, after we visited the Musée d’Orsay, one of the most famous art museums in the world (certainly the most famous in France after the Louvre). We finished up the day by climbing the Arc de Triomphe, from which we got some pretty spectacular views of the city.

Christmas day was spent opening presents, preparing and eating our Christmas dinner, and then sitting around doing nothing productive, which was a nice change from running all over the city like crazy people. Though it was weird not to be with the family on Christmas, it was a good day. It’s been a great trip, but I’m definitely ready to be home for a while. Thanks for reading this far! Glad I can keep people at home updated.

PS – I might post some pictures from this week at some point, when I have time and motivation.


Paris 2.0

Well, here I am in Paris again. I got in here around noon on Saturday, after a relatively uneventful train ride (aside from a 4 year old boy who learned the word “merde” – which isn’t a very nice thing to say – and who decided to yell said word periodically and embarrass his poor mother) and a fairly inexpensive cab ride from the Gare Montparnasse to our flat on Rue Beaubourg. The flat is an attic flat, on the 5th floor (that’s the 6th floor for Americans), in a building with no elevator and steep, narrow, winding stairs. Hauling 100+ pounds of luggage up said stairs was NOT fun in any way, shape, or form. In any case, I had a couple hours to relax (lunch and laundry) before Jo arrived at the Gare du Nord around 4.

That evening was basically spent walking around our area, as it was too late to do much; we went to dinner at a fast food-esque galette restaurant. To the French, a galette is a crêpe with savory filling rather than sweet, unlike the cookie it is at home. I had a galette rustique, which is cheese, bacon, onion, and mushroom, and Jo had a galette basquaise, which is chicken, some vegetables, and some spices (very Mediterranean). Both of us had ciders with it, as galettes/crêpes and ciders are specialties of Brittany and are usually paired together. It was raining/snowing that night, so we didn’t do much else, other than buy a couple groceries and fall asleep at 9:30.

Sunday we went to the Louvre. We spent several hours exploring various sections (obviously, we saw nowhere near the whole museum). We saw a lot of statues, some of the antiquities, and of course the famous bits – the Mona Lisa (la Joconde as the French call her), the Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory. After the Louvre, we met one of Jo’s friends who lives here for cocoa and dessert at a place on the Rue de Rivoli called Angelina, which had the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Yesterday, we wandered around the Marais, which is a fairly artsy district.

Today, we saw the Madeleine, which is a church dedicated to Mary Magdalene, built to resemble a Greek temple. Afterward, we walked to the Palais Garnier, the older of the two opera houses in Paris, which is fairly famous and was used in the filming of the recent Phantom of the Opera movie. It’s an absolutely beautiful building. After we were done there, we went to the Galeries Lafayette, one of two enormous, old department stores in Paris. Jo and I both bought boots, and a couple other smaller things here and there. Now we’re exhausted. I’ll upload pictures later, if I’m not too lazy.

Off to another adventure

I did promise I’d write more after my trip to Nancy, so here it is! Guess I should talk a little more about Lyon first off. The city of Lyon, like Paris and Marseille, is divided into municipal arrondissements (much like the boroughs of London – they’re administrative districts). The hotel I stayed in was in the 3rd, to the east of the Rhône river, in the business district called Part-Dieu, which is the second-largest in France, after la Défense just outside of Paris. I was conveniently located just to the south of the train station, which made for a mercifully easy walk, given that the night I got in was absolutely freezing (unusual for this time of the year, and that part of the country) and there was a good 6 inches of snow on the ground (more usual, but still not exactly commonplace). The hotel itself was really nice – it was a suite, with high ceilings and an enormous and very comfortable bed. Unfortunately (as I may have mentioned last time) I forgot to bring the battery for my camera, so I couldn’t take pictures. In any case, it was an excellent choice.

In Lyon I got to see the Basilique Notre Dame de la Fourvière (I could be slightly wrong on that name, it’s hard to remember) which is a beautiful church on top of a hill. On that same hill is an old roman amphitheater, which I saw from a bit of a distance; didn’t actually go, as it was WAY too cold. I also walked around the old city for a while; this is mostly the section between the Saône and Rhône rivers, and a small part to the west of the Saône (nearest the Fourvière hill). On the Presqu’Île (the peninsula between the rivers) is the Place des Terreaux and the Hôtel de Ville (city hall). I’m going to attach a picture from Wikipedia, because it’s really beautiful.

Last weekend I visited Nancy, one of the historical capitals of the province of Lorraine, in the northeast. Those who are at all familiar with European history might remember Lorraine (with Alsace, the region to the east) a region that has changed hands between France and Germany numerous times. For this reason, Alsace and Lorraine have some pretty heavy German cultural influences, including the famous Christmas Markets, which are more of a Nordic tradition. Lorraine is also the province where Joan of Arc was born (in the village of Domrémy, about 60 km southwest of Nancy) and as such, cities like Nancy tend to have many statues of her, and one of the main streets of Nancy is named for her.

The hotel I was in this time was between the train station and the Place Stanislas, which has long been considered one of, if not the (singular), most beautiful city squares in Europe (or maybe the world, I’ve forgotten the actual “statistic”). It certainly didn’t disappoint; I’ll attach a picture below. The square was designed to connect the new (at the time) 18th century portion of the city with the old medieval portion. It is named after the designer, a Polish noble named Stanislaw Leczynska (don’t quote me on the spelling) who was the father of Maria Leczynska, wife of Louis XV. The square hosts, in addition to 2 fountains, golden gates, and (at this time of year) an enormous Christmas tree, the Hôtel de Ville, the Opéra National de Lorraine, and the Musée des Beaux-Arts (the city of Nancy was, after all, where the Art Nouveau movement started).

After going to the Place Stanislas, I wandered throughout the 18th century city, until I happened upon a couple Christmas markets, where I wandered for a while. I didn’t stay out for too long that night, because it was, once again, very cold. I would say, however, that Nancy might be my new favorite city (and I’m including Paris in that ranking, people). I’ll make sure to attach several pictures; it’s well worth seeing.

I’m finished with my classes now – I had my last exam Wednesday morning. It was a long week, and I’m not as confident as I’d like to be about the exams. The literature professor, for example, is one of those professors for whom you can never seem to find the right type of work – I never seemed to know what she was looking for, and I wasn’t the only one. So my grades in that class, while not terrible, are not as high as I’d like them to be. History was difficult as well, though this time mostly because the only grades we had were from tests, which were often difficult. This final, for example: the very first question asked us to list and explain the pertinent dates of the Carolingian dynasty of kings. Not an easy thing. The only exact date that jumped to mind was Charlemagne’s consecration as Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas day, 800. The professor even told us at the beginning of the semester that we wouldn’t need to spend much time with specific dates, so no one (at least of the people I talked to) spent much time studying those. It, again, wasn’t terrible, but could definitely have been better.

Translation I knew from the start would be hard, given that it’s probably the most advanced class offered in my program here. No disappointment there, either – the passage we had to translate was pretty darn near impossible; though I knew enough, it certainly wasn’t perfect. Language I feel okay about; the written portion was easy enough (a lot of work, sure, but nothing too unreasonable) and the oral was really relaxed. I feel good about that one. My music history final, the last one on Wednesday morning, was probably the best. It was in 2 parts, the first a listening section and the second a written part. The listening would probably have been much harder had I not studied music for so long; as it was, I knew enough about what we were supposed to be able to identify that I ended up with a 19/20 (he showed my score to me when I turned in the written).

In any case, it feels good to be done now, and I’m off to Paris in the morning. I’m sitting in a bizarrely empty room right now; all my stuff is (obviously) packed already. I had dinner with my host family tonight and said our goodbyes, as they’re leaving before I am tomorrow morning, and Misuzu (the Japanese student staying here) leaves shortly after. It was very odd, as I’ve lived with these people for almost 4 months now; it was odd to say goodbye and not know if I’ll ever see them again. Still, this has been a great experience, and they’re largely to thank for that; having such a good host family made the whole situation much easier.

I’m going to be spending Christmas in Paris with my friend JoZalea, who is working on her Master’s in Durham, England right now. We’ll have about 10 days to explore the city, which will be a lot of fun. We have an apartment on Rue Beaubourg in the 3rd, for those who know the city, so we’re within easy traveling distance of pretty much everything we want to see. I’ll try to remember to update this, especially with pictures, as Christmas is probably a really excellent time to see the City of Light. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Oh, but first some pictures. Remember, the ones of Lyon are from Wikipedia, the ones in Nancy are ones I took.

I just realized it’s been a month since I’ve written anything here. That’s not to say nothing’s happened – that’s been the problem, I’m too busy!

Mom and Dad visited (almost a month ago now) and we spent a few days in Paris. We had dinner with my host parents the night they got here, which was certainly interesting. The food, as always, was excellent; Valérie is a terrific cook. I’m thinking the foie gras might not have gone over well with Mom and Dad though – fattened goose liver paté certainly isn’t for everyone! It was a nice time though, and my translating skills were certainly put to use. By the end of the night, though, I was so tired (it was a long week) that I was translating in the wrong direction – speaking French to Mom and Dad, and English to the Burvelles. Just a little backward.

The weather wasn’t fantastic in Paris – it rained pretty heavily that first day as we were exploring; we walked around our area (Châtelet – Les Halles) then all the way over to the Louvre and the Tuileries, which we walked around (despite the bad weather) then had dinner in an “Alsatian” restaurant near our hotel (not sure how Alsatian it actually was; there was a lot of food from other regions too). The second day we walked around more, seeing Notre Dame and the Sainte Chapelle, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and walked down the Champs-Elysées before deciding it was time for dinner and then bed. A trip to Normandy followed the day after, seeing a lot of sights there (in the rain, of course – Normandy is the Seattle of France. It always rains). The day after that was a trip to Versailles.

Since then, I’ve mostly done school stuff – been busy. Finals are next week, so I’ve been occupied with papers and presentations since then. I’ll be glad to be done for the semester; these last few weeks have been stressful.

I went to Lyon last weekend, but I’ll wait to write about that until I get back from Nancy this weekend – I’m getting to see so many different parts of France!

Time to play tour guide

It’s almost time for Armistice Day, which means vacation! Mom and Dad get here tomorrow; we’re going to have dinner with my host parents and I’m going to show them around Angers a bit. Then on Thursday we’re going up to Paris for a couple days.  Should be a good trip – we’ve already got a bunch of things planned. One of the days we’re going to Normandy to see the D-Day beaches and the American war cemetery. Another day we’re going out to see the palace at Versailles. Other than that, we’re going to putter around Paris and see what we see. Should be good times.

It’s been a long week already – Mondays are never fun, and I had a bunch of tests yesterday. Still they all went well, so I guess there’s that. I’m definitely ready for a break.

Short post this time – have to head off to class. Language from 9 to 11, then History of France from 1:30 to 2:30. Nice and short.

Bonsoir, mes cheris! It’s almost midnight here, but I just realized I haven’t updated in about 2 weeks, so I figured I should fix that. There hasn’t been a whole lot to write about – mostly just classes still over here. Language is still fun – the professor manages to insert enough practical things that we’re learning quite a bit of grammar, vocabulary, and culture in the same lessons. It’s good times. Literature is a little dull; French Romanticism (19th century) isn’t my favorite style of literature – Chateaubriand and Mérimée are only interesting for so long.

History is always interesting, as there’s a lot to fit into a relatively short time. We’ve just gotten to the end of the Carolingians (Charlemagne’s family, named for his father, Charles Martel) and the beginning of the Capetians, named for Hugh Capet; all of the kings of France from the end of the 8th century (when Hugh was crowned) until the end of the monarchy were descendants of his, making the French royal family the oldest in the world (there are still descendants of the Capetians in ruling families of other countries). Interestingly enough, if the French monarchy was reinstated today, the most direct line would dictate that the current Duke of Anjou, who is a cousin of the king of Spain, would be king. The Duchy of Anjou (which, as a region, doesn’t exist anymore) was, despite its small size, one of the more powerful ones in the Kingdom of France. In modern day terms, Anjou would fit almost entirely within the Maine-et-Loire department, the one of which Angers is prefecture (departments are roughly 4 times the size of the average county in the US). However, the title of Duke of Anjou was one that was, under the King, given to one of the princes (much like Duke of York in England). Even so, like Burgundy, for a long time, Anjou was a separate kingdom. An old one, too; there has been a settlement here since before Roman times; the Romans built the first organized city. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Angers, like Nantes, was an important city for the Huguenots (French protestants); it played a pretty major role in the Wars of Religion (and most people are familiar with the Edict of Nantes). It was also the scene of a major battle shortly after the Revolution; a group of Royalists from the Vendée (a region that is now a department of the same name, Southwest of Angers) had attacked the Republicans in several cities in northwest France, and they were finally defeated by the army of the Republic after the Siege of Angers (the castle here has only rarely been taken by an invading army). So there’s a little history lesson for you. Hope you enjoyed it.

It’s been interesting interacting with French people in everyday settings that aren’t the usual shop/restaurant ones. I had to go to the doctor today (my usual mid-fall respiratory problems, nothing too serious). It was interesting trying to explain what was wrong in French; obviously we learn body parts, but not so much on the medical terms. Also, French doctors are fairly medicine-happy; for what American doctors might prescribe an albuterol inhaler or some extra strength cough syrup, I have three medications: an inhaler (of something similar to albuterol, but stronger), a really strong cough syrup (which, unlike Robitussin, does not taste like death), and something that I mix with not-quite-boiling water and then inhale the steam; I’m supposed to do each of those three times a day. Still, meds are cheap here; for all of those things (2 bottles of the syrup) I spent less than 18 euro, and that was without charging anything to insurance. Even the doctor visit only cost 20E.

I also had the interesting experience of getting my hair cut in French; while I also learned basic hair salon-related words, it wasn’t very up-to-date, and it was difficult explaining how I wanted it done. It ended up being a fair bit shorter than I like, but it will grow in, so I’m not exactly worried.

I’m excited for Mom and Dad to come over next week; I’m going to show them around Angers, and my host parents have invited them over for an authentic, homecooked French dinner (complete with foie gras!). That should be interesting, given that Mom and Dad don’t speak any French, and the Burvelles don’t speak much English. Good exercise for the translation skills, I guess. In any case, the next day, we’ll be heading to Paris for a couple days; we have a nice hotel near Les Halles (for those who know Paris); for those who don’t; that’s on the right bank, not too far from the Louvre, and walking distance of the islands; the main street that leads to the Ile de la Cité (the island where the oldest settlement of Paris was; where Notre Dame and the Conciergerie are) is also right by the hotel.

My host mom, who seems to know something about everything, was more than happy to give me all kinds of suggestions on what we should do in Paris – for those with the opportunity to visit Paris any time in the near future, here are some of them. She says that going up the Eiffel Tower, while impressive, is a waste of time; you have to stand in line to buy a ticket on each level. For (almost) equally spectacular views, you can climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe; from there, you get some good views of the Place Charles de Gaulle (the busiest traffic circle in the world; it runs around the arc, and is the intersection of 12 of the busiest streets of Paris, including the Champs-Élysées) all the way to the Louvre and the other museums in the centre-ville, to the Sorbonne and the Latin Quarter on the left bank, the Opéra Garnier and the Madeleine to the north, the islands (and the spectacular churches there) , the Tour Montparnasse, and of course the Sacré Cœur atop Montmartre. Also of interest is the Opera district on the Boulevard des Capucines; near the Opéra Garnier is a smaller pedestrian square called the Place Edouard VII, which is supposed to be one of those little-known gems of Paris. The Opéra Garnier itself is pretty spectacular; that’s where most of the ballets of the French company are performed (operas are split between the Garnier and the Opéra Bastille, which stands on the site of the famous prison). Also, if you like shopping, go to the Galeries Lafayette, one of Paris’ answers to Harrods or Barney’s or Marshall Fields (the original store). The other is Printemps, wbicb is also supposed to be beautiful. Both were built in the late 1800’s; every one of each (both are now chains) is built in the same architectural style (the baroque-revival Art Nouveau style).

Anyway, we plan to visit the Palace of Versailles, which is within the western suburbs of Paris (Versailles itself is one of the wealthier suburbs of Paris and the prefecture of the Yvelines department) and will surely be something that will take most of the day to see (without seeing anywhere near all of it, the place is massive). We’re also planning on taking a bus tour to the beaches in Normandy and the American war cemeteries there. Should be a good trip too.

I’m going to go to bed now; it’s almost 1 am, and though I don’t have class until 10 tomorrow, I’d still like to get some sleep; literature is slow enough without me nodding off every 5 minutes.

Hello, all. I’d like to say I haven’t forgotten about you, but I had honestly completely forgotten about this blog in the last couple of weeks. I’ve been pretty busy with classes, and though I’ve kept Mom and Dad, as well as a couple friends, up to date, I forgot you all. So sorry about that, here’s what’s been going on.

Classes are still going well. My language professor is pretty great; because she also teaches culture and civ classes, she gets off topic and onto current events tangents pretty easily. Today, for example, we spent nearly an hour of the two-hour class talking about the strikes that have been going on (another big demonstration today – that’s at least 5 in 6 weeks). The trouble is, the retirement situation is a problem that needs to be resolved, and Sarkozy (whatever else can be said about him) has been the first president in a while who’s had the guts to try and deal with the issue, despite knowing that it will make him unpopular. In any case, the new law passed the National Assembly (the rough equivalent of our House of Representatives, except that here the Assembly has more power than the Senate) a few weeks ago, and is supposed to be voted upon by the Senate on Friday; apparently a little over 70% of the French people still support this strike, which is highly unusual for one that’s lasted more than a week. It is, however, causing some serious problems; the trash collectors are on strike, which is unfortunate for obvious reasons, as are refinery workers, so there’s little gas left. There have apparently been fights and serious accidents as people have tried to fill up before service stations run out entirely. Florence (my language professor) told us today that the Prefect of any department does, however, have the right to order workers in some sectors back to work if it becomes necessary; that is, he (or she) can order the refineries to open, at least long enough to supply fuel for the sectors that absolutely need it (buses, police and fire services, doctors). In fact, some sectors (while still having the right to strike, which is a fundamental right in the French Republic) are forced to work while on strike – the fire service, police, medical services all MUST work, even while being officially on strike.

In any case, for the language class, we’re currently reading a novel called Une Pièce Montée (the title of which refers to the traditional French wedding cake), which is the story of a wedding among a bourgeois family. Each chapter is told from the perspective of someone at the wedding; it’s a rather cynical look at the traditions of upper-class society that’s really very funny. If it’s printed in English, I recommend it. If not, sorry.

In literature, we’re reading Chateaubriand’s René, which, despite being only 30 pages long, is surprisingly difficult to get through. I’m not far enough in yet to really be sure what it’s about (other than a young Frenchman who moved to Louisiana territory while it was still a French colony). It’s written in the Romantic style, which is difficult enough to get through in English; it’s even harder in French. Basically, little actually happens, but each sentence expresses a lot, that it’s sometimes difficult to focus long enough to really get much out of it.

In my history class, we just finished up with the Roman and Germanic era France (the Gallo-Roman leadership and the Gothic and Frankish tribes that moved through) and moved on to the Merovingians, who were the first royal family of France. The principal figure of this family, for those who have studied any French history, was Clovis, who united all the different peoples of the region into one kingdom; it was Clovis who chose Paris as the capital (then, as a Roman city, called Lutetia). Also, for those who have read The Da Vinci Code, it’s the royal family that Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s descendants supposedly married into. In any case, we’ll be finishing them up in the next couple days and moving on to the Carolingians (named for the most famous member, Charles I, who we know mostly as Charlemagne). After that, for those who really want to know, were the Capetians, who were all descendants of Hugh Capet (the first king after the end of the Carolingian dynasty); the Valois (and their sub-groups) and the Bourbons were also descendants of Capet; unlike many other kingdoms the royal house of France, starting with Hugues Capet (in 980 something) until Louis Philippe in the mid 19-century were all members of the same family. I’ve been told that whenever one goes to Paris, one should make the short trip to the Basilica of Saint-Denis just outside the city, which is where all the French kings since Hugh Capet have been buried.

Music history amounts essentially to listening to music (which does not bother me). The course deals mostly with the Baroque period in music, though we have also discussed the Renaissance (of necessity) and will most likely discuss the Rococo too. We’ve mostly, at this point, been talking about/listening to various composers of the late Renaissance/early Baroque period, not all of whom have been French, as the Baroque style started in Rome as a way for the Catholic church to show its power and such to the growing number of Protestants. In any case, before too much longer, we’ll be discussing the major composers of the French Baroque (Lully, Rameau, Couperin) and such.

Translation is difficult, but not terribly so. M Melin, the man who directs the program and teaches translation, is a good teacher, and he speaks English very well, so he’s clearly qualified to teach the class and teach it well. We’ve been looking at different ways of expressing ideas in past tenses; not all the time do verb tenses translate directly. That is, what is written in simple past in English may be expressed in the present tense in French (unless it’s a negative statement, which is then in the composite past). It sounds complicated; it’s not so much once one gets used to the rules. We’ve also talked about sing words that express “yet” “for” “during” and other words that express time like that. It’s sometimes tedious, but very useful.

Every Tuesday, M Melin takes the four of us from ISU to lunch. He and our program director at home are good friends, so we have a bit of a leg up. In any case, he’s a fun person to sit with; he gossips and jokes with us the whole time. Furthermore, he speaks English very well, so he can translate things for us if we want to know how to express something specific. It’s a good deal. Other than that, I’ve still been eating most of my dinners with my host family, which is always an experience in and of itself – my host parents talk so much about current events and such that I usually leave the table feeling like I’ve learned enough to write an entire essay.

In any case, that’s mostly what’s been going on here; not much else exciting. I don’t have any definite travel plans before Mom and Dad come over in three weeks; over the next week or two, transportation could be a problem, with people going on and off strike, so I feel like it’s best not to make plans. I’m thinking the bulk of it should be over by the time they get here; furthermore, they come in on a Wednesday, and strikes rarely happen on Wednesdays, as schoolchildren are off on Wednesdays. Most strikes happen Tuesdays or Thursdays. Besides which, the next day is the 11th of November, which celebrates the end of WWI; still a pretty big deal in France, so a lot of people are on holiday, and there’s less of a chance of striking going on during a holiday.