Yes, predictions of time escaping me were on the dot, as the 1st long break looms upon the seemingly insurmountable giantess of work that is my life right now. Yes, I exaggerate, but the consequences of procrastination have well merited my being overly eloquent. My month and a half in Nantes, I completely immersed myself in enjoying the France-semester-abroad perks of late 2-to-3 -hour dinners with my host family, discussing politics and stock markets with my host dad until 11 pm for at least 3 nights a week, mostly after 9 am-classes that insist only on real studying when come exams, outings with friends whenever, cafe and pastry without guilt whenever, weekend in one city and then the next in another…a truly laid-back, relaxing life, contrary to the speed at which I usually function back at MHC. It’s wonderfully european, except for the fact that I’m living still or trying to, at least, my insistent schedule that yack-yacks constantly from across the Atlantic Ocean about my abandoning it. And so, these past days, deadlines back home have been casting their eery shadows upon my normally sunny Nantes. I become once again possessed by the small ‘inbox’ button, awaiting a suggestion, or two for my apps from the profs, at each refreshment of the page. It’s insanely unmaintainable, this rush of brain power towards work, work, work especially when France is beautifully the contrary. Imagine the sound of ruffled papers, of incessant tapping on a keyboard, of running steps, of heavy sighs, yawns, and of large gulps of coffee….and then…recreate in your ears the sound of an accordion, of wind looping through your hair as you’re on a boat on the Seine, of the crispiness of a baguette at a dinner table, of absolute silence as you stand amidst a lavender field. You see how distracted I am?
It really does not help either that the exams begin here soon….French education system….take notes, take notes, some homework, maybe not a lot, take notes, and then boom! Exam, study like you’ve never studied before, …after that you’re free to go back to …take notes. You don’t have that general daily speed to train yourself, so that when much work is insisted, you would have had no momentum to continue on, no starting point from which you can accelerate. The French are very laid-back, I have found…that, or Americans are just too overwhelmingly efficient. First of all, the standard hours of work a week in France is around 35 hours compared to the minimum 40 hours, not-to-mention crazy 60-70-hour normalcy that is of most current well-paying jobs in the US. I-banking kids will find this hilarious, but the limit in France per week is 48 hours, you can negociate up to 60, however you cannot work for more than 44 hours for 12 consecutive weeks. They all have an average of 5 weeks of vacation a year, which most families do in August, so that you’ll find but tourists in big cities during this time of the year. Then there’s always those European sundays or mondays, where the streets are just deserted, nothing opened, very few people out.
You find generosity of time also in the meals that are just so much longer than anything I’ve ever experienced: they say here often: “When others eat to live, the French, they live to eat”. There are more courses, yes, but with the pleasure of the cuisine comes that of someone’s company, so that a lunch, dinner or even breakfast become those periods of the day, where people come together to eat and talk, and to really take their time in doing it. I attest to this in my aforementioned lengthy and conversation-filled dinners with my host family. It’s amazingly efficient for my learning the language, yet at the same time when you finish your meals every night around 10 or 11 pm, prospects of getting any real work done are low, unless you search a dreary, sleep-deprived morning that blends not with the French lovely atmosphere. It’s great, nevertheless, I just need to learn to not get lost in it…
I also have not had time to do anything due to the fact that my past two weekends have been spent outside of Nantes. Last weekend, I went to Bordeaux (1st photo above), the wine-filled region down south-west of France, with three other girls in the program. My host father, who’s always a jolly man, after having learned of our plan, exclaimed “Ah bon…!” in his manner that is unmistakably french. So he hooked us up with this Vicomte that just happened to have a castle and a vineyard near a wine-village-Unesco-world-heritage-site called St.Emilion….and we 4 are just looking at him like “Wow? We love you?”. We thus stayed one night in the city of Bordeaux but then the best part of the trip was our stay at this aristocrat’s 14th century chateau (Chateau de Castelneau: 2nd photo above), where we visited the vineyard, wineries, tasted wine, learned all the process of making it, had great conversation , ate like starved-souls, slept like babies, and completely immersed in real “campagne francaise” (french countryside). We had some pretty overwhelming meetings with people during our trip: including our waitress in Bordeaux the first night, who had a case of epilepsy right before our eyes, and the weird restaurant owner who shunned from explaining to these 4 shocked girls what was going on, and ignoring us completely for the rest of our dinner ; a creepy, sketchy guy named Magid who was kicked off the train at the same time we came to St.Emilion, who insisted on touring the city with us for a complete hour , and who also began saying creepy things every once in a while like “you are beautiful” to one of us while the other three were not paying attention ; then of course, there was the Vicomte, who became our personal tour guide to his own vineyard, his wife who made a beautiful dinner, their 12-year-old daughter who offered us beer and their 18-year-old son, whose french we found completely impossible to follow. It was a special trip …that ended with me leaving my train ticket back to Nantes on another train, and then finding it again just 2 minutes before the train left…Yes, that’s always me: bizarre trips, losing stuff, and running at the last minute. Nevertheless, I had a wonderful time with the others in St.Emilion (Photo below),the small village has a completely different feel from that of a city, with its cute winding cobbled stone streets, and little shops…it has been by far my favorite visit in France. I found it actually in a site called “The Most Beautiful Villages in France” and so I intend on visiting other similar places down south….they are so uniquely french and fall beautifully outside the urban context of big glamourous cities like Paris, to which I’m so normally used to seeing.
Speaking of glamourous cities like Paris, this weekend was spent there, as I had won this Culinary Weekend contest. So I with 5 other girls, and our once again also unmistakably-french program director: Madame Rouchet, came to Paris to learn how to cook french food. It was my first time visiting since my arrival in January …It was wonderful as we got to learn from a French chef how to make a complete meal with three courses, with my group making an appetizer of vegetable and a dessert of mango mousse and framboise (Photos below). I had a huge appetite during the entire week, it was chouette! (awesome)
We had free time on Sunday to walk around Paris, which was beautiful but for me a bit too overwhelming and in many ways very much like New York. People, tourists filled the streets like ants, and the thing that annoyed me the most was that everyone spoke English, even when you try to speak French to them…It comes perfectly handy as a weekend or even month-stay city, but never one as settled-down, homy-feely like Nantes. Paris, with its shimmering lights, magnificent monuments, beautiful Seine, and many a pigeons, bring back days of 10, 11 years ago with grandpa. I found myself thinking of him the whole weekend as my first impressions of this city were alongside him…an image still in my mind of this 9-year-old girl sitting next to her 84-year-old grandfather on a bench in Paris feeding little pieces of baguette to a flock of birds….It makes me miss family and friends a lot, but I share with you here the glamour that is Paris, just so that I can feel a bit as if you were there. You see now, my recent distraction and prevention from real work, I have a week before the winter vacation starts…so hopefully I won’t side-track this time. Love to you! Bisous!