Monday, October 31, 2011

La Vacance d'Octobre!

So, I've been a little bad at keeping up on my blog lately but I'm going to make it all up to you now! Today is the 8th day of my October break and I've been loving it! I gotta give the French credit for their random 10-day vacations from school because it doesn't exist at home, although it should. So let me rewind a little to the first weekend of my vacation...
We went to an international horse race! It was called the Mondial du Lion and I guess it's an annual event but this year it was here in Angers. It was an extremely long course with riders from all over the world. It seemed like this entire region of France had turned out because there were a lot of people but it was over such a huge expanse that you could still the see the action up close. Guillaume and I toured the whole course with Gabe, who we happened to run into at the food stand (I told you everyone was there!) so we got to see all the different obstacles. There were jumps and pools and gates and sand dunes....

 These are just some of the countries represented... Who knew the Portugese like to ride competitively??


 The obstacles were half art, half jumps: this one was a big wooden catamaran thing with the two side wings being jumps for the horses.


 This is one with a pair of dragons at the top of a small hill so the rider goes up a hill, then over a big jump and immediately back down the hill. Those horses are tough!

 Region Pays de la Loire, represent! There were also a lot of pumpkins everywhere as this Mondial du Lion was very fall-themed.

 This was by far the coolest, and probably hardest jump. Just before the massive owl there is another jump, a downhill section, the owl you see here and then after another downhill section covered in sand. One rider clipped the owl going through and almost wiped out in the sand but the horse caught itself.


 A mid-air jump picture, of course. Couldn't go to a horse race and not take a mid-air jump picture!

So even though Halloween isn't really celebrated here (the little kids might tour the neighborhood for candy but it's nothing like America's holiday craze!), we still did a little pumpkin-carving with une citrouille we picked up at the horse race. Aurelien and me made a pretty awesome Jack-o-Lantern...


Then, this past weekend we went to the coast and stayed at the grandparent's apartment. Although the ocean wasn't too great at this time of the year (everything was closed and windy and cold), we strolled the boardwalk and played around on the beach. We also went to something called an accro-branche, which is a series of obstacles, ziplines, rope ladders and tarzan swings suspended in-between the trees. I know these exist in the US too, but I never know what they're called. When I was Quebec last year we almost went on one but it closed right after we got there. Anyway, I loved stuff like this (I got to a kayaking summer camp every year that also has a lot of ropes courses like this) and the one here was great! There were a bunch of different levels; blanche, orange, rouge, violet, noir et extreme noir, each one progressively difficult. We did all of them, right up to extreme noir, which actually wasn't too hard. Anyway, I've made you guys a video, because that's how much I care. It's not too good because iMovie is even MORE complicated in French than in English, if that's possible. Enjoy!

video

I guess I'll also stick some photos in, for good measure. 
(The pictures are a little dark because it wasn't very sunny...)



 This thing was a log rigged out with a saddle that you rode across a pretty big gap. It was awesome and needless to say, I rode it like a real cowboy: YEEHAHHHHH!!!!

 This one was a snowbaordboard that you rode across a gap! A little scarier but a little more awesome too!

 This was the start of the extreme noir course: first a ladder missing the first 3 or 4 rungs, followed by a very hard rock wall, then a series ropes, without knots or anything, just little loops at the bottoms that were too small to fit you foot in, pictured below.


 Then, at the end of the course, a free-falling rope ladder. It was connected only at the top, and it was pretty long, so every-time you stepped down a rung it swung around like crazy.
 Guillaume and I, after successfully traversing the extreme noir!

 This is a 250 km zipline: you couldn't see the end from the start (it just disappeared into the forest) and while you were going down it you got going really really fast!!

 I'm not sure what I was doing, or if I was upside-down or not, but I think it's a pretty cool picture!

 Guillaume, Aurelien, me and some random kid who wasn't supposed to be on the platform.

This was like a wire bridge with metal v-intersection every now and then.

A net bridge: at one point I fell through with both legs and had to pull myself up by the rope over my head.
We also had a very traditional northern-French meal: moulles et frites, or mussels and fries. It was the first time I'd had a combination of those two particular items but it was really good! The mussels here in France aren't very big, like small Maine mussels, but they're very tasty, especially when boiled in a garlic-butter broth.... Mmmmm.... Woah, I just had a weird moment where I forgot how the word "butter" was spelled and had to reverse-check it on WordReference... Woohoo, I'm forgetting English! Anyway, so my vacation here has been pretty good! It's been getting a lot colder and wintery and the leaves are starting to change. In a way, it's a lot like autumn at home but French-style: I get a lot of déja vu, like when you walk outside and you can almost smell the snow in the crisp, fall air. I do miss Maine at this time of the year but I also feel very at-home here. Okay well I'm going to go have lunch and then start in on my research project about the mathematical coding occurence in biology.
Au revoir pour maintenant!
Benji

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Boudin Noir... (You don't want to know what it is until after it's in your stomach!)

I know I haven't posted in a little while but thing have been pretty chill here. I'll go time-line style.
Last Saturday there was another AFS orientation. We met up at an apple juice pressing factory. When I say factory I mean two big rooms and maybe a couple smaller ones, no larger. We loaded crates of apples into a super-Kuisinart that basically turned them into shredded apple. Then it was spread out between layers of rough cloth and wooden crate sidings and pressed. The juice was boiled and bottled and then manually capped with a press that you put a cap in each time and then tried to line up the bottle to the cap. Needless to say, I must have cost the company at least €5.00 worth of bottle caps. Then the bottles were loaded into our waiting sacs, crates and bags so everyone went home with tons of apple juice! It was kind of a weird thing to do as a reunion (I think AFS signed a deal with the apple juice people telling them they'd get a bunch of foreign kids and French families to work for the for the morning) but it was pretty fun. Moving on...
Last night I had my first dream in French!!! Or rather, dream in semi-French. I remember that I was talking to a group of English speakers in English and then I turned around and had a mini-conversation, really quite and really fast, with Guillaume or Gabe. Or both. The most vivid part of the dream, however,  talking in really fast, correct French and then turning around and seeing all the English-speakers looking at me, obviously not understanding a word I had said. Weird I know, don't blame me I only got to bed at 12:00PM, I was too busy reading 1984 in French. It's quite a sight because I have the English and French version so I keep switching back and forth between them and it's hard to stay with the plot but I know the plot so it's OK.
Ce soir, j'ai mangé le boudin noir or as some people might know it, Black Pudding. Or Blood Sausage, which is a literal description; I don't know where they got black pudding from since it's really dark red and not pudding...? Anyway, I had that today and it was pretty good for the fact that it was pig blood stuffed in a pig intestine!
Tomorrow is my last day of school for almost two weeks! I have a 10-day vacance d'octobre so that's pretty awesome! I'm going to try to get up to Laval to visit a friend and then I heard from my family today that we might be staying at the sea for a couple days, in a cousin's apartment! Although, this time I don't think I'll be in the water too much. It's been really cold here the last week although nothing has frozen over yet. Just cold enough to make me start wearing my heavy-duty winter jacket to the bus in the morning.
Oh, also, I met a Finnish exchange student at my school. This is kind of an old story because by now we're good friends but I just thought it was funny the way I met her. So two or three weeks ago, I heard from an English teacher that there was another exchange student at Jean Bodin, from Finland. Then a day or two later, I was walking across the courtyard and I passed on of the benches and heard someone talking in English. I didn't think too much about it, besides that it was good English, but then I heard the words "host family". I did a 180, praying I wasn't about to seriously embarrass my self, and said to the extremely blond girl sitting on the bench "You aren't, by any chance, the Finnish exchange student, are you?" Thankfully, it was her and we talked for a little while. I found out that she wasn't with AFS, which is why I hadn't met her before, but with some other European program who's name I forgot. She's also a DJ in Finland! So that was a while ago and now her, Gabe and I make up the "foreign kids" gang. OK well, that's about it for now, although I'm sure the vacation will be interesting!
À bientôt,
Benji

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Shrooms and Red Caps; yum!

Today we went on a little trip, hunting for mushrooms. We drove to a park about 15 minutes out of Mûrs (the shortened nickname everyone uses for Mûrs-Erigné) and walked around for a while in the woods. However, it seems we chose the wrong weekend because we found very little. I think it might be because it's been a little dry recently and most of the little creeks and puddles have dried up for the moment. However we did find some stuff...

 This was a red cap. I know that's not the name but I don't know what the real name is. However, I do know it's poisonous: definitely not one of the ones we brought home.

 This was a pair that might be edible. We're not sure but we're going to check later. Those two there just about sum it up for our mushroom-hunting expedition.

Now this is interesting. This is a little mushroom I found in the meadow and François told me it was a "psilo" mushroom or a magic mushroom! Of course, it could just be another little fungus especially since it has no discerning features that would allow one to discern if it's hallucinogenic or not. I don't know..., I just chucked it into the forest.
There was also some nice scenery, bien sûr. We walked along the outskirts of a little village and there were a lot of old stone houses, very Frenchy.

There were also farm fields and above is a small vineyard we passed.

On our way back we passed a corn field that had just been harvested but there were still tons of smaller corn stalks so we stopped and picked a few...

And ended up with one basket and one backpack full of maize. The best part is, it's all for the chicken! All (approximately) 5 kilograms of kernels!
Speaking of chickens, the chicken coop François is building is coming along very nicely. I know you have nothing to compare it to, I don't know why I didn't take a picture before, but it's taken on a roof, tiles and the walls have been added on to. Not quite finished yet but here it is...

Later, once it's done, it'll have about 7 or 8 little roosting boxes (like the one in the back corner) for the 7 or 8 chicken we'll have!
Speaking of houses, I took some pictures of mine.

 So that second floor there is all mine. Below me is the TV room and bathroom but up there through that window I have my room and my bathroom.

This is the rest of the house, to the right of my section. I'm pretty sure it's newer which would explain the difference in brickwork but inside it's all the same.

 My bed (duhhhh!) with the stone wall.

 The other side of the room (at it's very cleanest!)...

The view out my window. Today wasn't so nice, a little cloudy, so it's not so great in this picture but normally it's pretty nice with the river and garden and whatnot...
Also, last weekend we went to the beach! Mûrs is pretty far inland, as I found out from the 2-hour drive it took to get to the coast. We went to a place called Pornic and that day there happened to be tons of people there, probably because it was one of the last warm sunny Sundays of the year. We went to the beach and there were these little houses, like for ice fishing, but for ocean fishing, mounted on poles, 30 feet, oh sorry 10 meters, accesible only by ladders. They had these bigs nets hanging off the side that I guess they use for fishing. I don't know how it works, it was pretty bizarre though. Anyway, it was kind of funny going to the beach here because it's more or less the same at home, as far as the ocean goes. It's the Atlantic, that same salty, almost-always-freezing body of water I frequent at Scarborough Beach. In fact, when I really tried, I could just make out the snack shack and the lifeguard stand on the horizon... One this that was different, however, was the abundance of small shells and miniature marine life. Everywhere in the sand there were millions of tiny little shells polished smooth my the ocean. It reminded me of Portugal because when I was there, we would collect the same kinds of shells and boil them for a midday snack. Also, over in the tidal pools and rocks section, there were oysters everywhere and people were walking around with buckets, prying them off the rocks. François brought a pocket knife and we got ourselves a couple. After my first I decided it would be my last for the day: imagine a slippery, cold mess of gooey, chewy, salty oyster sliding down your throat. UGH! I guess it's an acquired taste though, seeing as my dad at home loves oyster bars too. Something else cool was the natural water springs. There was a row of fountains that were from a source naturel, meaning from the earth. To me it tasted like plain old water, but whatever!
After the beach we took a Rosalie velo, which is like a bike but for 8 people. (Google it, it's pretty weird.) That was definitely a way to be a complete tourist but it was still fun. Then we went to a glacerie called the Fraiserie. This one is really famous in the area for it's strawberry ice cream and we waited at least a half hour before we got to the counter. I got strawberry and caramel-sea salt (yes, it's trending here too) and sure enough, the strawberry was amazing!! After that we headed back home, which took 3 hours because of the traffic. It was a pretty good Sunday, better than sitting at home and doing my homework. (I know you parents and teachers don't want to here this, but one of the great perks of being an exchange student is the everlasting excuse of not understanding. "Monsieur, je n'ai compris mon devoirs, c'est la raison je ne l'ai pas." It's pretty awesome, to say the least!)
I'll post the pictures from la mer later, once I get them off Laurence's camera (encore, my camera was in my backpack in the car! I'm just so good about having it with me all time, aren't I?).
À bientôt,
Benji

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Un Mois!

Alors, aujourd'hui est la commémoratif de mon premier mois dans France!
One month ago, on the 4th of September, approxiamately 11 hours ago, my time, I was arriving in my little village of Mûrs-Erigné for the first time, meeting my family for the first time, eating authentic homemade French food for the first time, being fully immersed in French every minute of the day for the first time... A lot of firsts. It's weird to think that it's been one month because it feels like it's been a lot longer, and yet at the same time, a lot shorter. Time seems to fly and crawl at the same time and I know that's not physically possible but that's what it's like. The days seem long (especially during Histoire/Géo and Math!) but I look at my agenda or it comes round to Friday night and I feel like I was on the same place of the week just days ago. It's pretty bizarre but I can't really control it so I guess I'll just live with it.
I guess, since it's been one month, I'm supposed to write some stuff about culture and whatever. Well, it's been pretty different. There are some times when I definitely feel different, when I do something, like laugh really loudly in the street, and I can tell I'm getting some pretty weird looks. It's funny though because I feel almost proud of my differences which, for me, feeling proud of being American is weird. Then of course there is the language. I feel like I've progressed a lot and it comes out when I realize I just explained the physics of optic lenses and the relation between eyes and magnifying glasses to my classmate in semi-decent French. Also, it's weird because texting, or SMSing as it's fondly called here, is often associated with bad vocabulary and horrifying grammar but I've learned a lot by having to write everything on a little screen. It's helped me get better at explaining myself when I don't have all the time or space, in the world to do so. It's actually kind of fun now, texting, because every time I get an SMS and I respond it's like a little challenge against my knowledge to explain myself in a way that makes sense and communicates the point of what I'm saying. In French. Another thing is trying to talk with my friends when I don't have my portable dictionary on hand. It usually involves a lot of gestures and acting and I get a lot of weird looks and laughs from people walking in half-way through but it's fun and in the end, they usually understand me. I never thought it I would say it, but it's pretty fun living in a world where you don't understand everything and talk perfectly because it forces you to learn and adapt and try alternative methods of communication. Not to say I enjoy not knowing what's going on around me but with friends it's fun because I get to really practice my French and learn a lot, minus the embarrassment of sitting in class or talking with an adult or teacher. Me and my friends, we have a lot of good laughs at the expense of my knowledge or the French language and I love it.
So now that I've been here a month, I think it's time I do some stereotype bashing because every-time I see something that relates to some stupid stereotype of the French I want to make sure people know it's wrong. Alors...


The French talk really fast: vrai et faux, en même temps! This one is actually pretty funny because I had a conversation with my family the other night about this very stereotype. François was telling me he thought I spoke too fast for a beginner and I needed to slow down and I explained that I was just trying to be French. He had no idea what I was talking about so I told him the stereotype that all French speak really fast. He was a little taken aback, because apparently that's what they think about us Americans too! However, for me, this has been true and false. In class, when the teachers are giving la leçon de la jour, I definitely think they're talking really fast, but this could also be because I don't understand a fair amount of what they're saying! So I think this stereotype will ring true for every culture because obviously you're going to talk faster if you're with your friends and everyone understand the language 100%. However, here in France, I find that people don't speak particularly fast when engaged in every day conversation. Maybe a little, to my ears, but that's because I don't understand too well.

The French are rude and brief: faux! It's a common belief that French people are rude and they don't like to hang and talk very brief and to-the-point. This is not true. First of all, French people are not rude at all! Well, not any more than any other culture. You've always got some bad eggs in the mix, of course, but there definitely is NOT an excess of "bad eggs" here in France. As for being brief and concise, that's not really true either and from what I've learned, when they are brief, it's out of respect for your time. If you stop someone on the street, or go into a store to ask a question, they don't want to take up a lot of your time by giving you over-extensive, never-ending answers and questions to your questions, and such. Instead, out of respect for you, they keep it short and concise. So while the stereotype may be true sometimes, although mostly it really isn't, it's entirely misinterpreted by foreigners.

The French are dirty: faux! This also is not true at all. Again, it's a misinterpretation. So something that I, and a lot of other people, learned only by experience, is that it's normal, even expected to wear the exact same outfit two days in a row. No more, no less. The two days, I wore a different sweater and shirt to school the second day and I looked around and realized I was the only one. It was really funny, because I saw gabe in the hallway and commented on it and he told he was wearing different clothes too (from yesterday) and that he felt weird because of it. Now this whole wearing clothes two days straight thing, it's not because they don't like to clean it's just because it doesn't make sense to go through five shirts in one week instead of two or three. Especially if they're not dirty. And the dirty thing: French people don't wear dirty clothes, even if they only wore them for one day. That's an exception to the rule. Apart from that, the French are very meticulous about their appearance, both clothes and body, do like to be presentable at all times. I do have to admit, I like not seeing people walking around in pajamas in school. It just makes for a better atmosphere.

The French all chain-smoke: ehh... vrai et faux! This is an accurate and inaccurate stereotype. It's true that a lot of French do smoke and even at school, with kids my age or younger, you see a lot of people rolling cigarettes in the hall (they all roll here so the first day I was at school, I thought everybody was smoking joints!) and a lot of people smoking outside between classes or before/after school but then there are those who absolutely don't smoke. It's funny because some people smoke a lot and other refuse to touch a cigarette. However, it's very normal to smoke here and when you see someone my age smoking, you don't think "Oh, it horrible, that 16-year old smoking at such a young age" even if it isn't so great, but rather here it's normal. In fact, if I wanted I could to into any Tabac and buy tobacco, papers, lighter and filters, everything I need to start up. And though it isn't legal, no one really cares because they're not going to turn down business.

The French hate Americans: en général, faux! This is also a weird one because while Americans are in general in a negative light, it's also true that almost every French teen wants to go to America. The thing about Americans being fat and slobbish and such isn't common belief, but rather a kind of joke about Americans, although the fact that the stereotypes do often apply doesn't really help our case very much! So I wouldn't say the French hate American rather that they don't always have the best ideas of them, much in the same way a lot of Americans don't hold the French in the best regards.

French men are gay: faux! For some stupid reason, a lot of people think that French men are gay. I guess, this is somehow because they are dressed well and not always trying to show off muscles or get in fights to prove manliness...?? The idea of masculinity here is different that in America, where it's pretty bad and makes for a lot of problems. Also, France is known for things like beautiful countryside, food and wine and fashion which give it a slightly more feminine air, at least that's what other people think. Rather, the French just live on a slightly higher, and yes, slight more civilized, level than a lot of other countries, definitely including America.

France, and living/vacationing here, is really expensive: vrai et faux! This all depends on who you are and where you come from. If you're European, no, France is relatively normal and with some things, very well priced. But for Americans, yes it does tend to be a little pricey. I've noticed that my money doesn't seem to lsat particularly long here, but it's explainable by one simple fact: the French (and a lot od Europe, for that matter) have a higher quality of life. It's not expensive to them because for them it evens out. Coming from America, it is expensive, but if you live in France, you get paid the French level wage, it's not très chère because while they pay more for what they buy, they also get paid more for their work. Everything is just one level up, but to a foreigner, yes, it's fairly expensive.

The French despise those who don't/can't speak their language well: faux! It's not that they hate you because you struggle with the language: they just are very proud of their language, and with good reason too because it's very complicated and mastery of French is an amazing achievement. Oh yeah, and it's beautiful and romantic and all that. But even so, I find that they're not scornful of my when I butcher their verb tenses; rather, they're eager to help me get better at French so I can speak well and not make a public disgrace of the French language. It's all about pride...

The French are very proud of their country, culture, etc.: vrai! Yes, it's true that they do like to show off their country but again, it's only natural because they really should be proud to come from such an amazing place. Hell, if I was from France, I would be proud too. However, it's not the snobby kind of pride that a lot of people think they have. The French just like to demonstrate and share the awesomeness of their country. For example, I think I've told this story but a while ago when we had a special cheese, François was very quick to whip out the atlas and tell me where it was from and how it was special to that region. In my experience, it's the same with wine and les gateaux. Even, nativity: François was talking to me about where he was from (Bretagne) and he was showing me on a map and telling me about the specialties from that region and what it's like there and it's not that he was showing off his heritage, he just genuinely wanted me to know and to learn about France and it's amazing history, culture, etc.

Well that's enough for now because, yes, again, it's 11PM and I still need to hand-write my final draft of a dialogue between Fontenelle, Voltaire and Pascal discussing science and philosophy between today and their time: yay!!