Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pictures Galore!

OK, so again, this is going to be a picture-orientated blog post, mais c'est ça! But first, your weekly updates! So things here have more or less settled into a rhythm and I'm getting settled and everything. As you know, I finally have my bank account up and running. I got a bureau so I'm not literally living out of my suitcase anymore, which is nice. I also got a cell phone, which is worth noting because the who cell phone thing is very different here in France. Calling is really expensive so my plan is 1 hour of calling per month and unlimited texting. This is what mostly everyone my age has so the #1 method of communication is, you guessed it; texting! However, unlike at home, it's not really a problem in school here. Everyone does their texting between classes, not during, whereas at home it's a constant problem for the teacher. I guess France is just cool like that! School has also regularized (c'est un mot? je ne pense pas...) and I now know my schedule and my classmates well enough so that I no longer run around getting lost in the hallways and walking in to classes late. Although I did do that the other day, but hey!, no one told me my free block was being replaced by a class president election so I turned up 20 minutes late. Ah well... We've also been having a lot of tests recently, which is normal, but unfortunate for me. The tests, or "controls" as they're called, are usually hard and depend on knowledge gained in the classes, which is a problem for me since I don't pick up too much of what happens in class. But I'm lucky to have at least one really nice teacher. My Français prof is super cool and she realized there was no way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks that I could create a dialogue between Pascal, Fontonelle and Voltaire having a scientific/philosophical discussion in the 2-hour class so she shortened the assignment and gave me a week to do it! The other teachers are less forgiving but that's okay because I'm focusing more on classe de Français because I'm interested in it more than I am in math or physics or biology. Another thing is tennis. As you know (I think I told you, right?) Guillaume and I signed up for tennis lessons at the Mûrs-Erigné tennis club and yesterday we had our first lesson. We got put in the beginner's group for some reason so everyone more or less sucks and we rock but I'm pretty sure we're going to be moved up. It was nice to finally start doing a sport, and to do it weekly because at home I'm used to soccer/nordic skiing/tennis practices everyday so it's pretty different not doing that here. But, now, at least I'll be playing and learning to play better tennis once a week, which I'm excited for.
Okay, the photos, as promised. However, there's a lot fo them, as promised. The first couple are just randoms from stuff I talked about but didn't add pictures at the time. They're also all ridiculously out of order. Also, to explain most of the pictures, today after school I took a bike ride around Mûrs-Erigné, along the river, and then up through Ponts-de-Cé and to my school alone! I'm proud that I knew where I was going enough to not get really lost but it was also nice to explore a little and bike around for the first time.

 This is, from left to right, Ivy, Me, Guillaume and Gabe, at the AFS reunion picnic. So apparently we were pointing at the camera but I didn't get the message in time and Ivy just missed it completely. AMAZING! (Guillaume, tu, seulement, comprend le référence!)

 This is basically it for Mûrs-Erigné main street. Further away there's the Hyper U and the big shopping plaza but it's ugly and I didn't bike there so this is the downtown of my vilage. There's a tabac/bar, a hotel/restaurant, a boulangerie (bakery)/pâtisserie (pastry shop), a mini épicerie (grocery shop) and further down a post office and a small gas station. And that's about it!

 This is at the top of my neighborhood which is, apparently, called the Quartier de la Fontenelle. It's the residential-only section where I live with all the "quaint" and traditional French houses.

 This is the bus stop I'm at every morning Monday through Friday at approxiamately 7:33 AM. From here, we take our #3 bus to school... >

 This is my school! Lycée Jean Bodin, view from the street. Behind those front doors it stretches out like a big E with three wings and little courtyards in the two slots between the wings.

 I'm pretty sure that says something along the lines of "it's not the wealth but the men", but don't be too sure. Anyway, so this is where I spend most of my time! It's a lot less scary-looking on the inside, I promise!

 This is coming down the street into Mûrs-Erigné. I figured I needed at least one shot with the name of the village in it.

 This is in Ponts-de-Cé, just before my school. Obviously, you go to the right if you want to go to school and to the left if you want to go to Angers!

 This is looking down a little river called the l'Authion on the way to school. Not too shabby, eh?

 The same view but with less zoom and more flowers...

 This is not a chateau but actually just a castle-like tower that houses some kind of museum in Ponts-de-Cé.

 This is the Loire river, from which our section gets its name, Pays-de-la-Loire and one of the two big rivers from which our département gets its name, Maine-et-Loire. I don't think this picture does justice to the size and awesomeness of the river but I liked the birds on the rocks so that's how it is.

 This further down on the same bridge overlooking the same stretch of the Loire but this looks down the river where you can see some guys fishing (a very popular pastime for some of the more elderly residents of the area) as well as the silhouette of one of the traditional Loire boats.

 Again, the Loire, but on the other side of the bridge where, yes I know, it looks more or less exactly the same.

 Entering the slightly-larger-than-Mûrs-Erigné-village of Ponts-de-Cé which I drive through everyday on the bus.

 Just heading out of Mûrs-Erigné crossing the bridge over le Louet, the same river that runs at the bottom of my street.

 Some big church in Ponts-de-Cé.

 A section of the walk I take to my bus stop every morning that goes from the bottom of my street along the Louet for a little then up onto the main street.

 So besides just biking around the villages, I also took a path down the Louet going the opposite direction of Mûrs-Erigné and everything else. I just thought this looked like something out of Lord of the Rings, not really sure why.

 This is the street parallel to mine, another extremely narrow, small rue filled with traditional beautiful French houses.

 This is right at the bottom of my street, where it goes down to the Louet. There's usually at least a couple geese chilling somewhere around here.

 This is all the way back at the AFS reunion: Guillaume and I. (I told you everything was out of order!)

 This is la belle poule we got the other day at the market who now lives in the half built chicken coop in our yard.

 The Louet from the path I biked earlier today.

 Jumping at least one week back, me making pancakes for my family.

 This is from the market in Brissac where we also got the chicken. No that's not a dog I'm standing next to but a mini horse.

 This is an example of all the yummy sausages I was talking about. And these are all homemade from farms and little local delis, not from companies or even stores.

This is from my birthday, duh!

And finally, this is my street, "street of marroniers" which are (I think...) chestnuts but right now I'm blanking on the English name. There are a lot of trees and therefore the chestnuts all over the place but unfortunately they're poisonous, absolutely not the kind you can eat. 
Okay well, once again it's 10:45PM and I gotta move on. 
Au revoir pour maintenant
Benji

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Troglodyte???

So, once again, I can happily say that it's the end of an awesome weekend! Friday was my 16th birthday and after school (which was quite uneventful) I went in to Angers with Guillaume. First we met with my host mom at the bank to set up an account. I'll finally have an ATM card so I can get cash whenever. (Don't worry Mom and Dad, we set a maximum withdrawal per month, I'll tell you about it later.) Then after Guillaume and I went and hung out in the town. It started with me buying a duck panini and Fanta (Frenchyness!) and paying with a hundred-euro note. The cashier was kind of pissed but I genuinely did not have anything smaller! Anyway, Guillaume and I sat and ate on a fountain. In this square there is also an amazing carousel. It's not just stupid horses, it's rocket ships and dinosaur skeletons and aeroplanes! And they move around on the carousel. And the rocket ship "blasts off" and go up through the top so the kid can get a better view of Angers. I swear, if only I was 2 feet shorter... Anyway, afterwards we met up with a girl from our class, Louise, and the three of us got some drinks. Then Gabe, Erin and Elise (all AFSers) joined us and we walked around and talked and had a good time. After a while Guillaume and I took the bus back to lil' Mûrs-Erigné and we had my birthday dinner. But that's not important: what's important is dessert. For my birthday dinner, I got 3 cakes! (I guess one could argue that this was because there were 7 people (me, my family, and Mathilde and Nikolas, a cousin and her boyfriend who often come over for meals) but I like to think that there were three cakes for me!) Anyway, the first one was a gateau Breton and possibly my favorite. The two main ingredients of this cake are butter and sugar, then a crust and a little flour and it comes out as this amazingly delicious, rich, buttery, sugary piece of perfection. With vanilla sauce on top. The second cake was a tarte aux pommes, the French apple pie. This is a special one because it's make with the apples in first and then on top a crust, like American apple pie, but at some point during the cooking process, it's flipped over so that it's a crust with apples in it. It's so good! The third cake was a chocolate cake on graham cracker crust, from a local bakery. Always delicious! So that was my first (but hopefully not last) birthday away from home and it was pretty good. I do miss my mom's chocolate cake though...
Yesterday (Saturday), there was an annual street market/carnival in Brissac, about 10 minutes from Mûrs-Erigné. It's this really nice little French village with the tiny cobblestone streets and the fancy latticework on all the houses, but yesterday morning all the streets were packed with vendors selling everything from clothes to sausages to mops to birds, anything you could think of! There were also some classical carnival games like shooting the balloons with the cap gun and bumper cars and stuff but it was more a market. There were tons of stands from local delis and farmers with all sorts of local cheeses and literally dozens of different sausages made from all sorts of animals. Some of the stands had samples and I got to taste some of the sausages and cheeses. They were amazing! To me at least, but to everyone else they were probably just normal. We also bought a chicken! François is building a chicken coop in the corner of the yard and we bought the first chicken from a farmer hippie guy with dreads all the way down his back. He put the chicken in a cardboard box and for a good five minutes the poor thing was freaking out. Once we got it back to the house and into the garden it was fine. For now it's locked in the garage in a makeshift coop (a pile of hay) until the coop is done, probably in a couple days. Once it's ready to go, we'll get a lot more chickens and have fresh eggs everyday! I can't wait.
Last night, we had a family party, to celebrate Guillaume and my birthdays (I know that's not correct, grammatically, but it's not my fault: I'm starting to forget the mechanics of the English language!). We went bowling in Ponts-de-Cé, a slightly larger village on the other side of the Louet. It was ten-pin, because apparently candlepin doesn't exist in France, although it hardly exists in American anymore. It was surprising how alike it was to bowling at home. Even some of the animations of bowling pins and balls and your score on the TV were the same. I recognized the zombie one for strike and a couple others. Another similarity was my utter lack of skill at bowling but that probably wouldn't change no matter where I go. Anyway, after we went out to a little pizzeria and if you think Otto pizza has some bizarre toppings, go to France! I saw mashed potatoes on one and eggs on another, like Otto, but there were also pizzas with foie gras and grenouille (look it up)! I settled for a relatively normal one with ham, mushrooms, cheese and parsley which was good except for the fact that I had to eat it with my knife and fork. In France, no one eats pizza with their hands at a restaurant unless they want to be automatically labeled as a tourist/American. Another thing was that everyone got their own pizza, except for my host dad who got a calzone, but that's not too uncommon. There are definitely places in America where each person gets their own pizza. After that, we had coups which are miniature ice cream sundaes that come in all sorts of different flavors with different toppings. This I recognized from Switzerland so I got the classic coupe Denmarke; vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate sauce (the polar opposite from Hershey's chocolate sauce, thank God), with whipped cream, shaved almonds and a chocolate straw. It was really good although I didn't even come close to finishing it and it wasn't very big.
Today there was an AFS reunion out in the middle of the country and driving out there I kept seeing old guys with dogs and sticks walking around in the fields, wondering what the heck was going on until François explained to me that hunting season started today. We drove by a hunter on the side of the road and I realized that the sticks were double barrel shotguns, the kinds that the barrels are on hinges and you crack it open and put the shells right in. I still don't understand why you need a shotgun to hunt rabbits in corn fields in the countryside but if that's what they want to do, I'm not going to stop them. Anyway, the AFS reunion was actually a picnic which was nice because I got to hang out with my English-speaking friends who I hadn't seen for a couple weeks and eat delicious French food on a beautiful autumn day. After we ate, we walked to a historic site nearby, a village of "troglodytes". Don't worry, I didn't know what that was before today either. It turns out they're a series of interconnecting tunnels and rooms built into mountainsides or underground, like this one. On the top it looks like a quarry but there are doors and rooms and passages opening everywhere. We wandered around in those for a couple hours and it was pretty cool and kind of scary, stumbling around in pitch blackness in underground caves. Needless to say, there was a lot of hiding around the corner, jumping out at people and screaming and it was pretty awesome! Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera because I thought it was just a picnic but once some pictures turn up on Facebook I'll steal them and post them here.
So, all in all, my weekend was pretty awesome. I do admit that I miss the fall in Maine with all the leaves changing color and the mountain hike and that weird crisp air where you can almost taste the snow, but I'm sure I'll get some of that here too in the next month or two. Maybe not the snow thing because I found out (I don't know if I told you this or not yet) that here it doesn't always snow. Sometimes there's a little but some years it's just rain, so that should be interesting. Especially with my from Maine where freak snow storms and 0° Fahrenheit is nothing special.
Bonne nuit et à bientôt,
Benji

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Crazy French English Teachers!

Today, in English class, we had to write a biography of ourselves. During the last couple classes, we've been learning basic questions like "What are you favorite films?" or "What are your parents' professions?" Needless to say, I've been pretty much just sitting there. So today we had to use the information from those questions to write at least 250 words of biography-type sentences. It was really easy for me, obviously and I wrote at least 300 words in about 10 minutes. After sitting around for another 5 minutes, I decided to rewrite my paper because the plume fountain pens here are hard to write with and my biography wasn't exactly the neatest in its current state. I was taking out a piece of paper when the teacher said to me "That's what I thought: you rushed through it the first time and now you have to redo it". I know, what you're thinking, I was too ("What a ******* ****!), especially since my English is better-sounding and more socially correct than her's and what she's teaching the class. Anyway, she said that and I said "No, I'm just doing a second draft to improve my handwriting". Now here's the part that gets me: she nodded and said "Uh-huh..." really sarcastically! I hate when teachers are like that! She thinks that just because I already know English I'm too conceited to write a good first draft. So anyway, I finished copying the biography and handed it in to her: both copies! I wish I could be there to see the look on her face when she reads them and realizes not a single word is changed from on copy to the other! But really, I'm changing my class this week. It's not even just that, she's always like that all the time. She's so rude to the students and everyone hates her.
However, I'm now not mad at all because I got a package in the mail today. From my grand-parents. In Switzerland:
Yes, that's exactly what it looks like! A box of the finest Swiss truffles and €100. I love my Swiss grandparents.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Handball is so intense in France!

So today instead of AP Math, I watched school-wide handball tournaments. Ok, it actually wasn't school-wide but it was the upper two grades; Première (my grade) and Terminale. 10 people from each homeroom/class signed up and they faced off against other groups in the gym. Actually, before I go any further, let me explain those two sentences. First, when I say homeroom/class I mean the people who I have class with every day. (I might have already explained this: if so just ignore the next sentence or two.) Unlike American schools, or at least mine, I have all my classes, everyday, with the same people, besides languages which get mixed up because of different people's choices. This group is my class, but also my homeroom, in a way. We don't actually have homeroom, but our Professeur principal (homeroom teacher, if you would) gives us daily announcements before math class which is what he teaches. The other thing I should explain is the gym, which is awesome. Right across the street there is an Athlétis which is both a gym and like an indoor sports field, in two separate giant room. Outside there are also a bunch of fields but we haven't been outside for gym class, or EPS as it's called, yet. Anyway, so today all the Premières and Terminales gathered in the indoor sports field half of the building and watched our teams play handball. It's weird because in America, handball is some game that our dads used to play in the street. Here in France, it's a legitimate game with certain rules and strategies that everyone, besides me, knows from growing up playing the sport. It's basically what it sounds like: people run around on what is essentially a mini-soccer field setup and try to throw the bal into the other goal. There's a goalie and the thrower can't come into a marked circle around the goal: this means that they're always leaping into the air to throw the ball into the goal without technically breaching the circle thing. (Yes, it's as confusing as it sounds. I had to play it in gym and more or less just ran around getting in the way or everyone else. However, that might be because the teacher explained the game really briefly in very fast French which is a world of "je ne comprends pas" for me.) The game is really fast and you have to concentrate to be able to follow the action but it's an awesome spectator sport because everyone goes crazy whenever someone scores.
I'm just happy it replaced what would've been my second block, in a row, of math...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Photos of the Manor

Well I guess I had more time than I thought! Here are the pictures from the manor yesterday. Unfortunately, it wasn't such a nice day, a lot of on and off raining which is normal here but it's a cool house!
 This is just me standing at the end of our street. My house is to the right and behind me is the little Louette river.


 Some French church in a very "quaint" (it's actually the right for this place) little village we passed through on the way to the manor.


 Guillaume and one of my cousins, Louise.


 This is just when we walked into the manor, through the massive front gate.


 The passageway to the gardens.


 The white-rose gardens with what looks like will be made into a fountain eventually in the middle.


 The awesome hedge labyrinth/garden I was talking about.


 This is something I didn't quite understand. I think it's a traditional addition for manors in France and usually stocked with fish for the lord or something...


 This is one of about 8 pots that lined the pool. These were actually handmade for the manor by some pottery experts as part of the renovation.


 Aurelien and the now 4 yea-old Gabriel checking out something particularly interesting on the ground that I cut out of the photo (no idea what it could be though!).


 A layout of the manor and surrounding gardens from the renovation process.
 One of the barn rooms running down the side of the courtyard. In on of these rooms they had the film aout the renovation playing.


 A passage leading out to the gardens.


 Just a kind of cool picture of the passage, again, but this time with the gardens beyond.


 The massive front gate and beyond it, the manor's main building.


 Chapel window. The chapel was locked and you couldn't get around it so that's the best I could do.


This is just a cool picture I took of a wall on the other side of the street, and behind it is some kind of little hut that's falling to pieces. But it also has that traditional French brickwork: that kind of stuff is all over my neighborhood.

video
This is a clip from the concerts the other weekend in Angers... I thought I'd put it here because on Facebook it would have, for some unknown reason, taken a total of 15 hours to load, even though it's less than 10 second. I dunno...
Anyway, so that's the manor!
À bientôt,
Benji

Crêpes, Présidente and other such Frenchy things

It's Sunday morning, I'm full of pancakes and wishing I didn't have to do homework and go to school tomorrow. It's okay though because I had an awesome weekend.
On Friday, Gabe, Guillaume, Thomas (a French friend) and I went to a kebab restaurant for lunch. Unfortunately, I was forced to eat the school lunch before (the secretary decided that there weren't enough people in the cantine and forced me and my friends to go eat now instead of waiting for our other friends) so I didn't get a kebab but I ate plenty of Gabe's so it's okay. It's good to know where it is now, though, so I can go grab a kebab when I have double lunch (a free block right before or after). The less enjoyable part of the day was right afterwards, when I went to my class, or what I thought was my class, but it turned out I had a free block. It took five minutes for the teacher to explain to me that I didn't need to be here and this was after class had already started so I had to pack up my bag and walk out in front of the whole class. It was pretty embarrassing and I probably looked like a very stupid American but, c'est la vie!  In other news, I have been made honorary shuffler in the foyer. Let me explain this better.... A long time ago (my first day of school) I had a free block and was wandering around, being lost when the only friend I had (at the time) found me. He introduced me to his other friends (who are now my other friends) and they taught me a game called Présidente. It's a local French card game where the point of the game, like almost every other one, is to get rid of your cards. The only problem was there are a lo of other rules and stuff you need to know to play so during the past two weeks at school, I've been learning the game and progressively getting better. Then, the other day, I noticed that all the French kids seem to suck at shuffling so I said "Donné-moi" and did the shuffling thing where you split the deck and lift the corners and let them go and it get's mixed really well. Anyway, the French kids were amazed. Apparently nobody shuffles like that, besides at casinos, so I am now official shuffler of the deck whenever I play Présidente with my friends in a free block of after lunch or whatever.
Friday night was also my cousin's (or rather, my family's cousin's) 4th birthday. He has two sister and a brother and they come over here for dinner fairly regularly. This time we went over to their house which is on a tiny island in the middle of the Loire river. The island is known for it's floods, because every winter the Loire swells massively and all the streets on the island get flooded. When we were driving to the party we passed a board next to church that had different lines on it from where the flood had reached, as well as the height of the water, the date and a picture. I was really sorry I didn't have my camera because there were some hilarious pictures of people rowing through the streets in canoes and rowboats. Anyway, so we got to the house of the cousin's (my host mom's sister's family) and it was amazing! It's a very traditional French house but slightly renovated. The put a second floor in the main building, which I guess was just one big room before, by they kept the walls and windows the same so everything made of big stones surrounded by white mortar: it's really French! Then on the second floor, they have big glass circles in the floor that look down into the first floor and you can't walk over it because it could break, but they're really cool. There was a massive fireplace, so big I could stand in it without ducking my head. There was also this really old-school roulette game, with the part that spins around and you drop the balls in it, but it was obviously from at least 50 years ago. There were also these collections of glass bottles from a long time ago and they were in all sorts of weird shapes: the whole house was like that, filled with little things from a traditional French house. Anyway, since it was Gabriel's birthday, his grandparents (Laurence' parents) were there too. Gabriel's mom had made tons of little delicious appetizers and I actually wrote them down so I could mention them.
Homemade guacamole and baked tortilla chips.
Prunes from her garden wrapped in smoked bacon.
Puff pastries filled with cheese and speck (European ham).
Sweetbread filed with cheese and ham also (but very different).
Baguette slices, oven-toasted topped with piece of blue cheese, goat cheese and all sorts of Camemberts and other village-made cheeses.
Steamed mussels from the river, filled with a parsley-butter sauce.
And of course, the whole time bottles of real French red wine were being passed around. It was awesome! And then for dessert, the grand-parents brought all these little pastries and cakes from a pâtisserie in Angers. I had a 3-chocolate tart, a puff pastry filled with sweet vanilla cream (which is a specialty of the region, I forget what it's called), strawberry and raspberry fruit tarts and a mini tiramisu. There were also little macarones which look like little multi-colored hamburgers but they're made of chocolate and other stuff. We get them a lot in Switzerland too. Then after all those desserts, there was an amazing tarte de pomme from the mom (from her garden, also) as well as waffles with powdered sugar, which I guess is a pretty common French dessert food.
Yesterday, Guillaume and I signed up for tennis! I'm excited to get back to playing tennis because I miss having a sport but now we can go play whenever we want at the indoor courts 5 minutes walk away and starting in a couple weeks we'll be having lessons on Wednesdays after school. The crazy thing about French sports, however, is that they're all done in private clubs. There are no school sports so everything is really expensive but I guess for them that's normal: I'm just used to playing for free after school with half my classmates. After we signed up, we went into Angers for a bit of shopping (I got on of those nicer pullover long-sleeve sweater shirt things that all the French kids wear so I feel more normal now, yay!) and then went balk home for lunch. After that we went to a manor because this weekend is some kind of national historic monuments weekend, so all the castles and monuments are gratuite and open to the public. Anyway, we went to this manor, which actually belongs to the godfather of Gabriel, the now 4 year-old cousin. It was this massive French manor is the countryside, yes just like the movies, that had just been renovated to it's traditional glory so it had this awesome hedge garden (which reminded me of the maze in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), rose gardens and barns, as well as it's own private chapel. We saw a movie about the renovation and the man of the manor (the godfather!) talked about it. Afterwards, we got a private tour from him because he wanted to say hi to his godson. It was pretty cool and I got tons of pictures which I'll post later when I have more time.
Other notes: I moved into my own room earlier this week (before I was in Guillaume and Aurelien's room) and it's nice having my own space and bathroom. But I still use the desk in their room for homework and hang out there with Guillaume so it's not like I'm just shutting myself up in my own room all day. Although it wouldn't be bad, because it's a really cool room. It's in the older section of the house so the wall behind my bed and the walls of my little bathroom are all stone. My room also has a really high ceiling (perfect for the awesome clock I was loaned which has a little flashlight that projects a digital readout of the time onto the ceiling above my bed) and a window with an awesome view over the garden, the street and out onto the Louette rivierre. The window has those traditional slatted wooden shades that every morning and night you pull open and close so in the mornings I get up and throw them open and imagine I'm in a fairy tale or whatever. No, but seriously, it's an awesome room. It will be more awesome, though, when we move a bureau in so I can take my clothes out of my luggage and throw them in there instead of all over the floor!
Also, this morning I finally got up early enough to make pancakes for my family! It was... interesting. First I had to do all the conversion for the cups of milk and flour into grams and liters. Then I had to use crepe pans because they didn't have a griddle that was good for pancakes. Of course, the first one I made was accidentally giant so when I flipped it, it landed only half in the pan and send pancake mix and partially cooked pancake flying all over the stove and the wall. It was fine though, and I ended up finishing off the entire pancake mix because they were so well-received with my family. It was awesome to have pancakes again, such a Maine breakfast comfort food, with Maine maple syrup and everything. I also promised my family that I would make them an American breakfast of eggs and bacon because, as I explained, I'm better at that and it's hard to flip eggs all over the wall. Although, if I may say so myself, those pancakes were damn good!
Well, that all for now folks! Later today I'm hanging out with some friends and then going to another castle (after I finish my mountain of homework!) so hopefully I'll get some pictures up in the next couple days, but no promises!
Benji

Monday, September 12, 2011

German in French in English....??

So today I had my first German class. It was... confusing, to say the least. I mean, German is a hard enough language to learn in English but when you have to translate from German to French to English? It get's pretty mind-boggling. The reason it's so confusing is because I'm already fully immersed in a French language setting so I'm learning a lot of French. This overwhelming amount of new language is pretty much dominating my previous knowledge of German (and even starting to mess with my English, which is becoming progressively less grammatically correct!). So basically, I've forgotten most of my German and when I try to recall and speak it, it just comes out as a muddled mess of Germçais (my invention word for German-French)! I'm sure they'll seperate from each-other once my French gets better and once I start speaking more German in class. Speaking of, I'm in the class that corresponds with my year of lycée which means that all the other kids are much better at German than me. Well actually, I think I understand more because of exposure (Switzerland and Germany, year after year) but they're better at speaking because they've had formal education in German and I've just spoken a little with my grand-parents, cousins and friends. Anyway, I'm lucky in that I already know some (Swiss-) German and I understand a lot more than I speak. Also, the teacher is really nice and she talks in German the whole time so it really wasn't a bad class. I think she likes me now because I was the only the kid in the class who knew who Wilhelm Tell was (thanks, weird Swiss children's tapes about the adventures of a talking parrot named Globi!). Anyway, I'm pretty excited to be learning German because I always wanted to so I could talk better with my Swiss family. Hopefully I'll really learn something so next time I go see my family I'll be able to communicate better!
So directly after my German class today, I had English! Talk about overwhelming languages. Actually, no, that's a lie, English was a breeze. I more or less just sat there and listened to them try to describe a picture, occasionally raising my hand and giving out some perfect answers! It was kind of fun, always knowing the answer. I'm assuming that this class will be my period to relax and do little to no work! Yay!
So beyond school, I also had a fantastic weekend! This whole weekend, there was a big festival in Angers, all day and night on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tons of shows and performances, live concerts and art walks. It was really cool and so on Saturday, I went into town with my bro Guillaume and Gabe, my Californian, English-speaking, helping-each-other-survive-school friend (from AFS). We had a couple drinks and walked around checking out the stores and general downtown area. We accidentally bought €10 worth of candy, ate it all, and immediately regretted it. Then later, we met up with the rest of my family for a little, got some dinner at a kebab stand, and the three of us went off again to check out some of the festival's attractions. We found a posting for a electronic concert and decided to check it out. We got there just as it was starting and it turned out to be a pair of German DJ's playing some crazy beats morphed with other popular songs or parts of songs. It was really cool, although it attracted quite a crowd. The pit (we weren't in it, we sat on the side on an embankment) was basically a bunch of crazy drunk 20-35 year-olds. They had bottles and every now and then you'd see one fly up above the crowd and land in the river that we were right next to. A little tourist info: the Loire river runs directly through Angers and carries many boats, most of them the traditional French boat of the region which looks something like an Asian take on a gondola. Anyway, the concert was awesome, with a ton of crazy lighting effects and we had a great time.
On Sunday there was an AFS reunion / meeting for the families and I went with my host mother and brother. We arrived at a kindergarten/elementary school, the location of the meeting for who knows what reason!) and I got to see a bunch of my AFS friends: a couple Kiwis, a couple Australians and a couple Americans that I'd hung out with a lot at the Paris orientation. Anyway, us teens got to go into to town with some of the younger French AFS volunteers and we checked out a couple sights (that I'd seen the night before), but mostly we just hung out and talked and caught up with each-other about our host families, schools, friends, etc. It was fun being able to actually talk to people in my native language and having them understand me so that we could carry out a real conversation. So now, I'm going to celebrating my 16th birthday next weekend with a bunch of them and we're gonna hit the town and have  a party! Or something like that! So that's what I've been up to these past couple days. Hope everything went well at home, what with the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 and all. Yes, I heard about it even here. There were a bunch of specials on TV of people who had something to do with 9/11 being dubbed in rather odd voices by French reporters. Anyway, I guess I'll see you all later (since, yes, once again, it's 10:30 and I have tog et up nice and early tomorrow for a first period of math!!).
À très bientîot, for now!
Benji

Friday, September 9, 2011

Lycée and the other 8 levels of hell.

So today was my last day of my first week of French school. It was.... odd, to say the least. Frustrating, annoying, confusing, fun, inspiring, weird and unlike anything I've ever experienced. It started off on Tuesday morning when I got up to an alarm clock and had that sinking feeling in my gut that every teenager gets when they realize for the next eight or nine months they'll have to get up before the sun five times a week and go sit in a room and take notes and what-not. Anyway, I got up, showered and got my school stuff together. For French school, the material list is way more specific than at home. For example, you have to have a real ink cartridge pen. Not like the ones at home, but one where you unscrew it and put an ink cartridge in and the tip is a metal nub like on the feather quills they used in the 1800's and Harry Potter! (Except minus the feather and the magic wands.) Along with that, you need a special pen with special ink that magically blots out the ink from the other pen if you make a mistake, which I do constantly since I'm used to just erasing it. That's another weird thing: no one really uses normal pencils with graphite. Instead they use their fancy, and awesome, French pens or mechanical pencils, which I despise. The normal French student also always has a mini geometry kit in their pencil case: compasses, angle rulers, straight-edges, the works. On top of that, you need a notebook for each class and then your textbooks. I think, by the time my backpack was fully loaded, it out-weighed me!

So after I was packed, I had my warm-cereal French breakfast with fresh buttered baguette (I now understand why people would think the French survive on a diet of baguette, which they don't at all.) Then Guillaume and I headed to our bus stop. One big difference between here and home is the bus. En France, il y a pas de bus d'école. There is only public transportation which, while pricey and crowded, is good for the other drivers on the road because they don't have to worry about yellow buses stopping at every curb and unloading tons of kids. So we took our bus from our stop, Chateau Erigné, to the stop near our school in Angers, about a 15-minute drive. We walked a little and came to good ol' Lycée Jean Bodin. Across the street is the Athlétis which I guess is the gym. I haven't had gym yet because my schedule keeps changing but I will on Monday and from what I've heard it's a pretty rigorous course with plenty of javelin, discus and sprinting. So we waited for school to start outside on the plaza thing in front of the school. Then we all went in. Now at first I was class 107, but just the other day I got it changed so now I'm in the same class as Guillaume and another friend. My curriculum is Première S, which means the second (out of 3) year of high school, in the S course. The last two year sof lycée in France are divided up into three groups: S, ES and L. But what am I saying? You already know this since I'm you've read every word of my previous posts! Haha, no.... Anyway my curriculum involves a whole bunch of double sessions of math and two different science classes: physics/chimie (physics, chemistry) and SVT (science de vie de la terre, a.k.a. biology). Then I also have gym, Français, Anglais (yes, I'm taking Englis, it's gona be great!), Histoire et Géographie, and a course with a wicked long name that more or less boils down to economics/government class. Oh yeah, and German. At first I was signed up for Espagnol but when I told my host parents that I'd never learned a word of Spanish, they called up the school and got me changed into Allemand. I haven't had it yet but I'm looking forward to it because I've never had a formal education in German and I want to be able to speak more fluently with my family in Switzerland. (However, Mom, don't have high expectations for German because I don't think I'll learn to much what with me having to understand the language it's being taught in first. I'm sure it's hard enough to translate English into German, never-mind English into French into German. It's pretty intense so far, but I've definitely gotten better at semi-understanding what they're saying even if it doesn't convey in my notes. Speaking of which, the French have a very specific way of taking notes that every student, beside me of course, knows and follows. Certain titles get boxes of different colors, the same with names and dates and stuff. There is a very strict way of taking notes that if extremely neat and efficient so of course mine look terrible and sloppy but compared to the notes I usually take at home, if I do wish is not often required, they're beautiful and perfect!
Something else worth mentioning is the lunches at school. Coming from American hot lunches or gray peas, bouncy bread and grapes in a package that says "GIGGLES!" all over it, the lunches here are awesome. Of course all the French students think it's crap but whatever, that's their problem. Anyway, here you get to pick an appetizer, usually some kind of salad or little dish of some sort. Then there's fruit to choose from (fresh, real fruit, not canned or vacuum-sealed little boxes) then the main course with at least 3 or 4 different choices everyday, followed by the desserts, followed by bread and cheese (optional). It's awesome! Today I had a couscous salad to start, then a side of greens and dressing with my pasta carbonara, a kiwi, a bread roll with some little cheese spread thingy and a lemon tart to finish it all off. J'aime la France! Vivre la France!
So that's all the detail I'm going to go into for now because it's kind of 1:23 AM over here.... (I always end up writing my posts really late, it's weird). Anyway, remind me to talk about Angers because I got back from a city wide party a couple hours ago and it was DEFINITELY worth mentioning.
À tout a l'heure,
Benji

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Un Petit Note...

Just thought I'd mention that today before dinner I opened my sock bag for the first time because my feet were cold and I hadn't opened the bag yet. Not only did I find some extra-soft, extra-comfy new socks, but in each one were a couple Toblerone! I love my mom (and so does my host family)!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Pictures I Promised...

Here are all the AFSers going to France from the U.S. There are 46 of us in France now! This picture was from the orientation in New York at the hotel we all stayed at.



 This is just a picture I took of the flight plan on the video screens of the plane we took from New York to Zurich. At this point in the video we were passing over France on our way to the Swiss international airport. Carrie and I (seat buddies on the plane) agreed we should have parachuted out then and skipped the layover in Zurich!



The fleet of Swiss airline planes at the Zurich airport.



 These are the famed Kiwis I met at the Paris orientation. That's their flag (obviously) and this picture was taken right outside the youth hostel we were at. At the time, we were waiting for the buses that would take us on the toure de Paris.



 Now I'm pretty sure this is a view of the Paris operahouse, but I may be wrong. There happen to be a lot of grandiose and beautiful building around Paris. Imagine that!



 This is one of the ten (ten, right? Je ne sais pas) roads that meet at the round-about that creates the star of the Champs-Élysées. The red bus is one of ours; the yellow one is just some other bus full o' tourists heading the same way. In this picture you can just make out the legendary monument at the end of la rue.






 Here is the Champs-Élysées! Unfortunately that was the best picture I could get since we were in a bus, driving around it, without stopping because of the traffic. I would have liked to get out and see it, mais c'est la vie! Anyway, it's still an amazing and impressive piece of architecture.



 And here it is! The Eiffel Tower. The "most visited paid monument in the world" having carried more than 200,000,000 people since it was built in 1889. Not bad, eh? Something you don't often see in the pictures, however, are the awesome public pools at this plaza that we were at. We got to wade in to our knees and take pictures, and would have gone swimming, but we had to move on.



 Here's me in a terrible picture taken a whole lot closer to the tower. That fuzzy spot on my chest is some water on the camera from when I tossed it to one of my Kiwi friends in the pool and she dropped it. She freaked out because she thought it was done for (at the time, she didn't know that it was waterproof, nor that my throw had fallen short purposely!).



 These are mes copains at a Perrier mixing bar at the train station we went to to get to Angers. Left to right: Elise (Wisconsin), living Angers but at a different school; Elizabeth (Australia) living some other place and going to school there; and Gabe (Texas) living in Saumar, south of me, but going to my school.



 This is the first photo I have of me and my host family. Left to right: Laurence, my mom, standing behind Aurelien, my little brother, standing behind some cousin of theirs who was visiting that day and came to say hello. Then Guillaume and me in the middle. Then some other cousin standing behind yet another cousin. (François was at the block party manning the grill then.) This was at the train station in Angers about 15 minutes after I met my family.



This is just another picture of the Eiffel Tower, from the bridge across the street from the square under the tower. It was about here that my damn camera decided to die on me, although I guess it's my fault because I hadn't charged it once since I received it in the mail. (Mom: by the way, we were right with the charger thing. It all works fine, no converting necessary, the devices themselves take care of that.


So that's what I have for now and later I'll post some pictures from the block party and of my house here in Mûrs-Erigné. Today was my first day at school and although I don't have time to talk about it right now (again it's late and I need to organize my backpack for school tomorrow!) but for now I'll just say "Holy sh**!"
Talk to y'all later.
Benji