Friday, December 19, 2014

Mont Sainte Victoire

Yesterday, instead of studying for my last exam, I decided to climb Mont Sainte Victoire, the mountain that towers over Aix and was the subject of many of Paul Cezanne's paintings. It was not an easy hike, but it was a beautiful day (60 degrees a week before Christmas!), and we had a great time climbing up the rocks and having a nice French lunch complete with wine, cheese, and a baguette at the church at the top of the mountain.

 One of Cezanne's paintings...

... and the real thing!

The views as we were climbing and from the top were absolutely stunning. Looking down across the countryside reminded us of why we chose to study in the south of France. It doesn't get any better than this.

Katherine, Kristen, Wes and I were thoroughly tired when we stumbled back to the bus stop 5 hours after we had started from there, but we had fun, it is was a fantastic way to spend one of our last days in Aix. I will miss these guys, and all the beauty I have taken in this semester!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Je parle français

I've talked a lot about places I've been and things I've eaten this semester, but I realized this week that I haven't really talked about one of the biggest parts of my experience here: speaking French. As part of the program at AUCP, I am expected to speak French at all times when I am at school, with other students from the program, and (obviously) with my host family. Which basically means I speak French all the time. I thought I spoke French pretty well already when I got here, but the progress I have made this semester has been incredible and gratifying.

It is difficult to explain the experience of speaking another language for several months. It is exhausting at first, constantly translating in your head. Then, you realize that you don't need to translate in your head and you start thinking in the second language. At least, that is how it has been for me. I am not exactly sure when the change occurred, but I can distinctly remember having an English sentence in my head and being frustrated with my inability to translate it when I first arrived. Now, the sentences originate in French. There are of course words I don't know, but I don't have to think about what I am saying nearly as much.

And this is even more important in France because conversations move very quickly. If you're busy thinking of a sentence and then translating it in your head, the conversation will move away from your thought before you ever get to say it. It is better to just plow forward, recognizing that you will probably conjugate something wrong or forget whether something is masculine or feminine (that's me; I literally guess every time...). I had to learn quickly that it was far better to make mistakes in my sentences than not speak at all. Even the French make mistakes - it's a complicated language!

What with my semester coming to an end and me studying for my Linguistic Strategies final this weekend, I've spent a lot of time lately reflecting on the difference between English and French, and I thought I would just share a few of my random thoughts.

Why French is better than English:

1. It has words like "comme" and "si" that have many different meanings and functions. This may seem annoying in theory. A word that can mean four different things? How do you ever know what people are saying? But it is generally quite obvious, and instead of making things confusing, they actually end up being some of the most useful words.

2. There is a third answer to yes or no questions. That's right. You know when someone asks a question in the negative, like "You didn't go last night, did you?" and you want to answer to the contrary that, in fact, you did go? Well you can't say yes because that sounds like you're saying "Yes, you're right, I didn't go." And you can't say no because that sounds like "No, I didn't go." Instead you use si! Yep, that word I just mentioned that has lots of functions. It often means if, but in this context, it is used to avoid all kinds of confusion that exists in English! Silly English.

Why English is better than French:

1. English lets you make up words. We don't even realize it, but half of the time, when we describe something, we invent new words. We often create descriptions by connecting two existing words with a hyphen, like yellowy-green, grass-grown, round-face, and my personal favorite, lip-gnawing scowl. In French, you can't do that, which has been very irritating in my translation class. Every time I come across one of these hyphenated adjectives, I have to think of a creative way to translate it in French, which usually entails moving words around completely. It's much easier when you can just add a hyphen!

2. Nouns aren't masculine and feminine. Honestly, I think that is the hardest part of French for me. I can conjugate irregular verbs or tell you when to use subjunctive, but I can never remember if a noun is masculine or feminine. Even words that I have known for years, I just can't seem to remember their gender. Some of them have spelling cues and are easy, but for the most part, I literally guess. Which means I am right about half of the time. One day, I'll finally get to the hypothetical point described by all the French where you just know it innately. Maybe. Still not convinced that they don't all just make it up as they go.

I am excited to be back home in a week (a week! That's crazy!), but I really will miss speaking French all the time. It is really hard at times, but it has also been incredibly rewarding. I am so proud to be able to say that I can really speak a second language now. You will all just have to get used to me speaking a lot of Franglais when I get home. Parce que c'est comme ça, and I want to "profiter" from my new skill!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

La Fête des Lumières

This weekend was the popular Festival of Lights in Lyon, so I hopped on a train and headed north for Friday and Saturday! I have never been to Lyon before, but this was definitely the weekend to go. The whole city was decked out for Christmas and the festival, and it was absolutely beautiful!

I arrived Friday morning with two friends, and after finding our apartment, we headed into the center city and soon discovered Vieux Lyon, the old city. It has cobblestone roads and buildings all smushed together, and all kinds of food and wine stands were set up for the weekend. We did a little exploring before heading back to the apartment to let the late arrivals in.

After making a massive and delicious pasta dinner for all of us (and being very proud of ourselves for saving money) we headed back into the city for the actual festival. During the festival every year, artists come from all over to create complex light shows and project them on the sides of the old architecture of Lyon. It is a really cool juxtaposition, and the artists often work with the architecture in their installations. But these aren't just your average light shows with some colors and patterns; many of them were full blown spectacles with story lines or themes. One even turned a fountain into a lamp!

We wandered through the city from installation to installation, discovering all the different shows. It was really cool, but the cold soon got to us. We are all used to warmer Aix weather now, and we were not prepared for the wave of cold that hit us! Stops were made at H&M to buy more layers, and we turned to the vin chaud (hot wine) to keep our hands warm. And there was literally vin chaud everywhere. Anyone is allowed to sell anything on the streets during the festival (welcome to France!), so people set up little tables and camp stoves in the streets and sell vin chaud for two euros a cup. They are literally everywhere. And seeing as it is not at all strong - mostly sugar and spices - the goal soon becomes to have a cup in your hands as often as possible for the sole purpose of keeping them from turning into blocks of ice. 

After making the most of our first night, we headed back out Saturday to do a little more exploring by day. We started by heading back to Vieux Lyon to check out some of the shops we had seen the day before. The highlight for me was finding a chocolate shop that smelled like heaven and had lots of free samples. They also sold hot chocolate there where you get a spoon with a block of chocolate on the end and you stir it into a cup of hot, foamy milk to make your hot chocolate. I bought a milk chocolate caramel one, and it was delicious!

For lunch, we stopped at a food truck with the biggest saucepan I have ever seen. It was enormous and filled with raclette (melted cheese over potatoes and meat). We got a plate called tartiflette which is raclette with sausages on top and salad. It was warm, hearty, and delicious!

After lunch, I left my friends and headed to the center city to meet up with Clemence, Tiphaine, and Yves-Andre. I haven't seen them since the first time I was in France four years ago, and it was great to catch up! We had pastries and tea together, then headed out to see some of the early shows. They all remarked that I am much taller now - I guess I've grown since tenth grade!

After a couple shows, I went to rejoin my friends in the south of the city at Lyon's Christmas market. It is like a miniature village and has beautiful decorations! I tried mashed potatoes with truffle oil, and they were absolutely delicious!

The market also had beautiful, illuminated flower trees

Finally, we got started on our second night of the festival. We headed further south to see an installation on the water and a concert of light and music given inside a museum. I think that one was one of my favorites! After wandering around for a few hours, the cold was getting to be a little too much, so a few of us decided to take a hot chocolate break inside. My hot chocolate had four inches of whipped cream and was exactly what I needed to get me going again. After reheating, we went out to see the last lights of the night, then headed home.

It was very difficult to capture the beauty of the lights in pictures, but I did my best! I'll have some videos to share when I get home too, but for now, here are some pictures of my favorite installations.

I'm told that there were three million people expected for the festival this weekend. I can't say if there were actually that many, but there were definitely an enormous number of people. It was crazy! But despite the crowds, the cold, and the general lack of sleep, this was one of my favorite weekends of the semester. It is an incredible festival, and I hope I get to come back one day!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Le Marché de Noël

This is the post you've all been waiting for... The Christmas market!! The Christmas market here in Aix has actually been in full swing since mid-November, but I thought it would be more appropriate to wait until the beginning of December. (That and I've been crazy busy; those law school apps are a real time suck!) The Aix Christmas market is quite small compared to the huge one in Strasbourg and some of the ones I saw last winter in Prague, Vienna, and Budapest, but it is very quaint and has all the necessities.

It's really hard to capture the beauty of it in the pictures, but I tried...

The main avenue of Aix is the Cours Mirabeau, which is the site of the Christmas market and a general market twice a week the rest of the year. During the Christmas market, wooden chalets are set up all along one side of the road, and Christmas lights are put up all over the place. They acutally started putting up the lights back in October!

It's up to the vendors to decide how to decorate beyond the "icicle lights" on top; some go all out!

The chalets contain all kinds of different products from wool slippers to soap to an entire chalet entirely devoted to different types of meat. My favorite to walk past is the lavender chalet because it always smells incredible. At the end of the row, there are a bunch of food vendors, and everything always looks really good! There are great churros and waffles with Nutella and you can always get roasted chestnuts. But the best part is, of course, the hot wine. You can get red or white, and it is warming and delicious! They are both spiced, but the red has orange added to it and the white has a hint of honey. Very tasty!

Don't worry. These aren't both mine. I was with friends!

At the end of the Cours Mirabeau is the Rotonde, a massive roundabout that is kind of the center of Aix. This is also the center of the children's section of the Christmas market. There are all kinds of rides and games for kids. It's basically a miniature amusement park. My host mother says it is ugly and they should send it all back to Disneyland. She is generally displeased with the whole arrangement. She prefers the Foire de Santons on the other side of the Rotonde. There you can buy figurines for the classic Provencal Christmas creche.

At the center of the Rotonde is a huge fountain that is covered with lights. It is kind of a massive contraption and doesn't look great during the day, but it is beautiful when it is lit up at night!

I haven't bought anything besides food and wine at the market yet, but I have many plans for Christmas gifts! I walk past it literally everyday, and it is always pretty with all the lights. They have even started playing Christmas music through speakers on the streetlamps! It is making my last few weeks in Aix very enjoyable.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Châteauneuf du Pape

At AUCP, there is a course all about French wines. I'm not in it, but yesterday they had a class outing, and the rest of us were allowed to come along! We went to Châteauneuf du Pape, a region about an hour and twenty minutes from Aix that is quite famous for its wine.

We went to three wineries during the day: Château Fortia, Domaine de Beaurenard, and Ogier. I quickly realized that, not being in the course, I was completely out of my depth. We tasted four wines at each of the wineries, and although they all tasted lovely, I was not very good at describing the differences, nor could I answer any of the wine professor's questions about how the wine was made. I did learn a little about wine tasting and the making of wine, and it was a pretty interesting day!

There isn't a ton of commentary to be given on most of what we did, but I thought I'd share some of the pictures. Our first stop was Château Fortia:

The owners still live in this château

Two of the wines we tasted

Between the first and second stops, we walked up to the actual Châteauneuf du Pape. It has been completely destroyed over the years, but it had a nice view, and we had a little picnic.

Our second stop was Domaine de Beaurenard, which means domain of the beautiful fox. There wasn't someone available to give us a tour since it was Saturday, so our professor just gave us the tour himself. Because he knows that much about wine and how it is made. He's a real expert!

 Another super cool house where the owners live. Owning a winery has its props.

There are 14 types of grape that can be used to make Châteauneuf du Pape. They were all displayed together here.

Our last stop was Orgia. They had really cool garden that exhibits the four types of soil in which grapes are grown to make Châteauneuf du Pape. They also had my favorite white of the day!

I am by no means an expert on wine, but I was quite impressed by what I saw - and tasted - at all the wineries! I was also quite impressed by our professor. He was actually correcting the people who work at the wineries. And he puts more thought into tasting a wine than I have ever seen!