29 August 2010

“There ARE ugly places in France; most of them are universities”

The above quote is from the head coordinator of EAP in France, he went on to say that he wouldn’t name names, and we all laughed because we knew what he meant. I didn’t want to write this post first because I don’t want to sound like I’m not enjoying it here, or that I’m surrounded by a hideous landscape. There are many beautiful things here: the trees which were the first thing I noticed when I arrived, downtown Bordeaux and its historic buildings, Pessac and it’s French countryside charm. Bordeaux University cannot be listed among these. It is overgrown (which is beautiful, in a way), and it’s building are in various stages of disrepair. There are some buildings which are actually quite nice, there are some new more modern buildings at Bordeaux 1 and a building in downtown Bordeaux . But the buildings of Bordeaux 3 (where D.E.F.L.E (The Foreign Students Department) is located, and the area in which we are staying)  do not fall into this category. They can be categorized more effectively using the scale “a bit worse than south campus” to “is paint really THAT expensive”. Really, I’m not complaining, I’m stating facts and I have pictures to prove it.
This is my dorm:
Who doesn't love green shudders?

It’s a bit better on the inside: 
this is the sink/mirrior/closet area
As you can see I took this right when I moved in
This is a little garden area outside, someone lives down there

But only because you can't tell with pictures that there is only one plug (that has to be used if you want light because the other light is burnt out), and because I haven’t shown you the bathrooms. Specifically the toilets. Seriously, you don’t want to know.
Okay fine, I’ll tell you. You know how in America our toilets have seats? Apparently we’re living like kings because they’re totally unnecessary. There is also a final stall which just has hole and a button for flush (no, seriously), I’m assuming this is intended for the guy’s only (the bathrooms are co-ed). There aren't any sinks in the bathroom, you have to go back to your room to wash your hands. Then this morning the handle for hot water fell off when I was in the shower, and hit my ankle. It hurt. And then I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get it turn off, but it turned off easier than I feared (that was bit anti-climactic, wasn’t it?)
Here’s an ugly building (and believe you me, be glad I don’t have a picture of the alphabet building):

And some over grown empty space (they’re a big fan of empty space at this university, it’s like they had this gigantic (and I mean GIGANTIC) piece of land and were like “let’s build something!” and they couldn’t think of anything else to build so they just used the whole thing for a university):

So I guess it’s bit of a culture shock coming from UCLA to this. But I can’t say I was ever truly horrified, mostly I would classify my reaction to the dorm as closer to “vaguely amused”  (this may have had to do with being up for more than 24 hours, that makes EVERYTHING, vaguely amusing) and my reaction to everything else as “not quite what I expected, maybe it’s just because it’s deserted?"

26 August 2010

Bordeaux, the tour

Today was my second full day in Bordeaux. In the morning there were informational meeting for both of the groups here (Language and Culture, and Immersion), and at 14:00 (as they say here) we had a tour of Bordeaux.
Although I’ve gone down to Bordeaux before and also to Pessac (which is actually closer to this side of the university in the opposite direction), this was the most extensive look at my surroundings that I’ve gotten. It also took me to the nicest parts of Bordeaux, apparently I hadn’t gone quite far enough the first time.
Mostly this part of Bordeaux reminded me of Disneyland (probably New Orleans Square?) . Our guide was really fantastic and said everything in French AND English. Which was nice because even though I understood most everything she said, it was nice to have the time to process the French words (and make sure you got their meaning right).
The first place we saw was le Grand Théâtre, which was built at the site of a roman temple (I think). The architect wanted to honor the muses but there are only 9 of them and 12 columns, so he also added the goddess Juno, Venus, and another one that I can’t remember. To see the tour cliquez ici.

I captioned it and EVERYTHING. Just think of me as your personal tour guide, who isn't actually sure if this is the best way to go about giving a photo tour but figures it will work.  

25 August 2010

At least you weren't traveling with a crying baby: an epic

Note: most of this was written at Charles de Gaulle Airport and is probably badly in need of editing but my battery is dying and it's either computer or light (there's only one plug in here!) 
edit: this is me editing it. yay!
This morning/ yesterday morning, I’m not really sure which, I got up at 4am, and left for the airport 30 minutes later. The sky was a dark purplish grayish blue and the full moon was low in the western sky. The world was silent, and the hills of San Diego were shadows against the darkened sky. One dedicated biker rode through the predawn calm. I arrived at the airport, checked my bags, hugged my dad, and then went through security which for once in the history of ever moved a bit too quickly for my taste. Since I had an hour to kill until boarding I got myself some coffee, a cinnamon twist, and a bottle of water. I downloaded a book for my kindle, utilized the awesome free wifi to read twitter and watch some youtube videos, and admired a beautiful Labrador retriever service doggy.  I even took a picture of my beautiful city as the sun rose. (I’m kind of having an everything is beautiful and amazing day, bear with me through this perhaps over-the-top chipperness).
As my plane took off, I admired the ocean and then the wonderful dimpled landscape that is San Diego. I watch Cowle’s Mountain recede into the distance. I even enjoyed the desert that followed (see, I told you). Then I watched my first movie of the day: “Just Wright”. Which wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. The most interesting thing about it to me was the fact that most of the main characters were African-American which made me realize how most movies feature mostly people of much lighter skin. This isn’t exactly breaking news, but it’s interesting how a silly movie about *spoiler alert* a physical therapist who falls in love with her basket ball player patient, can make you think about things you’ve never bother to think about before. I was amused by the polka-dotted landscape of somewhere rural America, with its circles of watered land. Then I wrote an email, watched my neighbors watch the new star trek movie on their ipad, and then I read.
As we descended through the clouds into New York, some strange effect from what I don’t know made the Atlantic appear to be rainbow striped in one area and beautiful shade of light purplish blue everywhere else. We landed and it took a remarkable amount of time (during which I discovered that instead of printing my second ticket, I had printed the first one, twice) to taxi in.
While I made my way to my next gate which was conveniently located on the opposite side of the terminal, I talked to my mom. I got my ticket printed out without a hitch and went in search of food because I was STARVING. I ended up getting a tuna salad salad which didn’t live up to my dreams of grandeur which were completely unfounded because it didn’t look that awesome (though the price (9$!) suggested otherwise). And the tuna tasted too much like fish, which made me sad.  AND JFK didn’t have free internet because it’s a jerk.
Then I got on my plane to Paris. Me and the young woman (saying it like that makes me sound so formal! But she wasn't a "girl", and woman makes me think middle aged, and she was really about my age, maybe a few years older) traded seats with two children so they could be next to their family, which put us on the right, instead of the left side, and one more row back. This ended up being totally worth it (it being not really anything at all), because this family had fussy baby and while I pity them I was glad I wasn’t sitting right in front of the crying child. We then sat in the plane for an hour before taking off because of traffic control, the baby wailed through most of it. And I had to sit there doing more or less nothing because about 20 min before take-off they told us to turn off all electronic devices, and my book is electronic! #firstworldproblems
During this flight I watched two movies (How to Train a Dragon which was cute, and 27 dresses, which I had seen before), an episode of the office, and the majority of an episode of 30 rock (the sound stopped working 5 minutes before the end, thanks a lot, American Airlines). I also ate a dinner of chicken with penne pasta, three crackers, and a brownie, and tried to sleep (and failed because HELLO. I may have gotten up at 4 in the morning but that doesn’t mean I capable of falling asleep sitting up in a not completely dark plane at 6pm, or 7, or 8). A couple hours later I ate a “breakfast” of a warm croissant, orange juice, and disappointing coffee. I wanted to point out to them that by my time it was 9pm and that they should stop pretending that we had a real night on this flight.
As we approached the coast of France we flew over clouds that reminded me of slightly damaged cotton batting. Soon after the sun rose, or perhaps we flew into it, and I saw dawn for the second time in less than 24 hours.
if you are really awesome and use your imagination a little, you can see france beneath the clouds
The French countryside looked more or less like rural America from the sky, but I felt the plots of land were more square and orderly in America. The French countryside was like a crazy quilt with plots of land cut every which way. There weren’t very many circular plots though, silly water inefficient french. Every once in a while there were small clusters of suburbia speckled in the fields. There were also forests; clusters of tall trees in the midst of flat farm land. As we got closer to Paris the suburbs became larger and more frequent.
Once we landed, I had to navigate my way through the almost deserted maze of Charles de Gaulle Airport. Along the way there were many guides, most of which immediately addressed me in English, which struck me as odd, but I guess I was giving off a bewildered-american vibe. Ultimately I was glad for this because my brain decided it had been awake for long enough and was not working quite normally.  I got through customs in a flash, in fact, it wasn’t even clear that it WAS customs. Mostly it was just a one bored looking guy sitting in a booth. He looked over my passport and visa and gave me a stamp. He didn’t ask to see my bag; he never even spoke to me. I don’t know where the other people on my plane went, but they didn’t follow me. I saw only one or two other non-employee people in this area of the airport.
The annoying thing about Charles de Gaulle is that they check everything over and over and over. After I picked up my ticket, for which I had to show my passport, I went to the entrance of security, where I had to show my ticket and my passport; I then put these things back in my bag because I figured they had checked it enough and continued to the security check point. The worker was truly awful. He said almost nothing, perhaps because he thought I would not be able to understand his French, there were no signs, and no one else going through to copy. He also required me to dig out my passport. My stuff came through and I put my passport away. Then I had to go over to a bag check area (apparently checking bags with xray isn’t enough? I don’t know) and  had to show my passport and ticket AGAIN. This lady, however, was kind and was the first airport employee to address me in French, which to my pleasure I understood perfectly. I went up the stairs, and I have to say I have never been more glad to see people bustling about. Yes! Civilization. I walked out of the artificially lit inner belly of Charles de Gaulle and into the glass ceilinged center of activity.
My first task was to find a restroom to wash my face and brush my teeth, it was there that I made my first culturally inspired mistake. The sink had two faucets (or so it appeared), I couldn’t imagine the reason for this so I went for the one that I could easily see how to turn on. It was a soap dispenser. I dispensed soap onto my tooth brush. I took a picture so I could show everyone how much it looked like a faucet.

What’s funny about this picture is that it shows that there are pictures clearly indicating how to use the sink and it’s many faucets, I don’t know how I missed that.
Then I went to “Paul” and ordered an apple turn-over and a Café au lait, only what they gave me was definitely a latté, which is not as yummy, and I was sad. And there was no free internet, which also made me sad. So sad that I spent my wait writing this epic.
The plane was boarded more chaotically then in the US, it wasn’t done in groups, but perhaps this was because, as I would soon find out, the plane was on the other side of the tarmac and we had to be bused to it. We then had to show our ticket and passport to get into the tunnel thing to go the bus, then to get on the bus, then to get on the plane. I stupidly put these things away after every single time.
This plane also took an hour to be given the all clear for take-off, I spent this time reading the air magazine, which was in French, and doing some French exercises in my workbook. I spent most of the flight reading. I was one of the last people off the plane because the old woman sitting next to me walked with a cane and didn’t want to get trampled or rushed, I think she may have had Parkinson’s because her hands were shaking. This meant I didn’t have to wait at all for my luggage, which was nice. I left the luggage collection area, and sat on a bench. I found the internet which was good because I had forgotten to look up where I was going once I got to Bordeaux. Opps.
My taxi driver spoke to me in English, but I persisted in speaking mostly French to him. The fare was 25 euros, so I gave him 30 and told him to keep the change because I wasn’t sure if one is supposed to tip taxi drivers and if one was how much one should give. This seemed to please him immensely, and he helped me carry my luggage in the office.
Like when Gilgamesh returns and sees the wall of Uruk my epic journey had finished.
I can’t believe I just wrote that.

19 August 2010

The Suitcase is Half-Empty

In three days I will be sitting in a plane half-way across the country; in four days I will be arriving in Bordeaux. This is both terrifying and exciting. I've been waiting all summer for this day. A week ago, I wished that I could just GO. Now I feel more conflicted, I WANT to go, but I also want to stay home. I want to hang out in my comfy bed, with my pillows, my dog, and book to keep me company. At the same time I want to get up and DO something, have an adventure. But the adventure is coming too fast.
How am I going to get a taxi? What will I say to the taxi driver? What if they won't let me through customs? What if I can't remember a single word of French? How am I going to fit my life into my suitcase?
All the same, I know it will be okay. I will survive, and hopefully have a fantastic time. I haven't even started and still I feel that when it's over I will wish for more time. Then again, perhaps I will feel differently when I have started.
So far packing has gone better then expected, but I suspect that as the time to leave draws near, the temptation to over-pack will consume the rest of the space in my suitcase.
Optimists insist this suitcase is "half-empty"
Pessimists point out that sweatshirts, coats, and jackets are likely to make it more than "half-full"
Meanwhile, Zoee and I try to figure out how to fit her in the suitcase

12 August 2010

Bordeaux is googlese for dog

Yeterday, I was sitting at my computer trying to think of a brilliant excuse to get out of studying for my final (which was today) for as long as possible, and I thought "I''m moving to a country half way around the world in less than two weeks and I know very little about the city I'm going to be living in." Seriously, I know like three things: 1. They have vineyards somewhere, 2. It's by a large river, 3. My dad's french coworker described it as a) like Santa Barbara  and b) bourgeois (my dad had to come home and ask me what this means).

So I look at their tourism website, but really I just want to look at pictures and they don't seems to have a bunch of them collected in one area. Then I look at the weather, which is AWESOME by the way. Apparently, it gets hot there mostly in July, and by August it has a wonderful average temperature of 75*F.  YES!
So then I decide to image search Bordeaux, this is the first page of results:
You know what's annoying? When X-large is WAY big and large is way small.
(Isn't the new google images thingy nifty?)

So I'm all: Google, I'm fairly certain that I am going to a city, not to a dog. And google's all: I'm not taking back my results.
So I scroll down and there are more dogs including this one:

This dog is cute in the most disturbing way possible, is he not?

I am so disturbed that I am forced to research these dogs, all of which turn out to be of the breed "Dogue de Bordeaux". Which sounded to me like the stupidest anglicism ever. Further research however indicates that "dogue" is french for mastiff. So I guess I can forgive whoever named these dogs.

I still know next to nothing about Bordeaux, but I did find some really awesome pictures which make me really excited to be going.

04 August 2010

The Consulate Disaster

"Disaster" might be a slight exaggeration, but this way it sounds like a bad action movie.
Really it more of an "ordeal", or an experience that can only be described as "terribly annoying" and "kind of stressful".
From the beginning the process of applying for a visa was decidedly un-fun. The french government in all it's glory and cunning came up with this evil thing called "Campus- France" which SOUNDS fairly innocuous but is not. The whole thing is designed to make you pay them 75$ to make you cry. Of course I didn't fall into THIS trap (*LIAR*).
Then 5 or 6 weeks later I was forced to prepare all my materials at the last minute (seriously, the french government sent a secret agent to make sure I procrastinated, it was terrifying!) and then drive 5 hours round trip for what was SUPPOSED to be a 15 minute appointment.
Because of the whole french secret agent thing, I had to pick up my transcript at UCLA, before going to my appointment at the consulate, and my mom (who insisted on coming with, despite the fact that I repeatedly told her that she didn't have to, and it wouldn't be any fun, and they wouldn't even let her in the consulate. She thought she SHOULD. Because obviously LA is big and scary, and it's not as if I live 15 minutes from the consulate for two thirds of the year, or as if I'm moving half way across the world in a couple weeks).  Anyway, I arrived there at 9:00am and picked up my transcript, leaving plenty of time to make my 9:45 appointment. (haha! Take that french secret agent!).
Unfortunately, he caught up with me and convinced me that I knew my way around well enough to take a "short cut". Which resulted in me being completely incapable to find Santa Monica Blvd, which I'm certain was a remarkable feat. Fifty minutes later, and 5 minutes late, I arrived at the consulate.
There are about 6 people standing outside the door, so I ask the woman standing next to me what's going on. She isn't particularly vocal, but I gather that I'm supposed to wait for the guard to come out to let us in.
About 10 very nervous minutes later, the security guard comes out, he asks us all when are appointments are and when I say 9:45 he gives me an "uh-oh" sort of look, but doesn't tell me to go away.
So I wait another half an hour during which I realize that the secret agent made me forget the transcript in the car. However, expecting the cunning of the secret agent, I had brought my high school diploma as back up.
Finally, I'm allowed in, and when it's my turn I go up to the window, and hand my papers to the french accented guy.
Him: Do you have your campus france receipt?
Me: Yeah, I think I handed it to you.
Him: It's not here.
Me: Really? I was sure I gave it to you.
Him: This is not your receipt, you were supposed to click here to print it out.
Me: Oh (*crap, crap, crap*)
Him: I will give you pass to go upstairs and print it out on our computer.
I takes the pass and go upstairs. I follow the link on their homepage to campus france and try to log in. I type something like "kqtherine,byn" and which point it becomes obvious that something is weird. I look at the keyboard, on which many of the keys are in the wrong place. The q is where the a should be, and the a is where the 1 should be, and there are keys with accented letters on them, and the period is where the apostrophe should be. I am baffled, and unable to figure out how to the access the @ symbol which is still on the 2 key but which shares it will at least 2 other symbols for at least a minute. Then I type in my password which like all good passwords has a number in it, I am careful, but apparently not careful enough because you HAVE TO PRESS SHIFT TO GET THE NUMBERS.  After way too long, with my receipt back in hand, I return to the consulate and sit in the waiting room. I wait, and wait, and wait, and WAIT.
For some reason, (probably because it makes more sense) they've taken to calling people up to the windows instead of allowing it to be a free for all, but presumably they've passed my name long ago because they aren't calling it, and are calling names of people who arrived after I arrived back in the waiting room. I listen to the other french consulate lady interrogate a man about his job (professional artist), watch people who think that for electronic finger scanners to work you must press your fingers down as hard as possible (even if you have to permanently damage your finger to do so), and stare at the tv which is turned all the way down and set to the french channel. Finally, he stops calling names which makes it my turn despite what anyone else in the waiting room might think. I go up to the window, and have apparently managed to bring all the proper documents despite the best efforts of mr.ninja agent. They take my finger scan, during which I preformed like the pro I am except for putting my fingers "too much like Spock" (which totally wasn't my fault, because there was a picture of Spock doing the vulcun salute right by the finger thing, and how was I supposed to know I wasn't supposed to give my very best vulcun salute?). Fifteen minutes later they finally call me up and allow me to leave. It's 11:30.
Apparently, I passed the ninja spy test, because I received my visa and will presumably be allowed into france. TAKE THAT NINJAS!
(Editors note: the switch from past to present tense half way through was totally a purposeful stylistic decision, duh)

02 August 2010

It's not MY fault I'm not in France yet.

This is why my brother is awesome and also why I'm pretty sure birds are out to get me today (seriously, I woke up to a bird that sounded EXACTLY like one of those awful buzzing alarm clocks, only it was less rhythmic):
Irritating bit of wildlife (probably some kind of bird): TWEEP TWEEP TWEEP TWEEP TWEEP TWEEP
My Brother: "What ever is that mysterious ticking noise?"
In unison:
MB (on his way to the recycling bin): Snape, Snape, Severous Snape, Dumbledore
MB (on his way back from recycling bin): Snape, Snape, Severous Snape, Dumbledore
MB: Snape, Snape, Severous Snape, Dumbledore
MB: Ron Weasley, Ron Weasley, Ron Weasly, Dumbledore!
My mom: *has expression that says: my children are insane*
Me: *holds up hand for high-five*

Your FACE has nothing to do with studying abroad in France

Many of you (by which I mean the voices in my head who were all "If any ever reads this (which no one will because who would want to listen to you ramble? I know I don't) they're going to think you're crazy and maybe just a little bit stupid if you do that")  have pointed out that my background has absolutely nothing to do with France, traveling, or completely failing at life because despite the fact that you have taken french for the past 6 years it's quite possible that you are completely incapable of forming a coherent sentence in that language.
WOW, aren't you observant? ( "Why, yes. Yes, I am. Unlike you, apparently").
ACTUALLY, I NOTICED THAT. ("There's no need to yell.")
WHY MUST YOU ALWAYS CRITICIZE ME? ("Really, I'm inside your head, I can hear you just-")
-ANYWAY, I never promised that I was capable of stay on topic -- ("and if you had I wouldn't have believed you because I have to LIVE UP HERE!")
IN FACT, I haven't made a single promise, as this is my FIRST post. ("*rolls eyes* whatever, your going to fail anyway, and NOW anyone who reads this is CERTAIN to think you're insane" *exit*).