30 September 2010

It turns out Bordeaux is really famous for wine: the title of this post has almost nothing to do with it, in keeping with the random

It’s probably going to take me five times longer to type this because my fingers have been corrupted by a week of only using French keyboards – that’s right folks, I haven’t used the internet on my computer for over a week- I know this for certain because my antivirus is throwing a hissy fit: “OH NO! I HAVEN’T UPDATED MY DEFINITIONS FOR OVER A WEEK”, antivirus can be quite the drama queen.
This is an example of my favorite kind of french books- the kind of french books intended to teach english to french people, more specifically those purporting to teach them how to speak "like an english speaker". These books are always hilarious, whether they're right about what english speakers would say, or not. This one is particularly awesome in that it claims, not to teach one english, but to make one's boss THINK one speaks english. I would have bought it if it hadn't been 12 euro. Or if I had remembered to bring 8 euro with me before leaving to go to E.Leclerc (=supermaket), where I found this book and where I was planing on purchasing body wash and fach wash (this actually worked out, just barely)
Anyway, last week was pretty uneventful: I went to a bunch of DEFLE (have I explained DEFLE here yet? DEFLE = the department of French for foreign non-french speakers) classes that I’m not actually going to end up taking (maybe), I ate like 4 McFlurrys (French McFlurrys, like most “mac do” (pronounced “mac doe”) fare, are different than American McFlurrys – basically they are soft serve with a candy topping and “nappage” (which is like chocolate syrup or caramel, you actually have to pay extra for this, but it’s totally worth it :) ), I developed a habit of over using smilies and lol because of incessant texting, I read three books (they were short, okay!), and I started making a habit of going out at night (mostly this involved a lot of sitting at this monument and talking).
"this monument"

The weekend the before that, I spent my time being a cultured bordelaise because it was the weekend of Patrimoine, which is the weekend during which cool stuff in europe that isn’t normally opened is opened. I went to the Musee d’Aquataine (Aquataine= the region of france in which Bordeaux is located, this is a historical museum about its past (no kidding, right?)) - this is actually always open, we just happened to go. Then we walked through the Grand Theatre, which isn’t, “grand” that is. It was very pretty and cool to see, but large it was not. Tristan and I had a conversation while sitting in the theatre in which we pretended to be pretentious 19th century british bourgeois while we waited for Claire to catch up with us.  That night we ate at Ed Wood Café which is like the Corvette diner only in France – yep, I traveled half-way around the world to go to an American 50’s style restaurant, go ahead and judge me. We had yummy milkshakes, and laughed at all the French people who ate their hamburgers with their forks. Then on Sunday we went to a free classical music concert in the Jardin Public. I don’t have pictures of any of this, I don’t know why.
Something I learned (or really was reminded of) in my “Bordeaux Art” DEFLE class (which would me more aptly named “random French vocabulary pertaining to Bordeaux- and by random I mean you probably don’t even know the English word for this stuff”) is how lucky I got when I picked the name of this blog. So, you know, “chateau” is a French word that generally means “castle”, or “really gigantic house”.  But it is also used to name vineyards, after the presumably grand house that is part of them, in this way, wines are called “Chateau insert_name_of_house_here”. And this is the origin of the slang Chateau Lapompe, to mean water (la pompe meaning the pump). I more or less new all of that when I choose to use it as a name, what I didn’t know is that naming vineyards this way is actually a custom specific to Bordeaux. So, you win, me, you win. On the other hand I haven’t actually heard anyone call water anything other than l’eau.
Look familiar? I found this in my 3rdish day in france, just before finding E.Leclerc. Until I stumbled upon it again, I believed it to be from Eureka, CA, which would have been really oddly specific- it turns out it just says Eurkea on it because it's, yah know, the state moto. It says Pessac Automobiles on the seal. So still random, but slightly less so.

17 September 2010

SPOILER ALERT: Spectuloos does not equal Peanut Butter

Wednesday, I walked all the way the home from downtown Bordeaux, despite the fact that there is perfectly good public transportation. I have no rational excuse for this. It was decidedly irrational behavior, though it started out slightly rational. After standing for about 5 minutes at the Musee d’Aquitaine tram stop, I was getting a bit impatient. This isn’t one of the nicest stops; it’s a bit dirty and some people around me were smoking (smoking, in general, by the way, is less prevalent and less bothersome than I expected). I wasn’t feeling super fantastic as I’ve had a bit of a rhume (cold) the last couple of days, and suddenly I wanted to be home immediately and began dreading the long tram ride (if you call 20 minutes long, sometimes it feels that way, other times it goes by in a flash. In any case it was sounding pretty long about then).  So I looked at the sign which told me the tram wouldn’t be to the stop for 4 more minutes. I looked down the street and decided I certainly had enough time to walk to the next stop before the tram would get there, so I did. I easily beat the tram to Victoire, the next stop, but when I saw the crowd waiting for the tram and shortly after, how packed the tram was, I decided to keep walking.
I reasoned that I would walk to Simply (a super marker whose slogan is “Be Happy, Be Simply”- that’s not a translation. Side note: Simply has some hilarious ads for itself in the windows, having customers say things like “I can shop here without being embarrassed!” (in french). I must be missing some sort of subtly or the necessary culture background, because I can’t imagine why anyone would be embarrassed to go to any super market.). Anyway, Simply is a fairly decent walk from Victoire, and about 3 stops off campus (there are 3 more stops on campus, before mine). But I thought a walk would be nice, as I hadn’t done anything all day excepting eating, sleeping, and enjoying the “authentic” designer UCLA shirt/ sweatshirts being sold at a store in Bordeaux (for more 40 euro and 90 euro respectively, and I thought the UCLA store was expensive), and I didn’t have anything else to do. Besides the tram would likely be less crowded by the time that it got to that stop, and I was going to go to Simply anyway to continue my quest for peanut butter which I had begun the day before.
I was thrilled to find that Simply did sell peanut butter, the only trouble was that it was tiny, tiny, tiny jar of Skippy and cost 3.75 euro. There was something that COULD have been peanut butter next to it, but I wasn’t sure. I decided to continue on to Casino (another grocery chain, and one I hadn’t been to yet) which I believed to be located one tram stop down, which OBVIOUSLY wasn’t worth the wait for the tram.
It turned out to be two stops down, but I walked anyway. I found that they didn’t have anything that was DEFINITELY peanut butter, but they had the stuff that was next to the peanut butter at Simply. It looked like it could be peanut butter, and it came in crunchy and smooth. So, what else could it be? I was slightly uncertain, because there weren’t any peanuts on the jar, instead there was a picture of a shortbready kind of cookie, and the story of its invention written on the back didn’t seem to be correct. But peanut butter goes awesome on cookies, and maybe they wanted to frenchicize the story of invention. Besides, I really WANTED it to be peanut butter, and who was I to say that Spectuloos does not equal peanut butter? So I bought the jar (and two bananas, so I could make the peanut butter & banana sandwich I craved) on hope alone. After buying these things (which was a bit of a fiasco, because how was I supposed to know that I was supposed to weigh and print out a price tag for the bananas?), I opened the jar of what I was then certain was peanut butter. I found it to be the consistency of peanut butter, and was already beginning to celebrate victory when – umm, that’s not peanut butter, or else it’s really odd peanut butter. In fact, it tastes quite a lot like the cookies pictured on the front. I feel disappointed and disenchanted. I wonder what anyone would want with a substance that is the consistency of peanut butter, but that tastes like these cookie things. (If anyone has any suggestions, let me know, as I know am the proud owner of a jar of Spectuloos.)
I put it back in my bag and continued to the tram stop. As I approached I considered walking the rest of the way, but I dismissed that as a crazy idea. But when I arrived and saw that it would be 12 minutes before the next tram arrived, I decided to keep walking to the next top, because it would be unbelievably ridiculous to walk this far because of a 4 minute wait, only to wait longer than that. And this logic carried me almost all the way home, and the belief that it would be ridiculous to take the tram at this point carried me the rest of the way. 
It was actually quite a pleasant way to spend the afternoon, and it was interesting to see the areas of Bordeaux which have been to me tram-over places at a slower pace.
Also, I finally took a picture of something I’ve been meaning to capture since the beginning: 
This is one of the university restaurants, I don't know why it's shaped like a boat.

Between the wild black berry picking, long walks and picnics, and the lack of easily accessible internet access my life is becoming increasingly like a Jane Austen novel.

Last Friday I moved to my new home, it’s located in Pessac, about a ten minute walk from my old building, and the area of the university where I will be taking my classes. Though it’s a bit far from downtown Bordeaux, I’ve decided I prefer this set up to living in the city and having a 50 minute commute before morning classes. There are two parks within a couple blocks of the house, one of them quite large. On the other side of the smaller of the parks is Pessac town center, which boasts, among other things, a train station, a movie theatre (with free WiFi, which is cool, if a bit nonsensical), and a Carrefour (a grocery store chain). It’s also about 8 minutes away from the nearest, most practical tram stop, which makes getting downtown only a matter of sitting (or standing, as has become more common recently, do to the inexplicable Bordeaux population boom i.e. everyone came back from vacation) on the tram for 25 minutes or so. So all in all, it’s a fairly convenient location. The house itself it is pretty cute, it’s a split level kind of thing, with a bonus second floor. My room and bathroom are right at the entrance, the next kind of level features the laundry room, office, living room, dining room, and eat-in kitchen, the final kind of level has the master bedroom. The second floor has another bedroom, bathroom, and a game room. They have an awesome dog named Cali, and their/(my?) neighbor has a horse. There is nothing more foreign than hearing a horse whinny while eating your breakfast of corn flakes and non-refrigerated milk.

Yes folks, that IS a toilet seat. Obviously my bathroom is quite the luxury suite :)
Though, admittedly, the water pressure leaves quite a lot to be desired
You can't see anything in this picture? That's the POINT. Isn't it glorious? They have these fantastic thing in france called "le voile" or something like that, it's like outdoor blinds, and this is the effect they have. This photo was taken, by the way, at 8:30 am. Granted it was raining this day, but I promise that when I woke at 10 am the day before (which was sunny) I could hardly believe it was that late and still this dark
These, as we call them, "bomb shelter blinds" can also double as a full length mirror when you turn on the light
This is a picture they have of Cali in their kitchen. Their last exchange student was also from San Diego, so she's with a sign that says: San Diego Si Vous Plait
This is a statue in the smaller of the two parks
And this is the park
On Sunday, my family took me back to the Bay of Arcachon (where the oyster place, the big pile of sand, and beach are located) in order to walk and picnic. It’s my understanding that they do something like this every Sunday. Their youngest son (21) came down from wherever he goes to school and joined us for the day. Up until this point I understood more or less everything my host family said, however, the conversations of the three of them were considerably more difficult to follow. I ended up tuning out for most of the ride there, because I’m not so interested in apartments in Paris as to try to follow their conversation. Cali came with us and she seemed to really love running about. We walked on a trail along the side of the bay (this bay has an incredibly large tide, that is, the water goes WAY out, so we were pretty far from the water most of the time). Looking across the bay, though, feels very similar to looking across mission bay from the Sea World parking lot. Then we picnicked in a nice field, under some trees. My host mothers cooking is fantastic, and her meals are always multiple courses. This picnic began with rice/vegetable dish with tomatoes (have I mentioned that tomatoes are all super fantastic here?), palm shoots (the family held a little conference to determine the English word for what we were eating because I didn’t know the French one, it was hilarious), and maybe something else. Then we ate something that was kind of like a pizza, but with a sweeter crust, and possibly egg, I have no idea what it was, but it was pretty decent. Then we had cheese, meat, and bread. Then these things that kind of looked like miny rice cakes, but were the texture of cheese, I think. We finished the picnic with a delicious desert of grilled chocolate and peach sandwiches. They were delicious. All the meals we eat here are like this, although dessert is usually yogurt (I usually take their homemade (!) plain yogurt, with apple & some foreign fruit stuff in it. It’s pretty fantastic, and the homemade yogurt is more creamy and less sour than regular plain yogurt). On the way back, we had some trouble getting back to the trail, but we ended up finding it. And we stopped along the way to pick wild black berries (!), which my host mother later made into jam. They were incredibly sweet. All in all, we were out picnicking for 6 hours, and when we got back my host mother had crepes with sugar and or honey prepared for a snack. Their son begged is mother for some of his favorite jams and “comptes”, and teased is mother about being short (which I thought was a bit funny, as I’m a bit taller than he is), and then he headed back out. It was quite a pleasant day.
And I’ve managed to do fairly well with the internet issue. Kindles make awesome email writing devices. :)

14 September 2010

If it made sense, it wouldn’t be French, and other stories

Last Thursday, I went to the post office to mail in paper work in order to begin the process of completing my visa. This required me to mail in an OFII form (which requires a permanent french address), copies of my passport, visa, and stamp from entering the country to the immigration office; one week after receiving my paperwork, they will notify me that they received it, and one month after that I will be given a doctor’s appointment and be forced to pay 55 euro or some ridiculous sum for a “stamp”, until then I am prisoner to france, because if I leave they won’t let me back into the country unless I get a special visa from “the proper authorities”. This is annoying and pointless for many reasons:
1) What is the point of examining the health of a person 2 months after they entered your country? They’ve had plenty of time to spread around all their nasty foreign diseases.
2) I’ve already paid money for my visa, TWICE. 75$ for the completely pointless “Campus France”, and 55$ for what I believed at the time to be my visa.
3) Why shouldn’t I be able to leave the country in the mean time, isn’t the point of a visa that it gives you the right to BE in a country, not the right to leave it? How does this make sense?
4) I don’t actually have a fourth reason, but the first 3 were good.
This event and many others led to the now quite popular slogan, “If it made sense it wouldn’t be French”.

Why is everything closed on Sunday, despite the fact that most people have weekends off and might want to use that time to buy stuff, otherwise amuse themselves?
Why print stamps on envelopes? Wait, that actually kind of makes sense- BUT- Why should you have to fill out a mailing label form to mail a letter a certain kind of way, but still have to write the address of the envelope?
Why should one have to wait in line to procure said envelope and form, and again when one has filled them out?
What do the following have to do with each other: the erosion of beaches, the evolution of whales, feel good times in Madagascar (i.e. journaliste holds newborn baby, dances with children), and searching for a Mexican island that may have disappeared or maybe just never existed at all?

Good-bye Sketchy Dorm Rooms: an ode (or a bad poem about a decrepit building)

Your bathrooms had no toilet seats,
Nor did they have handwashing sinks.
When anyone else turned on the water,
Ice cold or scalding hot you would sputter.

One day I came home and turned on the light,
Brightly it shown, then suddenly night.
For this and “gettons”, the next day, I waited.
Two hours passed before this task was completed.

With “gettons” in hand, I went to the room of laundry.
It failed not to live up to your decrepit legacy.
Of washers, there were three, of dryers, two
And you remember how many worked, don’t you?

There were other incidents as well,
A broken glass door, always locked,
A run through the rain filled dark, I did not take
But these stories perhaps another time I shall tell.
What needs to be said, I shall now say.
Good bye janky, sketchtastic dorm rooms,
I shant ever forget your green shudders,
Nor the grungy interior they long to keep from display

07 September 2010

I tasted really expensive wine, but I’m not going to lie I was more excited about the dog.

Last Thursday class ended half an hour early (YES! Although, I actually I should talk about that at some point, because Thomas (my teacher) is awesome. All the other classes have actual work, like presentations, etc.; we have games in which two people get up in front of the class and one of them can only say “oui” and the other can only say “non”. Which is 1) surprisingly entertaining and 2) the least stressful performance to have to give. And I still actually feel like I’m learning stuff (though not necessarily from the oui/non game, nor the porquoi?/parce-que game), which is pretty nifty.)  I didn’t actually intend to go on that long tangent.
ANYWAYS, where was I? Oh right, we got out of class, and had a provided  “pique-nique” which consisted of hardboiled eggs, cheese, lettuce, and tomato on a baguette (this is kind of disgusting, but less so than the one I had the day before that had tuna instead of the cheese), and an individually wrapped brownie. Unlike the last picnic, we actually ate this one outside. Then we got on our buses and went to a vineyard, where the property owner gave us a long speech about grapes and making wine, presumably, I wouldn’t know because it was really hot and I couldn’t bring myself to care about either of those things enough to listen close enough to understand. Basically all I got out of it was that he said “champingon” a lot, which to my knowledge meant mushroom which made absolutely no sense. When I found out it can also mean fungus it started to make more sense. Basically the fungus is actually desired to concentrate the sugar in the grapes, to make a good wine, or something like that.
This is across the street from the most famous Bordelais vineyard whose name I have forgotten. We didn't go there because it's too expensive

He showed us his garden, and talked some more during that, I didn’t listen at all because I was distracted by the fact that he had PEACOCKS (and also black swans, which totally don’t exist, guys).
Yep, that's Peacock.
Elusive black swan is elusive
Then we went inside, where it was cooler but not quite cool enough, and tasted the wine which was pretty good, if not a bit too sweet. Then he took us into the wine cellar, where at last we found respite from the heat, and he bragged about how expensive his wine is and how he has the audacity to charge more for the wine that’s sold with a picture on the seal than for the wine without the picture.
Demon-eyed vineyard owner, and celar

And then the tour was over, except we walked back towards the bus by his front yard where his FANTASTIQUE dog was hanging out. So all the decent people got really excited and petted the awesome dog through the fence, and the dog very kindly spread his awesome doggieness around. He was a really awesome dog.
Awesome dog is awesome
Obviously, the awesomeness of the outside of the house pales in comparison with the dog, but it was still pretty
Then we continued on to Malagar, the country home of Francois something-or-other (the author who lived part of his childhood in that one house in Bordeaux). On the way, we passed by a city that had a really pretty cathedral by a river.

The house itself and the tour was a bit less than interesting to me, which probably had a lot to with the heat and the fact that I had no idea that there was an author named Francois something-or-other until a week ago let alone anything about his books. As I am sure you can tell, I was a little less than enthusiastic about this trip (EXCEPT THE DOG) for which I blame the heat. But it’s undeniable that the grounds were pretty.

06 September 2010

Things look different in the dark

A couple of nights ago, after a dinner at “Flunch” a restaurant who’s décor and food style made it disconcertingly American-like, I walked around the city with two of my friends from the program. We walked to the Palais du Justice (the very modern building I made fun of for clashing with the other architecture).  As we stood between this palace and the castle built in the 15th century, Tristan made witty comment about not being able to take justice seriously when it is administered in an ice cream cone shaped auditorium.  Claire noticed that there was a bridge that connected the two, and Tristan, the history nerd among us, was very pleased with the symbolism that suggested. Something about the juxtaposition  of these two buildings, and perhaps the dark and stillness of the night made the age of this castle more comprehensible. We walked up the wall, and I understood why peasants 600 years ago would have found this castle impressive. I was impressed. Standing next to the wall of the fortress looking up, I felt small and insignificant. When we continued on to the cathedral, I felt the same way about this ancient building. The intricate detail that still survives today, and the tall spires are still considered beautiful today. It was one of those times when you feel transported back in time and able to see things as people saw them hundreds of years before.
The history here is amazing. The 600 year old cathedral sits across from a 500 hundred year old fortress which is across the street from centuries old buildings in front of which runs a 4 year old trolley, while behind the fortress a modern building shows us how far we have come.