kathryne goes to france

24 April 2007, 4:37 pm
Filed under: exchange student, france, study abroad, travel

Something about walking about various locations in Europe for two weeks in uncomfortable shoes has made my ankles swell to unsettling proportions.  The two joints formerly known as my ankles are approaching cankle status, and that’s just not okay.  I’d hate to think that my ankles will forever be different sizes: pre-Europe ankles and post-Europe cankles.  Aye.  We’ll see if Advil and rest will solve the problem.

In other feet-related news, my trusty Old Navy flip flops broke for good yesterday.  I hobbled across our poorly paved campus wearing only one shoe.  Did you know that flip flops cost no less than 9 euros around here?  Ridiculous.  I refuse to spend 12 U.S. dollars on one pair of flip flops when I could buy four pairs of flip flops at Old Navy for the same price.  Ankles, I don’t want any more complaints.


22 April 2007, 11:55 am
Filed under: American culture, europe, exchange student, france, paris, travel

I love figuring out who’s American and watching them try to get around in France. See a group wearing North Face jackets, sweatshirts, and baseball caps? Definitely American. See an overweight guy? He’s more likely to be American than French, that’s for sure. Hear someone butchering the French language, saying mare-see and bone-jour instead of merci and bonjour? Probably American, and probably from the South, but you have to appreciate their effort.

My favorite Americans today:
The lady wearing a windbreaker with the American flag printed on it who was trying to use the subway system and the husband who congratulated her on the other side with a “You’re gettin’ it, baby!”

The family on the subway. The little boy munched on a chocolate pastry while the parents looked at the subway map and tried to decide where to get off. “Should we get off here? No, wait, there? Or there? Oh hell, we’re in France. Nothing makes sense here.”

The teenagers running through Musée d’Orsay. They’re surrounded by statues by Rodin and they’re running toward the gift shop. All I heard one of them say was, “Dude that sucks!”

The classic middle-aged American woman who laughed and pointed to a statue of a man wearing a helmet. “Let’s get out of here, I’m bored. Who is that, anyway?!” she shrieked. I wanted to tap her on the shoulder and say, “Ma’am, his name is Symbolism. You two should get to know each other.”

cultural confusion
10 April 2007, 9:53 am
Filed under: europe, exchange student, france, french culture, paris, study abroad, travel

I spent my day in Paris surrounded by tourists. As I was trying to make my way through the crowded Musée d’Orsay, people were speaking different languages around every turn. Hearing American English, French, German, British English, and Chinese, mixed in with languages I couldn’t even identify, was completely overwhelming. I didn’t know whether to say “excusé moi” or “excuse me” or or “désolée” or “sorry.” I feel like an idiot when I say “excusé moi” to Americans, but do they even notice that I’m American anyway? And does saying “excuse me” in the correct language matter if we all know what they mean? Besides that, when I’m surrounded by as many Americans as I was today, should I start talking to people in French or English? Which is the better bet? It’s so confusing.

I can’t decide if all Americans really are as uncouthe as they seem over here or not. Granted, we’re out of our element when we’re in Europe. We’re not used to being surrounded by different languages everywhere we go. We don’t know how to travel on a subway system because we’re accustomed to driving cars everywhere we go. And I probably shouldn’t be talking about the kids in Musée d’Orsay who exclaimed, “Dude that sucks!” because I say that all the time.

Not only that, but do all the other Europeans walking around with me just seem more sophisticated because their style and body types are a little more in line with the French? And do I just assume that they’re having conversations about significant topics just because they’re speaking in a language that I can’t understand? Are all the Italians running around saying the Italian equivalent of “dude that sucks” after all? Do I just think that they’re talking about something important because it sounds prettier when they say it?

Je ne sais pas. I’m off to Rome tomorrow. My head’s still spinning from seeing so much art at the museum (I feel like I just read my entire art history book at once) and I have to wake up insanely early tomorrow morning to catch my flight.

Lessons learned today:
Rousseau is awesome.
Realism is a bore.
Americans are amusing.

le christ vivant!
8 April 2007, 11:17 am
Filed under: bordeaux, europe, france, french culture, photos, study abroad

Today we went to an Easter service at la Cathédrale Saint André de Bordeaux. I’ve only been to a couple of catholic church services in the U.S., but I could tell that the format was the same. French hymns sound kind of funny. It takes more more syllables to say something in French than it does in English, so the lines sounded rushed even though the tempo was the same as it is at home. I liked that the service was in French. Even when I couldn’t understand all the words, I could tell what they were saying based on the context. Easter services are pretty standard no matter where you are.

On one hand, the service seemed totally normal. A baby cried, a cell phone went off, and an old lady sang too loud. Some people were dressed up and some were in jeans. The church officials collected an offering and gave communion, and we recited the Lord’s prayer. On the other hand, I was sitting in a cathedral with light streaming through stained glass windows as music played from a huge organ behind us. The interior of the church was cold, not because the air conditioning was turned up too high, but because we were in a huge stone building without a heater.

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Wine and Cheese
8 April 2007, 11:12 am
Filed under: bordeaux, exchange student, france, french culture, photos, study abroad, travel

We took a wine tour yesterday through the Chartrons district and the Médoc region. We got to see the whole wine-making process, from the vineyards to the vats to the barrels to the bottles. We went to Château Aney first and then Châteaux Kirwan. Fields were everywhere in Médoc; it reminded me of driving by the wheat fields in Oklahoma. The vineyards looked like weird cemeteries for tree roots. None of the plants are growing grapes yet, and they’re all shaped sort of like the horns on a steer. That’s the only way I can describe them… just look at the pictures. When I get home I can go buy bottles of wine from the vineyards I saw yesterday. How cool is that?!

In between the tour of Chartrons and Médoc, we ate lunch at a French restaurant. For an appetizer, we were served a concoction of sliced chevre cheese in a hot melted cheese/cream dip. I’m not crazy about chevre (goat cheese), but it was stomachable. Our meal was supposed to be roasted duck with potatoes, but I like ducks way too much to eat one, so I got a smoked salmon salad instead. Sick. After the main course, we went into the cold, damp cheese cellar downstairs. There was literally water dripping from the middle of the ceiling. Apparently this is where cheese likes to live, but I grabbed bits of cheese from random plates and got out of there asap. Some of the cheese was okay, but none of it actually tasted good. Dessert was plum pie (yum) with espresso (highly recommended). Overall, the lunch was a good experience, but I think my taste buds are still traumatized. I’ll be sticking to bread, wine, and crêpes from now on.

Random things I learned yesterday:

•The proper way to taste wine goes like this: look, sniff, swirl, sniff again, taste.
•In the past, wine was produced by wine merchants rather than individual vineyards.
•Wine merchants are still around, and they buy wine from 1+ vineyards in a particular region and mix them together before aging/bottling the wine themselves. •You can tell these wines are from merchants because the label doesn’t say “Mis en bouteille par (vineyard name).”
•The Bordeaux region produces red, white, rose and sparkling wine.
•It’s split up into three regions, the Northern bank (North of the rivers), the Southern bank, and entre deux mers (between the two rivers).
•Each region produces different types of wine depending on the soil present. I guess that’s why in France, wines are classified by region (Bordeaux, St. Emillion) rather than type (merlot, cabernet sauvignon).
•Storage barrels have a huge effect on the way the wine tastes after it ages. The type of wood matters, as well as how long the insides of the barrel are burned (toasted?) during construction.
•The room where they store the wine in barrels smells like old grapes. I don’t know why this was surprising.
•French college students can major in wine tasting. Our tour guide did.
•Merlot is good. Cabernet sauvignon is not.

And that’s about all I want to know about wine.