Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Plus on est de fous, plus on rit*

*The more, the merrier

Spring in Angers goes something like this: it got up to 25 degrees last week. That's about your average sailing temperature in Chester, Nova Scotia. Not bad eh? To all my Canadians, I apologise for my lack of tact. I hear the weather hasn't been so peachy back home.

But let me explain how I've been soaking up the season like a lizard in the sun, and maybe you'll be able to feel like you lived it too.

All last week, the weather forecast was calling for dazzling sun and 25 degrees on Friday. We had to get outside, and we had to do something big. We planned for a picnic on the banks of the Maine, the river that flows through Angers. Across from the château there's a long grassy hill that ends in a set of cement steps, perfect for lounging and for watching the river bubble along - in other words, the perfect location for a picnic. Friday morning, however, the weather was far from exceptional. Steel grey sky and 13 degrees. Was it nature's idea of a poisson d'avril (April Fool's joke)? But, miracle of miracles, by 4pm the sky was clear and the sun was blazing. Woohoo! I ran home, whipped up a meal, and biked down to the river where my friends were waiting. I started to dig in immediately, only to be asked, "You're not having an apero (appetiser) first?" How could I forget that this was France, where even the most informal meal starts with a little snack? That's got to be the best invention, the apero. Go to any party, any gathering, even sometimes to the bar (some French bars sell sausages), and there will be a little nibble waiting for you. It's a communal effort; everyone brings something along and the food and drink is shared freely. But back to the picnic. I got there in time to watch the last of the daylight slip behind the riverbank, which was stunning. Everyone was in high spirits. We had music playing, wine flowing, and there was a general sense of amitié (friendship) in the air. I have a marvelous bruise on my hip from rolling down the hill several times. We laughed, we danced, we climbed trees, we sprinted for fun... a magical few hours spent kicking off springtime in style.

Oh, and cool trick: I brought a bottle of wine but wasn't clever enough to think of a corkscrew. My friend Cyril told us a YouTube video he'd seen where someone had taken out a cork by placing the bottom of the bottle in a shoe, and then set about whacking the shoe/bottle laterally against a wall. Eventually the pressure builds up enough that the cork just pushes itself out! It was great fun to watch.

Further festivities ensued. Yesterday was my birthday! I woke up to a phone call from Laura and Aurélien singing me Happy Birthday. Then I got to school, and Matt got our langue class to sing too. And then at lunch he bought an apple tart for us to share with our Monday lunch girls. And then they sang me Happy Birthday in English. Then Maëlle gave me the most divine éclair in the world, and Laura gave me a beautiful bracelet. Already feeling rather spoiled, I got home to find more treasures. My roommate Liz got me a bag of Easter chocolate, and my host family made me a lovely cake and beautiful cards. In the evening, I met up with my friends at the bar. Everyone was chatty and cheerful. Matthieu, Adrien and Maëlle gave me a scrapbook into which they had written little messages and glued photos of our group. Since I couldn't be with my real family, it was a pretty great alternative to be so surrounded by the loving people in my life here.

To backtrack in time a little, let me recount the goings-on of two weekends ago. Maëlle lives about 20 minutes out of the city, but that's enough to put her nearly in the countryside. She's from a community called Pellouailles-les-Vignes, and she invited her trio of Canadians (Matt, Laura, and me) to her place for the weekend. Her parents, Brigitte and Yves, are so welcoming and parent-y, and her sister Solène is so sweet, that we all feel quite at home there. On Saturday, the girls spent the day preparing a glorious chocolate mousse cake. Matt wasn't to arrive until that evening. And gosh we ate well! A light fish lunch on Saturday, followed by brioche et confitures (sweet bread and jam) for snack, and then beautiful roast chicken for dinner. And pommes au four (you peel and core apples, sprinkle them with sugar, cinnamon and butter, then pop them in the oven until they become crispy outside but soft and delicious inside) for dessert. Pas mal. On Sunday we awoke to a slightly grey day, so we spent the greater part of it doing as little as possible. Mid-afternoon, Adrien and Matthieu arrived and the group of us went out for a little promenade. We drove down to the nearest river where a gravel walking trail weaves alongside. Armed with cameras, we ran, skipped, jumped, and danced our way along. I'll post the pictures we took soon; they are to die for. Cheers to the person who invented the self-timer! All in all, it was such a heartwarming weekend. So nice to be a part of a family like that one.

Just so you don't feel like I'm doing nothing at all, let me say that I do actually have homework. My essay is driving me crazy! And not because it's hard, no. No, you see the problem is that I have forgotten how to work. As a result, I let the cloud of worry drift miserably above my head rather than attacking the paper at hand. It's an interesting subject, don't get me wrong. I'm talking about why French society is secular, and why the French hold so strongly to their country being secular while their culture is based in so many ways on the Catholic church. It's a phenomenon I noticed right away - going to mass on Sunday morning is all but a relic of the past. Anyway, I have another few weeks to do the essay, but two of those weeks will be taken up by my Easter Holiday, when my friend Claire and I will be traveling Eastern Europe. So... get your butt moving Annie.

That said, I bid you all a lovely day, and I'll put up pictures soon! bisous!