Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Enfin bref.*

* To make a long story short

Embarrassant.... It's been now over a month since I last updated my blog. Yikes. I don't know how it happened! I'll put it down to the busyness of life this semester. But no more dilly-dallying, I'll get straight to the goods.

Second semester at CIDEF. We arrived back from our ski trip imagining ourselves to be the wise and seasoned old-hats. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. On the first day, we assembled in the auditorium to hear M. Melin (the programme director)'s start-of-term speech for the third time. "Chères étudiantes, chers étudiants..." We were surrounded by new students giving off that electric feeling of first-day terror mixed with pretense at calm. Rumours bounced off the walls as the newbs spread the snippets of information they had picked up from their friends who had been around since the fall. "I heard So-and-so say that for the first week we get to try out all the classes we want, and that it doesn't matter if we don't go, but that we still have to take notes, but I'm not sure if I want to go, but maybe I should... [insert nervous chatter here]." "The poor dears," we mused condescendingly. We oughtn't to have been so heartless, but I think it was a method of self-preservation. Pretend to be confident and the start of the new term won't seem so overwhelming.

After a new placement test, Matt, Kelli, Kylle, Gabe, Colin, Yongsung (all oldies) and I were all placed in level 411 along with a few new students. Laura was with us too, but chose to switch to Florence Gamory's class instead, the lucky thing. Those of us in 411 were introduced to our langue teacher Madame Maréchal. She's a nice woman, but she teaches at 260 km/h without giving herself time to take a breath. When the mid-class break comes rolling around, you feel like you've gone through a seated marathon. I think this is the world's way of preparing me to return to real school next year. "Shape up!" says the world. "You've done bugger-all for an entire semester... that won't work back in Canada." Case in point, for this semester we are required to write a 3000 word essay on something to do with French culture. I've chosen to write mine on the following: how does one explain the paradox between the traditionally Catholic French culture and the French's demand for a secular society? More on that in another blog post. It's incredibly interesting, but as of yet I've not done as much research as I should have. Procrastination, that devilish hydra, rears its many heads again. You finish one distracting task, and in its place arise three more. Gosh! Look at that email I forgot to respond to. And would you look at that, four others I'd forgotten as well.

On dirait (one might say) that I'm procrastinating as we speak... Well... ahem...

Class is generally going well. I'm taking socio-cultural studies part II, history of France part II, and history of French painting from Neo-Classicism onward. My favourite class, though, is translation. Our professor is Monsieur Melin (the director), who is an excellent teacher and so funny. Translating is like a word game. How many translations can you get just right? How many do you butcher hilariously? I'm learning so much!
 In langue with Mme Maréchal we're reading the book 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' (but in French, naturally). I actually like it better the second time round because whilst reading in French, I'm forced to pay it serious attention. When I read it in English, I read it during the summer at the same time as 3 or 4 other books and so never properly focused on the story or the words. It's beautifully written. In langue we've also got a subscription to Le Point, a current affairs magazine. I've never known so much about political goings-on in my life. What's more, we listen to the news headlines over the radio every Thursday morning. Not always the happiest way to start the day, learning about who's massacring whom, which new or old dictators are wielding their swords, and the like. But I ought not to complain. After all, I'm staying reasonably on top of the important events of the world.

Speaking of which, I should mention Japan. CIDEF is filled with Japanese students, but I don't know as many of them this semester as I did last. One friend of mine, however, has no hometown to go back to. Her family has all had to flee from Sendai and Fukushima. But these Japanese, they just keep on going! They've set up an aid collection in the main hall, and they've been spending hours making various origami figures to sell for the cause. They're so happy to teach anyone who comes along a few Japanese words, to explain what they're doing, and to be thankful. It's really moving. Everyone was pretty scared this week. Information floated around, unverified, but passed on nevertheless. No one really knew how bad the situation was, just that expats living in Japan had their bags ready or had already made their escape. We saw photos of burning nuclear reactors, entire cities wiped out and thousand-tonne fishing boats swept up on land like bath toys. It seems things have calmed down somewhat now though. Today's headlines regarding Japan talk of the delay in the iPad2 delivery and that the radioactive cloud will reach France around Thursday and will have no affect whatsoever. Tant mieux (all the better). So, here's to Japan. May life reach some semblance of normal for them soon.

On a lighter note, I'll briefly describe my life over the past month.
1) Been living in the university library with Matt, Matthieu, Adrien, and occasionally Maëlle or others. Matthieu and Adrien had set up shop there long before we arrived, but Matt and I invaded their spot at the start of term and have inhabited it happily ever since. When we're not working on homework, we're bombarding our French friends with translation questions or staring through the giant windows at the students who mingle in the courtyard below. I think I've raved about the library here once before, but let me reiterate - it's beautiful! It's kind of like hanging out in a student lounge, but quieter. 

2) Matt and I have been eating lunch on Mondays with three French girls called Mathilde, Aurélie, and Elodie. We got introduced through Florence, my langue prof from last semester. They're lovely girls, and through Mathilde we've met some of her friends at the University of Angers as well. We'd had our share of good times - we all went to a party and then clubbing til 4:30 in the morning together once. Went on a bit of a whim, given it was a Thursday night, but sometimes you've just got to live a little right? We've also been to a hockey game, had a movie night, and just generally spent entertaining hours together. Along with Aurélie, Elodie, and Mathilde, Matt and I went to the language department gala the other night. It was in the most beautiful old stone building, and everyone got dolled up and spent the night dancing. And only in France would they serve wine at a student dinner. 

3) It's starting to turn into spring! There are flowering trees all throughout the city, the blossoms of which absolutely perfume the air. The temperature can't quite figure out where it wants to stay. At night it can go down to 3 degrees, but today it got as warm as 16 degrees. And on Thursday, 20! I can't wait til it warms up for good, I just can't wait.

4) Matt, Matthieu and I sneaked into the unfinished, under construction wing of the Palais, the main CIDEF building on campus. The shell of the building is quite old, but they've gutted it and are redoing the whole inside. The three of us crept in between the hour when the workers go home and when the building gets locked. The mixture of old and new is fantastic, and it was so thrilling being somewhere forbidden. We giggled like schoolgirls as we snuck from room to room, but then stopped on the top floor to appreciate the view of the evening sun on the Palais walls. But there is a tower on top of the Palais, and I am determined to reach it. It requires getting through a locked door without a key, a trick I have yet to accomplish. But I will!

5) I've made a bucket list. My friends have been helping me check things off, such as 'eating at the crêperie next to the castle', 'go to the arab market', and 'go skating'. Many of the things on my list require warmer weather, but for the others, it gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction each time I check something off.

6) Paris. Oh Paris. One could say that it's a bit of a cliché, and many French people who aren't from Paris don't have a lot of nice things to say about it, but two weekends ago I spent the most beautiful 48 hours one could spend in that city. Uncle Jim was coming in on business, so we planned to meet up for a visit. He told me to invite a friend, so Laura came along too. She, Aurélien, and I drove into the city on Friday night to have dinner at his best friend Julien's apartment. Julien is awesome - a budding film director and absolutely full of fascinating conversation. He made us a lovely meal, and the four of us sat around chatting and laughing until the wee hours of the morning.
The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast chez Aurélien and I got to meet his parents, who were very welcoming. Isn't it fun to see how people resemble their parents in terms of looks and personality? Around 11, Aurélien drove Laura and me into the city centre to find our hotel. When we arrived, we could hardly contain our excitement. Grand art deco interior, sympathetic staff, and a prime location. Uncle Jim has stayed at Hiltons on business so often that he had gathered enough points to snag a free room for me and Laura. We checked in, and the concierge handed us our room keys. Can you picture our reactions as we opened the door to our room? "LOOK AT THE BEDS!" "LOOK AT THE BATHROOM!" "LOOK AT THE VIEW! "LOOK AT THE BATHROBES!" "LOOK AT THE TV!" Not excited at all. All this was only the start of the princess-ing we would experience.
We met up with Uncle Jim in the lobby, and it was so lovely to see a familiar face. I've always gotten postcards from him when he's been in some exotic location or other, but I've never gotten the chance to see this jet-setter in action. He and Laura, both being so charming, got on like a house on fire. 
The three of us began our trip with a walk along the Seine to the Musée d'Orsay, the old railway station that houses the world's most magnificent collection of Impressionist and Pre/Post-Impressionist paintings. It's my favourite period of art, and it was soul-quenching to spend a couple of hours drinking in all the Monets, Renoirs, Sisleys, Van Goghs, and the like. Then we took lunch in a little Italien restaurant in the area. Uncle Jim told us stories about his travels and the exciting places he's worked. The meal was delicious, but we weren't quite finished being gourmands (lovers of good food). We took a little stroll back across the river, through the Tuileries Gardens, across the Place de Concorde and into the welcoming arms of Ladurée, the best tea parlour in the world. For more detailed obsessing, please refer to my post from the beginning of October. Enfin bref (remember? long story short), we died of decadence and gustatory satisfaction. Isn't that a wonderful expression, gustatory satisfaction? But oh, the macaroons! Please, let me live off macaroons. 
We returned to the hotel to take a little rest. Laura collapsed into one of the divine, cloudy beds, and I poured over some French magazines. Later that evening, we met Uncle Jim in the executive lounge (oooh là là) for a little glass of bubbly, and then headed out for dinner. We had a reservation at a fusion restaurant called Pershing Hall. Dim but funky lighting, a giant vegetal wall, stylish wait staff. The meal was excellent, like the conversation. When we had finished, we went back to the hotel where Laura retired for the evening, but Uncle Jim and I went for a night cap to have some uncle-niece bonding. Before bed, I indulged in one last luxury: a bath. Oooh was it ever divine to take a bath, then to curl up in mountains of fluffy covers and pillows to dream Parisian dreams. 
The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel and then went down to the river. We took a ride on one of the Bateaux Mouches, the tourist river cruise boats. They take you all up and down the river calling out information in about 6 different languages. The wind was sharp, but the view was worth it.When the tour ended, we had just enough time to stop for lunch before having to check out of the hotel. Uncle Jim smiled secretly and mentioned a 'nice little bistro' that he wanted to take us to. Turns out the 'little bistro' was none other than Fouquet's, a two-star Michelin Guide rated restaurant where the who's who of France goes to eat. I had such an incredible seafood dish. It was to die for. Uncle Jim, if you're reading this, THANK YOU. Really, thank you. We've never been so spoiled. 
Back at the hotel, we shared some good Canadian hugs and said goodbye. Laura and I reconnected with Aurélien, and the three of us drove into the sunset back to Angers.

I'm so lucky to be living this dream. Don't pinch me; I don't want to wake up.