Sunday, January 29, 2012

The legendary.... escargots!!!

So, as we all know here, I'm getting pretty paressseux with the keeping-up of my blog so I owe it to my French grandparents to post a note about the amazing meal we had with them a little while ago. For Laurence's birthday, we went to their house, and all the cousins too, and had a day-long feast. I'll write out the menu for you because it was... breathtaking!
1st: a little cup of guacamole, gespaccio and lime sorbet. 
2nd: a celery purée with banana chips. 
3rd: boudin noir sausages, with a coquille Saint-Jacques (a special scallop) and Granny Smith apples. 
Escargots de Bourgogne (in the east, famous for their escargots)
Coq au vin with potatoes and a wine from Margaux
(Note: at this point, I was given lessons on how to drink fine French wines from Xavier- who would have thought there's a process to drinking wine??)
Cheese Plate:
Conté, Chèvre, Roquefort et Brie Munster. 
And after all that, there were, of course, two Buschs (the Christmas cake)! All in all, I can easily say it was one of the best meals I've ever had. 

 The amazing escargots, before being cooked. From what I understood, Guy (Laurence's father), who's the family specialist of escargots, prepares them with a sauce of parsley, garlic and lots of butter and olive oil. En plus, he prepared them in their shells, which is a lot harder, just for me- I'm so lucky to have host-grandparents like these!!! Only thing is, the pictures didn't come out so well....

Avant: moi, avec mes escargots.

 Pendant: un escargot, juste avant ma bouche!

 Après: évidemment, je les ai aimés bien! And then, cleaning up the plate a little with baguette for all that yummy sauce... They were so good, those escargots, not at all what one might think of when you think of eating snails, haha!

So now, just general catching up- 
Winter here: it's weird. There absolutely no snow, as you can see below. The closest it comes to winters in Maine, is that's it gets really freaking cold here too, but you don't have the excuse to wear snow pants when walking around. We get a little ice crustiness from time to time, but really, it just feels like early spring most of the time. For me, this is totally a new experience because coming from Maine, where we get a minimum of 2 meters every year (and a maximum of maybe 3x times that!), where school days are scheduled beforehand because of the Nor'easters that blow in, yep that's good old Maine... The other day, I got a notice from my high school there, that school had been cancelled due to snow, of course. I went to lycée and told people and they were shocked. But apparently here, if there is snow, they close school, even if it's just 5 or 6 centimeters because no one here is accustomed to driving in the snow and it's dangerous. Haha, if only they could see what we Mainers drive through on a daily basis between December and April!

Something else interesting is the Bac Blanc. Well not exactly interesting, like eating escargots-interesting, but worth noting. So, the Bac, for those of you who don't know, is like the SAT's but way more intense. The Bac is the giant standardized test at the end of Première and Terminale of lycée but it's something you're being prepared to do since collége (elementary, I know it get's confusing!). In all your classes, you're learning how to study for the Bac, all the leçons are centered around the content of the Bac, everything is working up to that. The test itself, is not like our wimpy SAT's: in the Bac, there's many many sections: sometimes you do dissertations, sometimes you're doing analysis, sometimes it's proving science theories and then of course, the dreaded Oral- a veritable discussion between the test-taker and the judges, where everything you say is counted and graded and it's all super intense! So that's what I'll be taking at the end of the year in Français and Histoire-Géographie. Tranquille, non? Anyway, recently we took the Bac blanc, which is just a short section of the actual Bac but for practice (like the PSAT's)- 4 hours, 4 different texts, 1 question de corpus over all the material and then a much longer, in-depth writing piece: either a dissertation, a commentaire or a "écriture d'invention", where you do your own thing, but within limits. All of this, without breaks, in complete silence, in a room with 30 other students for 4 hours. It was scary as hell! I did the écriture invention because the dissertation was too complicated (describe the relationship of the control and distribution of power in-between the characters of the four pieces, then do comparisons and contrasts and write a dissert about it- no thanks, not for me!) and the commentaire was over the one piece that I didn't completely understand and I couldn't find the axes of the argument. Oh yeah, did I mention, the four texts were all extracts from different French theatre pieces from the late 1800's and 1900's- and that was easy because on the real Bac they're all from Plato and Baudelaire and Corneille and Racine and all those old French classiques that I don't know. I got pretty lucky for the Blanc here though because I understood all the textes perfectly, with the exception of the last one where I didn't get some of the dialogue. So that was the Bac Blanc, just the preparatory Bac. And, unfortunately, I got my grade back: I scored a whopping 2.75 out of 20! Now we all know that the French grading system isn't like 10/20 equals 50%, it doesn't work like that but still, 2.75 is pretty damn low. Now let me explain myself: in France, all these different exam writing pieces; commentaires, dissertation, corpuses; they all have very very specific structure where every time you do certain things in each section otherwise you're not writing a real dissert or commentaire. For me, I'm used to doing your basic 5- or 7- (or more) paragraph essays and sure they've got a structure too but it's nothing like their French counterparts. So of course, I absolutely killed the structure for my question corpus and I guess I just didn't fo too well on that over all. Then for the écriture d'invention, which are notoriously noted the hardest and lowest out of the three options, I didn't notice that it said do a monologue, so I did a dialogue. It was kind of a piece of crap anyway, but I think I more or less lost all my points because it was a dialogue. Also, we didn't mark our names on the Bac Blancs, just our birthdays to identify after, and when I got mine it was covered in notes about "problems with basic French grammar" and giant questions marks in red pen. Maybe the grader didn't realize it was an American who wrote, therefore giving me a 2.75 but I guess it's good practice because at the real Bac, the graders aren't from your school so they're completely un-biased in terms of noting the work. Anyways, so that was my first experience with the Bac, definitely not looking forward to taking it at the end of the year but I hope I'll be able to grab a little more than a 3 the next time. 
Salut pour maintenant, à bientôt jusqu'à après les vacances février, quand j'irai pleines des photos et des histoires de vous raconter de la voyage aux Pyrénées pour faire du ski! 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Vacances de Décembre, part 2: PARIS!

What's up all! So I finally got around to posting stuff from Paris even though it's from like 3 weeks ago... I've been busy, don't blame me! So I'm just gonna zoom through this because I really should have written it earlier when I remembered all the details but it's more or less just to share the pictures. 

This was one of the first things I saw when I got to Paris, after we came out of the garage. La Seine, with it's numerous tourist barges, but better, all the different unique bridges! I'll talk about that more later...

Not sure where this is, but just another beautiful cathedral/church/something in downtown Paris. 

We passed through the Louvre, of course. This is in the plaza of the pyramids. The wall is lined with statues of famous Parisiens writers. 

Les Pyramids de la Louvre, évidemment.

A mini Arc de Triumph, just outside of the Louvre, with a little more class and a lot less historic value. 

Inside the Louvre, the inverse pyramid. Also, not in the picture, they have Starbucks here....?!??!? And I thought it was just an American thing!

A view of la tour, from the park on the avenue of the Louvre. If you don't already know, there's a really long pedestrian avenue that stretches from the Louvre until not-sure-what but it's the base of this photo, the last couple and the next couple. 

Looking back down the avenue, we passed a fountain ringed with chairs- people reading, talking, smoking, sleeping or just chilling. And then in the background the arc and the Louvre again. 

Yes it's an Egyptian obelisk on the middle of downtown Paris. Maybe a gift from the Egyptians, something to do with the Rosetta Stone...? Probably not, je me souviens plus. 

Just a nice fountain... With an English-style tourist bus in the background...

So at the end of the avenue we went right into a really ritzy rich section of town. We passed window displays with price tags, although it's a health hazard if you're prone to heart attacks. Who on this planet wants to buy an ugly fur vest for €8000?!? On the brighter side, if that's not bright enough, the Christmas decorations in this part we're really nice. 

Still in the same section, we passed a chocolate store. Yes that Christmas tree is 100% edible. There was also a floating Santa, or rather Père Noël, in his sled; all of chocolate!

This is l'Église de la Madeleine; really famous for avid church-goers I guess.
Inside they had what was definitely the strangest take on le crèche, the nativity scene. It was really hard to tell who was who, there were a lot of odd-colored lights and weird color schemes and it was huge, but it sure beats anything else I've seen!

The Opera House of Paris- that's for you Mom. 

Sapine Noël des macarons! 

On the way back we passed through the section of the Louvre that is a public space, and sneakily took some pictures of the inside: statue garden...?

OK, so I'm not sure if this is it but there's bridge in the area called le Ponts des Arts and at one end the entire rail is covered in padlocks. They're called des cadenas d'amour (locks of love, not the cancer organisation in America) and I guess what people, or rather couples, do is put their names on it, lock it to the bridge and throw the key in the river. 

Again, not sure what this is, but just something that caught my eye on the other side of the river, some more French architecture. Pas mal, non?

Another feature of Paris, bien connu. Street vendors lining the Seine on one side. They're green boxes, closed and locked at night, but during the day you can buy all your Parisien souvenirs there: books, postcards, copies of French art and the crappy little Eiffel towers that every single poor person in Paris sells. 

I had to, it's just such a Paris thing.

Notre Dame, in the distance. 

This is the giant police headquarters of Paris and if I'm not mistaken, it was also the set for a little of the last Pink Panthers. Was he not on those steps at one point or another?

The Notre Dame, closer up. 

And again, plus me. We didn't go in; that would have required standing the 200+-person line. 

You can't see them here but the walls are lined with gargoyle statues that spit runoff when it rains. Not the same as the old ones that spit fire, but whatever... And if you look close enough, you can just make out a humpback going around the corner.

l'Hôtel de Ville: probably not the best place to go looking for a one-night stay in Paris, unless of course you're some ambassador or just really really rich. There was an ice rink outside, billions of people in line and it was more or less ground up to snow. 

Forgot what it is, a religious monument? But photo-worthy. 

Le Pont Neuf, not neuf at all actually I think it's one of the older ones in the city. 

Looking down la Seine, as dusk falls over Paris...

Haha, the reason the French stereotype includes bikes! They have rentable bikes in the streets with drop stations all over the place.

Crescent moon, if you can see it. 

Every hour, the tour goes all "sparkly" in the sense that it turns into what must be the world's biggest disco ball. I was in the car, don't blame me for the quality. 

The first day we didn't have time to go up, plus we were waiting for the cousins to get into town (the next morning) and do it with them. But we still went underneath and snapped some shots. 

Unfortunately, the next morning turned out to be very typical Parisienne weather which means foggy as enfer! l'Avenue de la Champs-Élysées. 

With the Arc de Triumph in the distance. 

We took the metro up to Montmartre. Just outside the cathedral de le Sacré-Coeur there was another Christmas market. Told ya they were everywhere!

Pretty self-explanatory, a wine stand from Corsica. 

Et le Sacré-Coeur. Biggest church I've ever seen! We went inside, it was really strict, really quiet and very churchy. Guess that was to be expected though. Too bad the fog covered it up though. 

 Just outside of the church, normally you have a view of all of Paris. Again, I got screwed over by le putin de brouillard. 

Yes I went on the Merry-Go-Round, I swear it was for the little cousins! In this picture it looks like it goes really fast; malheureusement (don't you like how long that word is? can't send it in an sms biggest it goes off the screen), en vérité, c'est pas très vite. En fait, c'est l'opposite mais ça va!

A really cool square all lit up, filled with painters who want to paint you, or their comic impressions of you.

French café, where we went and for two crêpes and five hot chocolate paid €45 euros. Can you imagine that?!? Les voleurs!

Again, sqaure + painters.

We passed by this store that sells these ball-lamps. They're made of cloth, but I guess it was wrapped around a shape, had something added to it and dried because you buy it like it looks like, in ball shape, then stick a light inside. They're really cool and Hélouise got a bunch for her room. Speaking of her, I need to make a blog-wide correction: her name is actually Hélouise, not Louise, I just thought everybody was saying "Hey, Louise". For 4 months. My bad.

Eiffel Tower, in disco ball mode, plus me, in (as always) not-ready-for-the-picture mode. 

This time we actually went up the tower: it was awesome! We started in the Easter corner, obviously, and took elevator up. 

View from the second floor. That's some nice fog, huh? We didn't go to the top because there you really wouldn't have been able to see anything, but it was still awesome! And Laurence said that we'll come back in the spring when we're guaranteed clear skies and go to the top!

Again, they have an ice rink on the Eiffel Tower. And again, all the ice was ground up into snow. Which led to the inevitable launch of a snow ball from the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. Came so close to some poor Japanese tourist group!

Passed by l'Arc de Triumph, pretty gnarly Arc, as far as they go!

Coming in from the other side the Champs-Élysées

The reason why apartments in Paris are so expensive: they come with building fronts like this!

Some Christmas lights we passed in the car that came out unexpectedly nice-looking.

Don't know why this is at the end, I took it almost at the beginning but that's your classic Paris metro station two days after Christmas. Beats New York by a lot...
Since I got back to school, things have been pretty good in class, I'm starting to get less-sucky grades, but I'll put it all in the next blog post, I have to go study for a massive contrôle d'Histoire.