Friday, June 29, 2012

A little something for those of us who understand French (or know how to use Google Translate)

So, last Sunday I went to my last regional AFS reunion. It was a bit of a disaster, speaking about the plan (they forgot to rent the canoes and we ended up doing the whole thing in the garage of a grain factory) but we had a great time! I made super awesome brownies to represent America and each of us had to write a little speech about our time in France. On the recommendation of some parents and friends who liked it, I'm going to post mine here, just for the hell of it, but in French, so if ya don't read French, go figure something out!

Le premier jour de mon arrivée en France, dans la famille Ligot, il y avais une fête du quartier. J’était dans le jardin, en train de jouer au foot avec mes nouveaux frères, j’ai tiré la balle bien fort. Malheureusement, elle a volé au dessus de la barrière et est tombée directement dans la rivière. Qu’est-ce que j’ai fait? J’ai plongé dans la rivière, le Louet. L’américain qui arrive en France et qui saute dans la rivière avec tout ses vêtements peu plus que cinq heures après son arrivée. Quelle première impression. Peu que je savais que ce jour sera un bon métaphore pour les mois suivants de ma vie. 
Alors, ce n’est pas à dire que je saute dans la Louet tous les jours mais plutôt dans le façon dont j’était plongé dans une société et culture entièrement différent de celle que j’ai vécu avant. Par contre, dans ce rivière je savais pas nagé au début. Ils disent toujours que le début, c’est le plus difficile et frustrant et tant que c’est ça, c’était aussi un des plus bizarre et plus drôle expériences de ma vie. Dès le moment que le lait est chauffé, on utilise des stylos plumes en cours et les gens qu’on ne connait pas t’embrasse sur les joues tout les matins, la France m’a apporté surprise après surprise. Alors, c’est vrai que le début était dur mais je l’ai trouvé d’être parmi des meilleurs moments de mon séjour en France car c’était un temps d’exploration. C’est ça que m’intrigue d’habiter dans un pays étranger avec un peuple différent: la chance de connaitre une façon de vie différente de celle qu’on connait.
En parlant de quelque chose différent de ce que je connais, laissez-moi parler de l’expérience de vivre dans une autre langue. Ça c’est quelque chose vraiment vraiment différent! Au début c’était une processus de traduction que c’est passé dans ma tête pour chaque phrase, et pour chaque nouveau mot. Je croyais que ce n’était pas faisable de maîtriser une autre langue comme ça. Je pense c’était environ le temps que j’ai eu mon premier rêve en français. Après j’ai commencé d’avoir des pensées en français- genre, j’ai parlé avec moi-même en français dans ma tête en essayant de ne plus parler anglais. J’avais l’air d’un fou mais enfin je suis arrivé à ce point où le français deviens quelques dans lequel je pense et je rêve en français. Aujourd’hui, bien que mon niveau de français est loin d’être parfait, je suis étonné d’avoir acquis une nouvelle langue.
Quelque chose d’autre que m’a étonné était l’aise avec lequel j’était accepté et intégré dans une famille. Pour ça, il faut vraiment que je remercie la famille Ligot pour leur compréhension, même quand je disait n’importe-quoi au début d’année et pour leur acceptation de moi. C’était un monde de différence de savoir que j’avais une famille d’accueil qui me supporte et aide avec tout. 
En conclusion, j’ai passé une super année en France. On peut même dire que c’était une année merveilleuse et magnifique! J’ai mangé des nouveaux plats et j’ai appris une nouvelle culture et nouvelle langue, j’ai rencontré de nouveaux amies et j’ai trouvé une deuxième famille. La France restera toujours comme mon deuxième pays d’origine et je reviendrai bientôt. 

So here I am passing the weekend-before-last in France... it feels weird... It's kind of hard to believe that, just like I fell into this family so suddenly, I'm now going to drop out. Except that now, it's not a group of people that I barely knew by email correspondances. Today, they are like my second family, and this house is a second home. Angers is my second "downtown" and Jean Bodin has become by second high school. Guillaume is my second twin and here in France I have a second life. (When one says second that often if starts to sound like a fake word, or not it's real word- anyways...) It's going to be hard to leave this amazing country and everything that has become so normal for me, but hey! at least I'm going to Switzerland before America so culture shock will be less profound. Haha, Switzerland, always the neutral zone. Speaking of, thanks to this year in France, my life has taken a new direction. Since I discovered the European lifestyle, the beautiful (even when you learn it from French teenagers, it's not quite the same as French classes) French and their freakin' amazing gastronomy, I just can't get enough and therefore have decided to continue my life here. I want to go to Geneva for university, in francophone Switzerland where I take advantage of my double citizenship and my new-found fluency in French. I hope to end up there, and while life doesn't always take you down the roads that we put in the GPS, this one sure is impromptu and I hope to wind up there. 

While this isn't again the end, I dunno how much blogging I'll be doing in the next couple weeks, what with my American family who's coming here and then leaving France after 10ish months of amazing Frenchyness, but I'll try to keep you all posted (stupid unintentional blogger pun) with what's going on, when and where I have WIFI, just until this journey is finished, whenever the heck that might be! 

So that's about it, nothing too life-changing (NOT!). Thanks for having followed this adventure with me, although I shudder at the thought of how much the page traffic went down since September, and I hope I kept you guys entertained with my life!
À bientôt mes amis, 
Benji reporting in from Mûrs, with one of the last broadcasts from this side of the Louet--

Monday, June 11, 2012

Les derniers deux mois mise à jour dans une poste

So, I guess I really owe an explication for this one, since it's been almost 3 months since I put up a post, since the April vacation! On top of it, quite a lot of stuff has happened worth talking about so I'll do it chronologically. 
First of all: The Fête du Port!! In mid-May, there was a party of the Petit Port, the little Port, that's in front of our house. It's really a tiny port, I wouldn't even call it a port but it's a good excuse to have a giant party every year! They set up a big tent in the street in front of our house so we couldn't get out with the car for two days and the night of the party they had people cooking galettes and crepes and soups and all sorts of yummy stuff down there. There was, of course, also a bar which we can say was well occupied by lots of old guys until around 2 in the morning when it closed. The party however, never stopped and went from Saturday afternoon until Sunday evening! Saturday night we had two friends stay out and we hung out until about 4 in the night with the other 200 or so teenagers and young adults from Mûrs, Ponts-de-Cé and Angers. All out friends and tons of others we didn't know- it was freaking awesome, maybe the best party of my life!!

Anyway, so they also had traditional Bal-Folk music and people were dancing all night under the tents.

(By the way, all these pictures are from Sunday, Saturday night I wasn't taking pictures) Sunday they had boat tours on the Louet with the traditional Loire boats, pictured above.

See all those people? That's not even 1/4 of how many there were the night before. Anyway, it was like that the whole weekend.

So we took a little tour on a boat of a friend of François' and I got to see Mûrs and the Petit Port for the first time from the Louet. Above, we can see the Port looking back; I told you, it really isn't big!

This is even further along, looking back at the section of our neighborhood that borders the Louet.

Again the incredible phenomenon of my inability to take a decent picture with myself in it but whatever...

Ok, changing up the scenes a little. During May, we also had a ton of random days of vacation due to religious and national holidays. So sometimes we started the week on a tuesday or wednesday, sometimes we finished on a thursday and sometimes we had weekends of three days. During one of those three-day weekends we went to the family appartement at St. Jean-de-Monts. We had already been there but it was back in October when it was cold and deserted. This time it was hot and sunny and there were tons of other people there doing the same thing as us! One of the big businesses of the area is the salt flats where they have channels that bring sea water into "fields" prepared to hold the water. It's then left there for I-dunno-how-much time until the water evaporates and leaves the salt.

This must be at the beginning of the process because there's just water and no salt to be seen.

After all the salt is harvested and sold commercially in bulk but also at little shops like this one just next to the fields. They do all sorts of different seasonings- I tasted some, their salt is definitely very... salty!

We also spent a day at Noirmoutiers. This is an island village very well-known for a couple things: again, the salt but also the clams (and other general fruits de la mer, seafood) and the most for the potatoes. Now that might sound weird for an very seafood-based island but it's really true, the potatoes of Noirmoutiers are the best!

The third day we spent at the beach, where it was super sunny, hot and super beautiful all day long! The first beach day of the summer! The water was cold on first impression but once you spent a couple minutes in, it quickly became very comfortable, almost warm! I swam out to the jetty and jumped off a bunch with some other kids that were there.

We also rented a kayak for an hour so Aurelien and I did a little tour of the coastline but not very long, just around the point on ether side of the beach. We had a race with some guys on a jet ski and despite our intense paddling, I think we mighta lost... But it was great anyway, if not to do some kayaking then to just chill out at the beach all day and soak in the rays, like at good ol' Scarborough beach back home.

Of course, by the end of the day I was fried and ending up leaving the ocean that weekend with intense sunburns on my arms, legs, face, neck and back. I also got some kind of weird allergic reaction to either WAY too much sun exposure or maybe it was the coquilles that we caught on the beach and ate for an appetizer. In any case, it was a great weekend.

An oyster bar, one of the billions found absolutely everywhere all over the area. Personally, I can't stand oysters- I get hung up between the disgusting cold slimy texture of something living sliding down my throat or maybe the taste between salty and rubbery. That might just be me, because I know François loves oysters and my dad in America too... Maybe it's something that comes with being a dad....!!

We saw the port of the island, filled with tons of fishing and pleasure boats, as well as some old traditional Loire boats like we saw at the Fête du Port.
In other news, just a week ago, I went up to Paris to take the SAT Subject test. I had signed up quite a while ago and unfortunately all the SAT tests are at 7:45 in the morning, no matter where you take them, unless the testing center tells you otherwise. Anyways, so Laurence and I went up alone since everyone else had things to do that weekend. We stayed at some cousin's house just outside of Paris that I'd already met before, really nice people, and so Saturday morning Laurence dropped me off at the American School of Paris in St. Cloud, also outside of Paris. Good thing too, because it would have been a nightmare to get into the city center with the car at that hour of the morning. Anyways, as it was we got there just in time where I sprinted into a class room just before the closed the doors. It's pretty funny because I got there and there was an American teacher with an accent from somewhere in New England, I couldn't place it but it was very familiar. Of course she gave us the test rules and all that in English and it felt really really weird to be sitting in a classroom, listening to a teacher in English. On top of it, there's a handful of numbers and letters, and certain signs that are written differently in France. Like the 1 or the 4 or the lack of this sign: #. Anyways, it was just weird to see this kind of stuff after being in classes in France for the last 9 months. So I took the SAT Subject test in French and holy crap! it was soooo easy!!!! The first question was something like "Marie voulait faire un gateau mais elle n'avait plus de _____" After there's four answers to choose from: either cochon, mûr, l'herbe or farine. (For those non French-speakers, the questions was "Marie wanted to make a cake but she had no more _____ then answers are pig, wall, grass or flour.) Needless to say, it wasn't too complicated. Of course, it got progressively harder and it became a matter of conjugations and correct endings and making sure about possession and all that. There were also the sneaky questions that offer a bunch of different answers that all look right but there's something in the question that indicates which one is the good one. I was ready for those and all around felt pretty solid so I'm hoping for a pretty damn good grade! I mean, after all, it was made for students of French, taking it in classes in America so I guess I have the advantage of having lived in France for the past year and having been completely immersed in French. I also ended up taking the Literature one which wasn't too hard either, just more complicated because I had forgotten quite a lot of English literary devices and things like that and my English is, at the best, deteriorated at this moment so I could have done better but I only took it because otherwise it seems like a waste of time go there so early for one hour of testing. And I could win extra points, always a good thing!
So after all that was done, Laurence and I decided, instead of checking out Paris which we had already done at Christmas, to go to Versailles. It's not very long from Paris but definitely worth the detour as it's a beautiful city with tons of great history. In particular, the Chateau de Versailles, one of the biggest and most well-known castles of France, Europe and probably world-wide!

Anyways, before that, we had a super lunch in town at a Moroccan restaurant. We also passed by a bakery and looked in the window- the things they had there were amazing!! All those typical French pastries brought up to a new level, holy crap they looked so damn good!

After that we headed off to the castle with a couple thousand other people from absolutely everywhere in the world! I heard Americans, Germans, Russians, Scandinavians, Italians (a lot of those!), Spaniards, Mexicans, other South Americans, and a half dozen different Asian nationalities!! It was intense. And the best part is, I got to pass for French like I wasn't even a tourist! It was great!

So I took a couple hundred pictures of the castle, but I'll give you guys the short version. This is the front of the palace, the original home of Louis XIV, the favorite king of France. And also incredibly rich!

The Palace is HUGE and there's so much gold leafing that in the sun it makes your eyes hurt!

At first we thought we would have to content ourselves with just the view of the outside since there must have been a waiting line of at least 2 hours for the tickets. So we decided to take a peak at what we would have missed by checking out the gift shop. Lucky for that since at the back of the gift shop there's a couple hallways that lead to the ticket machines. At the end of the 2-hour line. In about 2 minutes. So we ended up getting in pretty fast and easily anyway, which was pretty lucky and awesome!!

We did a tour of just about everything we could guided by an oral program on the phone thingy you put around your neck. Haha, when we were at the desk to get that, the guy mistook us for Russian (I'm not quite sure how either!) but was quickly corrected when we asked for the tour guide in French. The First was the King's chapel which I remember was asked to be built as the tallest part of the entire castle. There was also an incredible organ inside.

Looking out on the garden, which stretch for literally miles, one could see tons of different fountains and gardens of flowers and statues and all that. In fact, the gardens are a whole other tour because they're sooo big and there are different shows that go on there. We didn't end up doing that because of the time, the heat, the fact that it was payant (to lazy to search that in english, wanted to say that we had to pay to get in, I know there's a word for that... See what I mean about "deteriorated"?!?) and the fact that we were already exhausted by the end of the tour, as it is a good two hours of walking from room to room of the castle.

Anyway, all over the place were giant frescoes and paintings of everything a king could possibly want to look at in his house, from Bible scenes, like the one above, to Greek gods to French history, etc.

Every room was something else insanely ornate and beautifully decorated, like this one where everything is marble. You have to ask yourself how the he** they managed to do all this without the modern tools we use today. But then again, we are talking about the people's favorite king of France here!

That's him, Louis XIV, in all his young splendor (quoting from the tour guide here).

As you can see, the gardens really are huge and after that there's the city of Versailles which, while it is not huge, it's very beautiful and traditional, like Paris with all the buildings kept low and not too much modernisation.

This is the very famous Hall of Mirrors, la Salle des Glaces I think it's called. Anyway, it was a room made to impress the king's visitors as well as to host his Renaissance-style dance parties.

I don't remember exactly how many mirrors there are, I think it's 17 or 19 or something, but it matches the number of windows on the other side to allow the sunlight to enter and be reflected.

This is the king's bedroom, with his KING-sized bed (haha, bad pun)! Anyways, he has his bed centered up in the palace so that the window that he looks out on from that bed is the first window to see the sun rise in the morning, as well as that the symmetry of the garden is based on his room as the line of symmetry. (This might have something to do with his badass nickname, le Roi-Soleil, the sun king, as his personal symbol was a sun and you see it all over the castle.) It's pretty crazy, but awesome- not bad for a bedroom, huh!!

Some random sculpture of a teapot in the garden that I saw from a window in the castle; something tells me that it wasn't around in the time of the French monarchy...

This I believe is the Queen's bed, not to bad either! Oh, something I forgot to mention before, the tour guide told us that the king and queen used to have private audience of the good French people that would pass through their bedrooms just to watch them sleep!!!! Sounds pretty awkward for the poor royal family....!

That's supposedly the most famous bust of his wife, although I can't say that I know it. Mighta seen it before though...

Haha, this was something else very funny- his dining room with the royal cutlery preserved on the royal place in between the royal chair of the royal king and his royal queen and their royal kiddies. But outside of all that, you can see 8 chairs for visitors to come watch the royal family while they take their meals! What a pain in the ass that must be, having a bunch of people staring at you while you eat!
Something else funny was the insane number of rooms in the castle- there was the Room of War and the Room of Peace, the rooms for different gods, rooms for parties, rooms for guests, rooms for different treaties signed, rooms for art, rooms for books, rooms/offices of all the royal family with all the other rooms they had in the Royal Quarter of the castle, rooms.... the list goes on and after a while it just turns into a giant mix of beautiful frescoes on the ceiling, tapestries and art on the walls and carpets on the floor! In any case, it leaves quite an impression of Renaissance France and what it must have been like to be a king of such a successful and powerful country back in the day.

One parting view of good ol' Louis XIV on his trusty steed in front of the castle. Of course, I took this picture in a way that would cut out the 50 or so tour busses parked there in front of the gates of the castle.

Finally back to modern day, last Friday I finished my classes!! In France the Premieres and Terminals (the last two years of high school here) get out of classes and have about 10 days, depending on when you pass, to study for the BAC. So while we did have an awesome end-of-school-year party Friday night at a friend's house, we're still not done. Now we get to cram for the BAC on French and History-Geography. That'll be really intense. Well not for me, since if I get a 0, absolutely nothing changes, but I'm still working because if I get good grades tant mieux. On top of it, if I turn up and put nothing down on the 2 4-hour tests or say nothing in the oral exam for French, that'll be pretty embarrassing!
On a completely different note, I made my mom's strawberry-rhubarb tart the other day, it was pretty good although the crust wasn't done cooking apparently!

Also, I got up at 9AM this morning to go see my best friend off at the gare (train station) of Angers. She'll be heading back to Finland sometime this afternoon so best of luck with the return and she'll be missed here in France by all of those still here. 
So that's about all for now. If we look at the frequency of my blogging, I wouldn't be back until well after I get home but I promise to do a leaving-France post and who knows? Maybe I'll keep on posting afterwards. I could always put up some good stuff from Switzerland and then of course, what it'll be like to go back to America after what will be a couple weeks short of a full year away from that country!! Of course, that's all part of the experience so we'll see. 
De toute façon, je dirai à plus pour l'instant, on se verra plus tard et bien sûr, merci beaucoup à tout le monde qui continuent à lire tous ce que j'ai à dire!
-Benji, with a little more than one month left and counting!