I'm a not so typical American college student
who's spending a month in Tours, France
. When I told KissThis
I was going to be away for a month, she told me I should write day logs or something about the experience. After a little bit of consideration I've decided to try to write once a week. Let's face it: I'm lazy and getting online here for me is a pain. If you're that intrigued by my writing, you're just going to have to wait or msg me ;-)
I suppose I should start with how I ended up here to begin with. It was the first day of my Intermediate French II class at Simon's Rock College of Bard, which I was taking for my language requirement, when the teacher mentioned that a group from Bard College would be going to France for a month this summer and that if we were interested we should tell her by Friday. At the time I was absolutely miserable and wanted to get as far away from my life as possible so I could rethink things. My parents had always wanted me to go somewhere for a while and take an intensive language since I'm so bad with languages in a classroom, be they natural or computer. I proposed the idea to them and they went for it. I was thrilled.
As time passed my life back in the states got a little better. I met a bunch of new people, found a new place for myself and did a lot of thinking about what had happened in the past. Then I remember that I would be leaving all of my new found goodness for a month to study French and I wasn't thrilled. I'd opted to leave a few days after everyone else with two of the three people from my school who were going so they could stay for their AA graduation even though I wasn't going to get my AA this year because of the insanity that had driven me to France in the first place. We were going to be a few days late to classes and would have to make our own way from school to Tours, France. It didn't take me long to figure out that if the three of us were going to make it alive I'd have to do a lot of research about how this worked ahead of time.
When finals ended I decided to go home a day before graduation so I could sleep in a real bed and take a bath before I left the country for the unknown. We were taking an Air France flight out of Boston Logan at 7:55 PM on May 26, 2003 and even though we live inside the I-495 perimeter and can be as close as 35 minutes from the airport my mother decided to leave at 3:15 PM since it was raining and she had no idea what Memorial Day traffic would be like. I knew I'd be bored at the airport and my laptop was giving me trouble, so I asked Xavier to join me there since he claimed he had nothing else to do. We stood in one of those terribly long airport lines waiting to check in and he gave me his old Visor to play with for the trip and we tried to get my laptop Debian install back in working condition. After maybe an hour in line I reached the counter and handed them my ticket (because for some reason we had paper instead of E-tickets) and waited:
"Have any bags to check?"
"Yes, this one."
*pause* "Ok, here you go. You're going to have to move through security quickly to make your flight."
"Um, what? My flight leaves at 7:55 PM and it's 5:12 PM"
*shuffling of papers and clicking of computer keys* "There's usually a flight then, but not tonight. You're on the 5:40 PM flight at gate C31."
I wasn't amused. There was no way the other two Simon's Rockers I was going with were going to make it since they had three hours to drive from school after graduation and I was going to have to do this alone with my six years of school French. I hugged Xavier and set out towards security while trying to call my mom on my cell phone.
I found out later that an Air France strike was starting after our flight. Government run everything was striking all the time all over France because they had or were going to make some changes to the retirement plan for government workers and in France everything from trains to telephones is government run. While waiting in this huge line while they got the plane ready, which was late, one of the other people I was going with named Jilla showed up looking rather frazzled. She'd just gotten there and told if she'd been five minutes later she wouldn't have been permitted to go. We boarded the plane and off we went.
The plane flight wasn't bad. I didn't get to sleep as much as I would have liked but I had a window seat which eased my anxiety. I used to be almost unable to fly on an airplane and for a maybe a year every time I got on one I was a complete terror to anyone around me. For some reason I've been a lot better about it as of late, but then a lot of things about me have changed drastically in the past year or so. In the middle of the flight there was a bit of unpleasant turbulence but other that that the only really terrible thing that happened was seeing an Ikea in Paris as we landed.
I'd been France once before for a two and a half day trip with my father when I was 12. I remember being rather annoyed that I didn't get a stamp on my passport and when I went to Great Britain as my next international trip I told them that the French hadn't bothered with one and they made a point of giving me a nice clear stamp in Heathrow. This time as I made my way through Charles de Gaulle customs at 6:45 AM I made a point of asking for a stamp and the agent asked me if I loved him. I said sure and received a stamp on the first page of my three week old passport. Jilla also answered in the affirmative and we went to go find the baggage claim and some pay phones. Money was changed and parents were called. We were really in France.
In order to get to Tours from the airport you have to take an Air France bus to the Montparnasse train station and a train from there to either Tours or St. Pierre des Corps and then another train to Tours. Our plane dropped us off in Terminal 2A and the bus left from Terminal 2C which was a bit of a walk away. When we got to the stop there was a bus there going to Orly so we had to wait and we got breakfast and a guy tried to give us his phone number. It was somewhat surreal. The bus to Gare de Lyon and Montparnasse finally came and we climbed aboard and chatted as we weaved our way through Paris. After some confusion about train lines and methods of getting to Tours we obtained tickets and waited for our train.
The TGV was far less exciting than I expected it to be. It was fast and full of smoke and that's really all that was notable. We took a small trolley-like train to the Tours train station to find that no one was there to meet us. After a little waiting around we decided to call the school and ask to be put through to our French teacher... at her house at about 6:30 AM. She ended up calling the teacher here and he met us after we'd had lunch and we made our way to the school.
The "Institute Touraine" is supposedly one of the best French as a Second Language schools in the world and it's said that French originated around Tours. I wasn't really that impressed and still am not. My host mother picked me up not long after we arrived and dragged me around the city. I think in another life she was one of those New Yorkers that come up to the Berkshires on weekends, only she can't have that much money. Her food is absolutely abysmal and I'd almost prefer to be back in the dining hall. In fact, I think I'm the only person who can't stand their host family. We eat terribly and she even manages to buy bad bread. She seems to be one of those women that takes it kids to satisfy some sort of nesting instinct and it creeps me out. There's a girl from Korea here who's dating her older son (as I found out Saturday at dinner), a girl from the German speaking part of Switzerland and a boy from the UAE (I think). She's also got a 16 year old son who's around the house a lot. I live on the third (American fourth) floor in a room with only a skylight. It's like a greenhouse.
The day after we arrived we had to take a placement test to see which of the nine levels of French we should be in. I walked into the test and there was this guy who was sitting next to me and wouldn't stop mumbling. I changed seats and he got louder. Finally I wrote, "e ne sais pas," all over my test which means, "I don't know," and left the room. I was put in level two after having six years of French. Class wouldn't be until Friday since Thursday was a religious holiday. I asked to change classes and the teacher from Bard looked at my test and said he'd think about it.
I'm sorry, but don't have me take an important test when I'm jet lagged, confused and dealing with someone obnoxious. If you do, at least be lenient. The other people in my French class are in levels five and six and in level two we're re-learning the past tense. I can't begin to describe what a waste of my time it is. I'm probably not as good as they are but I'm not that bad with French.
Wednesday night some girl from Bard told me the Bard kids were meeting at the school at 9:30 PM to go out and since I wanted some fresh faces I decided I'd check them out. I'd spent my afternoon walking around but didn't want to go home since I'm avoiding my house as much as possible, so I decided to walk around and possibly nap in the garden across the street from my house. As I was walking onto a patch of grass a guy approached me and asked me for a lighter. I told him I didn't have one and he asked to join me. I shrugged and he asked if I spoke English. I nodded.
"How old are you?"
"18" - A lie, but did it really matter?
Random chatter about what I'm doing in France
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"Yes" - It doesn't matter if it's the truth, the answer is always yes unless you've got a good reason to admit to the random guy in the park you're single.
Insert rambling about the United States, George W. Bush and French strikes
"What are you doing tonight?"
"Going out with friends."
"And after that?"
"Going home and going to bed because I have to get up early." - This is about where I'm getting creeped out and annoyed I can't just make him go away and nap in the grass like I'd planned
"Would you like to come to my place and sleep with me?"
"Your boyfriend, he wouldn't know."
"Yeah, but I would and I don't want to." - This is where I start to look at my watch so it looks like if I take off all of a sudden I'm late.
"Have you... would this be your first time?"
"Yes." - Yet another lie, but I was about to run for the hills or at least just the street and I wasn't paying attention to what was coming out of my mouth.
Insert more questions trying to get me to answer yes here.
I finally said I had to go and was permitted to leave. Praise be to *insert deity of your choice here*. The Bard girl turned out to be mistaken about there being any sort of meeting so it ended up being just the two of us wandering around for a while, sitting by the Loire river talking and then finishing the night at a creperie. Somewhere in there we climbed around the ruins of the old Basilica of St. Martin.
Despite how romantic it may sound to be sitting on the edge of the Loire river with your feet hanging it, the river is rather slimy and that spoils a lot of the charm.
For lunch on Thursday the whole group decided to have a picnic on the Loire. On the way to the meeting I saw the guy from the night before as I walked down the street and thankfully he said nothing. I was sitting under a tree after eating my lunch of a sandwich with goat cheese and tomatoes when a black guy who seemed to be in his 20s approached me and asked me something I didn't understand at all in French which is rare since I understand almost anything that's said to me and most of my trouble is remembering things when I want to say them back. When I mumbled something in English he said, "Ah, you speak English?"
"Would you like to buy some weed?"
I've never had anyone come up to me and ask if I want to buy something like that. I look fairly straight edge and on this particular day I was fairly made up in a skirt and nice leather boots. For reasons ranging from me thinking it would be a bad idea to buy anything from a random guy on the street to that I don't really smoke anything at all I replied, "No thanks, but you may want to talk to the people over there."
It's really hard to gesture towards the rest of a group discretely so the teacher doesn't see you. I ended up walking over there and telling them and the whole interested bunch went over to make a deal. I earned some major brownie points with the druggies in the crowd.
The afternoon was spent exploring museum and cathedrals with the Bard girl I'd met the night before who from her on will be known as Kirsten. There's a museum in Tours called, "Musee du Compagnonnage," which is a museum of all the nifty things people have made over the years to be admitted into the various guilds. I wish I could describe the oddities I viewed there. For a while we sat around the Cathedral of St. Gatie and marveled at the mix of Renaissance and Gothic architecture before we returned to our various houses for dinner.
Random: When I was a freshman in high school we once were trying to figure out what the French equivalents were for "give me head" and "eat me out". The best we could come up with for the latter was "mangez-moi". There's an "Oriental" restaurant here called "Mangez-Moi". I can't stop laughing every time I walk past it and wish I could share my joke with the owners...
Friday I suffered through my first class. All I have to say is that if they don't let me change classes this month is going to be a complete waste of time and I'm not going to be thrilled. I've taken to dividing some of my days here into two "days". The day that happens before I have to go back to my house and suffer through dinner is one "day" and what happens after that is another. When I was at school I tended to break up my days with a nap in the afternoon and dinner being breakfast so this is a somewhat similar arrangement. That particular evening we decided to go back to the creperie with two girls from MSU and when they left we wondered around again and went back to the Basilica to try to figure out how to break into the stairs so we could climb up the tour. I'm still in shock that all these places make their own chocolate and chocolate sauce. It's essential for the chocolate lover to have a crepe with chocolate and a hot chocolate for dessert.
I'm not too clear on the history of the Basilica of St. Martin yet, but originally it was far larger than the one that stands today and all that's left is "Tour Charlemagne" and a clock tower. We've been exploring the ruins of the Charlemagne tower and trying to figure out how to open a door that we believe leads to the stairs up to the towers. It's said that Charlemagne and Joan of Arc came to worship at this basilica and there's some magic about standing in a place where you know someone stood over 1000 years ago and trying to imagine it then. Few things in America are even 500 years old, much less 1000. My parents live in Concord, Massachusetts which is the oldest inland settlement in America and it was only founded in 1635. Old in America is nothing compared to old here. Sadly I'm going to have to figure out how to pick a dead bolt... maybe I'll find something on it on E2...
We finished the evening at a tacky restaurant on a small cobblestone street out front sharing a bottle of a local anjou wine. That was when it first hit me that I really wasn't home... something about the ancient street and the wine and the smell of various cigarettes on the air never would happen in Boston by a long shot.
The Fine Arts Museum in Tours is supposedly a beautiful building with a few works by masters like Monet and Degas but perhaps after seeing the most elegant houses ever build in France my standards for such things have been raised. Although the guidebook I'd borrowed from my parents said it was worth a visit I found myself not very impressed by anything except their harpsichord collection. Since there was a concert going on it was crowded and I didn't have a chance to explore the gardens but they're supposedly worth a visit as well.
Sunday was Kirsten's 20th birthday and we'd decided to check out some gay bar with a dance floor we'd seen since there was supposedly some sort of celebration going on that Saturday night. That night also happened to be the start of some festival of the Loire river and we were treated to one of the most beautiful firework displays I have ever witnessed accompanied by quite a soundtrack. It lasted for at least 40 minutes if not longer and I have never seen such a variety of both colors and kinds. We'd waited too long to go anywhere for a light dinner and we ended up falling back on our usual kirs at various places in the old city and then ventured inside the bar, which was blaring obnoxious French something and had black lights and a fog machine. I picked up some nifty postcards from a stand on the wall, but I think the evening can be summarized by saying that we danced to a remix of Madonna's "Like a Prayer".
I wondered around Sunday morning and ate one of the best strawberry tarts I've ever consumed from some pastry shop near Les Halles Market. Kirsten's host mother had made tiramisu for her birthday but before she served it we went to Prieure de Saint-Cosme where the poet Ronsard was buried. The grounds are covered with roses of every color and kind and I suggest that if you're in the Loire valley you should consider stopping by. It's not a grand chateau or anything but it's a nice place to stroll around and see some ruins.
I've decided that this weekend I'll be off to Paris and I'll go to London the weekend after. If anyone knows anywhere decent and cheap to stay in London I'd be thrilled as I'm finding few options. Here starts another week...