Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Être reconnaissant de (partie 2)

To continue, I went over to Dave and Jenna's with my mashed potato ingredients. They live just on the other side of my neighbourhood, but somehow I'd never made it chez eux (to their place) before then. They welcomed me in with a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau (hm.. guess I didn't tell that story either. I'll get to that). We chatted and cooked, and after a little while Laura come over too. When we were finished, the four of us piled into a cab and sped away to the bus station. We pulled up to our bus with only a minute to spare before it took off. Maëlle lives out in the country, a little bit east of Angers. The bus stop nearest her house, where we were to wait for her, was surrounded by fields and woods. Maëlle came to pick us up and drove us to her house. It was such a delicious, homey atmosphere inside! Her parents were joining us, as well as her friends Matt and Adrien. Everyone had contributed something - sweet potatoes, cranberries, cheese, cake, veggies, and most importantly the turkey! Maëlle had searched hard for a whole bird, but apparently you can only get them at Christmas unless you pre-order. A turkey dinner is even more of a special occasion meal in France. Nevertheless, she found several large cuisses (thighs) at the market. She'd also collected real vines and autumn leaves to lay elegantly along the length of the table, interspersed with a candle or two. There was such a feeling of contentment and friendliness. We spoke French for the whole meal, which was great practice. Between the main course and dessert, Maëlle's sister Solène removed herself to the piano and began to play. The rest of us melted into the furniture, admiring the music and soaking up the evening. By midnight it was time to leave, so everyone bisous-ed (cheek kissing) everyone else, and we got back into Maëlle's car. "Je suis contente," I said, as we drove back into town. Everyone else smiled or hummed their agreement. What an evening.

Now, one would think that having two Thanksgivings makes me quite lucky already. Won't you be jealous when I say I had three! My friend Becky announced that she was inviting all the other Michiganders over, along with me, Laura, Matt, and Aurélien. It was another potluck, so I decided to continue with my potato trend. We squished into Becky's kitchen, some of us cooking and preparing, and everyone drinking wine and enjoying the good conversation. When all the food was done, it was yet another feast. Platters and bowls of deliciousness, and Becky provided the turkey. Mmmmmmmmm. We really appreciate the moments when we get to visit people at their houses here, because for the most part our host families aren't comfortable with their students inviting people over. Becky's family, however, is quite relaxed. I was a little sad, because I had to rush through the meal. I was meeting Bénédicte to see Harry Potter at 8:30, so I couldn't take my time. Still, it was such a wonderful evening.

Now, a little note about Beajolais Nouveau. It's a wine that has only been fermenting for a few weeks, and so is very new by wine standards (trust me, I know absolutely nothing about wine, zippo, zilch, rien, but one does pick up a piece of information or two now and then in this country). It's quite light and fruity, but more than anything, it's a party. The day that it is first sold (third Thursday in November, I believe) is a chance for the French to hit the bar or to dine at a friend's house to taste the first bottles. My roommate Jamie and I thought this would be an easy way to assimilate with the natives, so off to the bar we went. At 10 euros a bottle, it was actually rather expensive as wine goes here (you can get a perfectly decent bottle for 2 euros, one that you wouldn't be embarrassed to give to a friend). But, we got a cup of sausage slices as part of the deal. Angers is the home of some really excellent saucisson. Anyway, we sat ourselves down in a booth and settled in to enjoy our night and our wine. After a little while, we were joined by a few friendly French boys. They were kind of drunk, but then so were we, so we were glad of their company. They were students at the University of Angers, and were very excited and proud that we loved their city. After a few hours spent with them (and long after the bottle was finished), Jamie and I decided that it was probably best to call it a night. We wobbled our way back to our bicycles and (rather miraculously) made it home in one piece, feeling very much satisfied by the night's events.

Ok, one last point before I leave to get some homework done. On Rue Bressigny, where all those international bars are, there is also the most wonderful crêperie. The front room of the restaurant looks kind of german, with dark wood, whitewashed walls, and exposed-beam ceilings. The ladies who work there are so sweet. Laura and I have made a habit of going there about once a week (well... that might be a gross underestimation) for a little crêpe dessert and a little girl talk. I had started by ordering one called the Liégoise, a deadly combination of chocolate, whipped cream, and almond flakes. And as good as that is, what turns out to be even BETTER is the house caramel. Hot, salted, buttery caramel absolutely flooding the crepe. Ooh my goodness it's good. If any of you come to visit me, I will take you to this restaurant, and I will buy you this crepe. I promise. The waitresses are all very clever. Once we've finished our first crepe, they ask, "Vous voulez une autre petite crêpe?" Well, since you're asking... If you QUITE insist... I've also been to this place for lunch with Jamie, Melissa, and Becky on some of their weekly Friday lunch excursions. The gallettes at this place are excellent as well. I think I've already talked about gallettes, but to remind you, they are the non-sweet version of a crepe. You pick the ingredients like cheese, ham, egg, veggies, etc. and it comes all folded up like a nice little package.

That being said, I've got to get some homework done as in fact, at 8pm tonight I am supposed to venture out into the torrential downpour to go meet the girls at the crêperie, and then off to meet with Bénédicte. More to come soon, as I've still got two weekends to catch up on!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Être reconnaissant de*

*To be thankful for

Apologies, as usual, for the lack of recent updates. Busy busy busy times here!

The week following my trip to Belgium already seems so far away that I can't remember much of what went on. I do, however, have a couple stories to offer. On Wednesday morning of that week, I went to the science faculty building to help my langue professor out with the English class she teaches there. Jamie and another CIDEF student were there as well, and it was our job to engage these French students in English conversations. As it was an English class, I got to hear my langue prof speaking to her class in English. It was simultaneously wonderful and bizarre! She told me after that she used to have a British boyfriend, and that she's lived in the States, which is why her accent sounded almost Australian. It was so curious, and I couldn't stop myself laughing. The first group of students was less than enthusiastic. Their level of English was moyen, and they were only in the class because they had to take it for their programme. Talking to them was a bit like pulling teeth. I often got asked if I could speak French, and if so, could we just skip the whole English bit, thanks. The second group was much more keen, and of a much higher level. More CIDEF students showed up, so we were able to talk to the students one on one rather than in groups. It was kind of like speed dating - 5 minutes per couple to get in as much small talk as possible. It was an entertaining experience.

Another thing that happened in the week following Belgium was that I met my conversation partner! I had signed up a couple weeks beforehand to be paired up with a French person with whom I could practise some French and he/she some English. My partner's name is Bénédicte, and she's lovely. She's in her first year of uni at La Catho (my university here). We met at the bar K'Lypso on the Tuesday, and she brought a group of friends with her. We ended up speaking more French than English, but I think it was a success for her anyway. She's learning English, German, AND Russian. Sheesh. Béné and I have also met up at the Saturday morning market and we went to Harry Potter 7 together. (Little side note on Harry Potter 7.... AYEEEEEEE IT WAS SO GOOD. The actors were so much better at their acting, and the scenes actually had time to se déroullent (play out), rather than the audience being shown little tantalizing tastes of scenes that never properly developed. Would you be surprised if I told you I went to see the movie again the next night? No, eh?)

On Saturday the 20th, I had the most wonderful day. I got up first thing to go to the Jardin du Mail market with Melissa, and we met Becky and Béné there. We loaded up with all sorts of lovely fresh veggies to make a hearty winter soup! Leeks, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, onions, garlic, carrots... Gosh, the market just makes me so happy. People pushing and shouting, picking up the produce, examining it, then either deciding it's not what they want and putting it back, or adding it to their little wheeled cart. The food is so colourful, so full of potential. You can just imagine what kinds of repas (meals) people are going to make with them. And some times the vendors hold out little taste testers of their products. Almost all of the food comes from France, or from the French territories (Martinique, Guadaloupe, Réunion, etc.) It's easy to find big luscious apples right from the Loire Valley, or carrots covered in local dirt. I like to take my time with the food, meandering from stall to stall and having a good look around. Once I've done a loop of the market, I go back to the places where I remember seeing the best-looking products for the lowest price. It's like a little game, a game that makes me feel like just another local. What sets me off from the real French is that I never have the right change, and I always have to spend 2349854 years searching through my little wallet for the change that has drowned to the bottom beneath my cards. I find that French salespeople are unusually particular about receiving exact change from a customer.

But back to that Saturday, once we'd gotten all our supplies, Melissa and I made our way back home to do some cooking. Jamie joined us with a baguette and some cheese, so we feasted away while we cooked. We needed a soundtrack to our culinary adventure, and somehow the appropriate playlist seemed to be Christmas songs. It was time to break out in a little festive spirit. We danced and sang along to all the greats while chopping carrots, peeling potatoes, and caramelising our onions. It took a while for our soup to come together, but it was marvelous when it did. Round, hearty, and soul-satisfying on a cold early winter day. I had to leave by about 4pm, however, in order to go to Dave and Jenna's (two former StFX students who are here doing a gap-year before real life starts). All the Canadians had been invited to our French friend Maëlle's house (she was a monitrice in September) for a Franco-Americano-Canadian Thanksgiving. Maëlle and her sister Solène had joined us for our Canadian Thanksgiving back in October, so she returned the favour nearer the American date. It was a pot-luck, and I was to bring the mashed potatoes. I brought my supplies of potatoes, Boursin cheese, garlic, and cream over to Dave and Jenna's for a little pre-party cooking fun.

Oh, and I just realised what time it is. I've got to go get ready for school, so this post is to be continued!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Photos encore

The weather was delightful. By the time this picture was taken, I was on my 3rd umbrella. It's my first picture.

Un petit peu de chocolat

Cherry Beer...

Voilà la Grand Place

Mannekin-Pis in all his glory

Galleries St-Hubert, the covered shopping street


From left to right: Me, Matt, Katie, Melissa, Vince, Jessica, and Becky

Palais de Justice

I know it's blurry, but you can kind of see how beautiful this ceiling was!


The Annunciation, Pieter Brueghel the Elder

Winter Lanscape with a Bird Trap, Pieter Brueghel the Elder

The Battle of Carnival and Lent, Pieter Brueghel the Younger

Marat Assassinated, Jacques-Louis David

Off to Bruges!

Tour of the brewery, our fabulous guide

The Beer Temple: Belgium's version of The Beer Store

Brussels: Graveyard of umbrellas