Thursday, December 4, 2008

Epic Fail: Posting's December 4th or 5th - we're at the weird time where depending where you are it's a different day for me than on EST

I want to apologize for not making a single post in the month of November. Alas, after my truly wonderful vacation in England, I became a *real* university student in that the work, research, and classes really piled on.
Our biology prof likes to tell us that "we're here to be students, not have a free ride" or something to that effect.

But that'd sure be nice.

I will try my very hardest to make a post this weekend. Need to tell you all about things and start the wrapping up of my abroad experience of this semester since I'm leaving in 2 weeks - December 19th which just seems INSANE.

Lots of love and thanks for all the support from friends who gave me the random words of "you can do it" on the tough days.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Good morning! Goodbye!! It's VACATION!!! whoo!

I will hopefully make you all an update this week, but no promises. Who knows what the world brings.

I will be in Norwich with Shannyn and Leah, and Erica is coming down this weekend too!!! YAY!

I might just explode. Anyways, it's 7am, so I'm going to go finish packing, showering, breakfasting, then going to one quick economics class then I'm off!

Yes I remembered to pack my passport.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Culture Shock

Good days start with my host brother Augustin telling blond jokes, in English, for practice.

That said, this past weekend was in Normandy and I know a lot of you know that I was there, and I just want to say that the Normandy update is going to take me a long while to write because of the massive emotion and well, just everything there. But know that it's incredible and every American should go there. Actually, everyone in the world should go there.

Anyways, sorry I haven't updated in a while, this week has been mad already, so much do to before leaving for England on Friday, and mostly of the academic variety. How lame is that?

Today Caroline and I went the opera and saw Armida. The girl who played Armida was amazing, probably one of the best sopranos I have heard live in my life. Amazing. So was her last dress, sparkly, black, huge with hoops, open in the front, thigh high boots, and a red corset thing and swishy. With a collar.

Lame, sleepy post. Maybe you'll get a better one soon.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Happy Birthday Courtney!!

Today is my big sister's 23rd birthday! If you see her, tell her that she is super awesome. And I'm so proud of her for getting a big kid job with a 401k plan, and moving to Boston this coming weekend!! Whoooo!!

So over the weekend I relaxed, lots, which was fantastically wonderful. It was a quiet(er) time because the twins, Sido, and Sophie went to Paris on Saturday for a giant 18th birthday party of a cousin (we're talking serious Parisian galla here) and they didn't come home until Sunday, though the grandmother and her sister of Phillipe were here...kind of confusing, but let's just say, the 16 year old twins were gone, thus, quiet.

Saturday was a special day at the opera house in Tours called "les portes ouvertes" (open doors) which meant all day there were tours and rehearsals that anyone could sit in on. Sadly I got there after all the backstage tours were over, but I got to see them rehearse 2 scenes from the opera "Armida" written by Hayden, as well as listen in on a mini Q and A session. The show is going up (and coming down) next weekend. Luckily there is a performance next Tuesday (I got my ticket today!!!) night because the Bucknell group is going to Normandie this weekend.

The interior of the building is absolutely beautiful - I'm fairly certain the architecture and all the decor was designed by a summer (Mom: it's all pastel pinks, blues and lavenders with gold with soft but intricate flowers carved out of a white stone...maybe?) but I'll let you all in on that a bit more after seeing the performance and bringing my camera this time! Both the sopranos have incredible voices - I wish I could be seeing it twice (we have a special international student culture card so our tickets were only 9 euro for 28 euro seats!)

Picture is thanks to our dear Mr. Wikipedia - it is, of course the facade of the opera house in Tours

Over this week I'm planning on writing a sciencey biology post to help me study for my bio exam, plus then all you awesome people can find out lots of information. Like how quite a few cheeses are not vegetarian. Yup, you killed a baby cow to eat that.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Castles are the Way to Go: Part II

Chambord and Cheverny! Starting with Chambord :)

Chambord is massive, impressive, huge, and awesome with French Renaissance architecture. It was mostly built by François I in 1519, but only the middle part! The front line of building connecting to François's creation was done by Henri II and the rest of the square was completed by Louis XIV. Because construction began so early, the center part was designed to be a fortress and as time went on, the architecture evolved into a more Italian renaissance design.

The Italian design is evident in the stone work of Chambord. In France, limestone was the most prevalent stone, especially in the Loire Valley, thus it was used in constructing most of the buildings in the area. If you notice, there is also a lot of black stone work, made from slate. This was done so that at a distance the stone would resemble the Italian buildings made from marble.
(The above picture the the tower at the very center of the François fortress topping the huge circular staircase)

Interesting fact: The slate is not inlaid in the limestone but is tacked on top of it! If you take a closer look at the above photo you can see the tacks up close, but higher up the tower, you can't - as soon as you have a little distance, they're invisible!)

The interior is gorgeous (it is a castle) but with "new art" because François I was an avid art collector. There are beautiful paintings, tapestries, chandeliers, windows, taxidermist-ified animals (hunting was the popular past time for men) and sculptures throughout the house.

These windows are from the indoor chapel, the room glowed in oranges because of the stained glass.

A loom! I can't imagine having the patience to do that...

So, I've saved one of the most defining features of Chambord for last - the circular staircase that goes through the very center of the castle. unlike most staircases, this is 2 sets that circle around a tunnel, each set starting at opposite sides. This means that if people are on different staircases, not only can they walk top to bottom of the castle at the same time without ever meeting, they will never even see each other!

Thus endith Chambord.

Cheverny is a completely different style from all the other castles we've seen thus far because this one was designed to actually be a home. It was built from 1624-1630 and has been in the hands of many families, but has been with the current family (yes, they still live there - Family of 5, two little girls and a little boy) since 1824 (though they had owned it before 1802 as well, darn that revolution!)

Fun fact: The home of Tintin was designed after Cheverny! They just removed the end portions.

This is the view of the house from behind the main entrance, in the garden. It is one of the most perfectly symmetrical castles ever built. (And we seem to have the best luck with weather when visiting castles)

The stairs were done in, of course, limestone, and the carvings were truly spectacular.

The lady's tea room was adorable. Everything was in greens, peaches, and whites. Everything felt more modern luxury and far more "home-y" than the other castles. I think it was that the walls were plastered and painted, but also because the ceilings were far lower than in the other castles.

This was the lady's bedroom - satins are beautiful! Even the children's room looked like this, but that room also had a HUGE brass bathtub.

This castle is also home to a pack of around seventy dogs, that still live there and go hunting weekly! They are beautiful animals and were having fun play-fighting with each other when we saw them.

The last part of Cheverny that we saw were the small gardens, there are a few throughout the grounds. My favorite part were the rows of broken up colored glass throughout to separate the sections. Beautiful!

Whooo! I love castles, and so far, Cheverny is my favorite. Plus if I wait 20 years, I could maybe marry the currently 7 year old boy that lives there and move in!
Here's to hoping :)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Castles are the Way to Go: Part I

So, after 2 consecutive weekends of viewing French châteaux, all I can say is "wow" I'll save you from a million scrolls down post by doing each weekend by itself (eeessh I'm behind!)

The first castle we saw last weekend was "Langeais." The original was built in the 10th century, but was mostly destroyed in the 100 years war, and thus was rebuilt into what we saw in the 1400s
This era of châteaux has none of the extravagance that can be seen in castles like Chambord (to be seen later) or even Villandry (seen later in this post!) because it was built with one function in mind: Don't die. With constant wars raging, castles were to protect (thus draw bridges, which are way cooler in person). Because of this the first part of the castle they built was the "donjon" (not the dungeon, false cognate!) which was the watchtower, so even if the rest of the castle wasn't prepared (built) they could see the enemy approaching.

If you look at the above photo there are gaps in the base of the top of the tower called mâchicoulis wherein the defensive line would drop rocks, hot oil, shoot arrows, and lots of general unpleasant things hoping to kill off the attackers quickly without being prone to attack yourself.

Another defensive, the large door opening was not the "real" door - it was for bringing in large goods, so usually this was all barred up and very impossible to force your way through. There is a tiiinnnnyy door (next to the man in a red jacket) which the enemy would have to bottleneck through. They'd apparently try and behead (or just chop you in half) the enemy as they came through. Neat!

Inside was pretty, but like all castles, dark and cold. Thus there were tons of tapestries everywhere. None were truly impressive. My favorites were in the children's room because they were with brighter colors and had very mystical scenes. Way way more fun.

One of the things that most impressed me in Langeais were the floors. All of the intricate designs in beautiful colors - truly rawkin. Fun fact: if you see the bed curtains the front two are knotted. This meant the person in the bed was prepared to receive visitors. It was pretty common to have people visit you and do business while you were in bed. Though you had different beds/rooms for receiving people if they were friends or strictly business people.

After finishing looking around the interior we went wandering around the grounds where we found modern architecture in the way of a GIANT tree house. It was amazing. I want to build one just like it, so badly. I was thoroughly impressed.

Later this day we made our way to Villandry, which is a new style castle built around a fortress (like Langeais) in the early 1500s.
Sadly, there was no time planned to see the interior of the castle (though from what every single French person I've told this to says, the inside isn't interesting at all). The beauty of Villandry rests in the gardens.
Villandry has an interesting combination of an English style and French style gardens, English being very wild and free, French being highly regimented and controlled (the idea that "I am the King, even nature will obey me). The photo shows the more French gardens, the one closet to the front being the garden of loves, each square representing a different form of love; passionate, pure, flighty (called "papillon" which means butterfly), tragic, and some others I forget. The ones in the background are controlled with hedges but the interiors are a bit more rampant.

There is also a water garden, which is strangely vast and empty with some fountains but mostly a vast constructed pond. The pond feeds the moat which surrounds the castle (and is home to a large family of guppies with giant mouths) with a beautiful designed river.

It was a short trip, only the afternoon, but I got a very good taste of French castles in two different styles. Soon you'll hear about Chambord and Cheverny, the châteaux that I visited with the group yesterday!

Fun awesome thing- on the walk back to my home from the trip I walked past a bar that had a band playing outside. They were playing David Bowe :) Good end to an awesome day

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Oh my bonnie

So I should totally be going to bed right now, but who cares. I'm sick and living dangerously! Also known as wide awake, but not so wide awake as to write about castles. This could be a problem as I have another Bucknell excursion this coming Saturday to 2 more châteaux. Oops. Tomorrow, you will get my post on castles tomorrow. Or I'll just post my French paper and you can all attempt to sort it out.

So today, Thursday. I'm less sick. The weather is colder and both of my younger host siblings are on facebook which is just hilariously entertaining. I've been here for a month, which is insane to think about. It's gone by so quickly. Laura and I are talking about spending October break, since she has the same week off, traveling the UK and Scotland (swhing!) since she has friends there too. Laura rocks (and is probably reading this - yeah, that's right I see you!) Going through 5 boxes of tissues together is very bonding. Truly. And it's her birthday tomorrow! Happy birthday Laura!!! Going out to dinner with a bunch of the assistants (the program wherein foreign people come into European schools and help teach elementary - high school students English). But more on those awesome people some other time, when I have pictures of them :)

So today we had choir, and honestly, this is the real reason that I wrote this post, because this memory must be forever ingrained in my mind, and the internets. This choir is turning out to be one of the greatest things I signed up for - I have a friend named Maud who is a music student of piano and we have a hang out rendez-vous next week, super excited, and it's a great bunch of REALLY friendly people who try and speak English or explain music (which is cute because we can sight read better than most of them). Laura, Stefanie and I are, indeed, the only Americans.

Anyway, the choir is at a music school and our choir director elected us to be guinea pigs for some directing students for their audition to get into this music program. Yeah. Intense. Anyways, they were all doing really well then it's the next guys turn, and he can't be more than 25. And hands us a song "Bring Back (Ecosse)" by Georges Prost. For those of you who don't speak French, Ecosse is Scotland. And he proceeds to tell us that we are going to sing it in English and to repeat after him. At this point I wish I knew phonics so I could write out what it sounded like. But I'll try:

"Mai bone-e is O-vair ze O-see-an, Mai bone-e is O-vair ze cee, Mai bone-e Es O-vair ze O-see-an, 'An prring pack mai bone-e tu me"

For the real words see the end of the post to see if you got it right :)

A group of 60 people saying that is worth at least 3 bottles of highly fizzed champagne in your system. Especially when they all are looking at you and you're trying not to laugh and they smile understandingly, and at the end they all say "don't mock our accents" in joking tones. We assured them (falsely) we were laughing at the translation, which indeed was horribly incorrect and different.

It makes you wonder though...when I speak French, is that what it sounds like to them?
At least I have somewhat French 'r's

So, how'd ya do?

real words:
"My bonnie is over the ocean, my bonnie is over the sea, my bonnie is over the ocean and bring back my bonnie to me"

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Happy October!

I can't believe it's already October, time has been going by so quickly. The weather is getting cooler, but the trees haven't started changing colors yet, hopefully soon. I will be updating soon about the trip to Langeais and Villandry, two castles rather close to Tours. Once I'm done writing my 4 page paper on it!

I want to make a giant shout out to our professor in residence - Professor Jordan, who sincerely rocks. He made a youtube video of our trip to the vineyard and set it to music all edited and everything. He rocks. For your enjoyment:
L'avenir, on dira. Best advice I've ever been given in my life, given to me by a great great grandson of a winemaker.

It's nice to be in full swing with classes, though having decent amounts of homework again kind of isn't the most fun thing in the world. We had the first real bio class yesterday, wherein we learned some things about the 5 SIQO regulation types (varieties of stamps from organic, to AOC, to one that says it was made in an authentic way, like hand churned butter) in the morning then went and had a scavenger hunt at the giant indoor market - Les Halles, to find products from each category. Who knew that you could buy AOC lentiles, or AOC absenthe.

Tired and sick. Hopefully the cold will pass soon. My host mom is so cute about it though. Only in France does a mother say "oh, have some duck paté, it's nice and bland and will make you feel better"
Surprising true.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Manual Labor is the way to go

For all of you uninformed on my life (which is odd since you're reading my blog) I am *finally* in swing with all my classes, well, starting Monday. Close enough. I am taking a course for preparation for taking the DELF (which is a national - government language for non-French residents to take to certify them to teach, work, anything basically is a fluency test), a course on the "patrimone" - history of architecture and culture in France, a course that is focusing on the history of economic thought, and lastly a biology lab course about wine and cheese.

That's right. Wine and cheese. It is, more correctly, a class that is exploring the terrain of France and how different products are grown in different places, particularly AOC (which stands for "Appellation d'origine contrôlée" translating to me "controlled term of origin") products. These are insanely regulated products in origin and is furthering into quality. For example: once a year an inspector comes and counts the BUDS on the vines for random plants throughout the vineyard and they each have to have 9 (I believe) or they'll lose their AOC licence. Also, AOC vineyards are forbidden to water their vines, it all has to be natural rain. Crazy people. Great (cheap!) wine.

So this past Thursday our professor signed us up to be the "vendages" for the vineyard called "Caves du Père Auguste" also known as the "grape pickers" or migrant workers all the way from the United States. We received a brief tour after walking up a HUGE hill up to the vines where in we tried lots of grapes off the vines of different wines. The first was a "fines bulles" wine grape which was tangy and incredible and the vine is over 100 years old!

Did you know? Red wines are grapes that have red pulp, white wines have a translucent pulp, but the outside skin can still be red (skin color has nothing to do with the type of wine! go figure! Though for different wines they use the skins differently, sometimes grapes are put into the vat whole and uncrushed and other times are put in as grape juice! Different techniques for different flavours).

We then each picked up a bucket and a pair of plant cutting scissors and got to work cutting grapes, filling our buckets, dumping the buckets into the "backpack buckets" on the backs of very strong, sturdy guys (the buckets full can weigh nearly 100 pounds!!) repeat until the vines have no more ripe grapes on them :) (We only worked for 3 hours...the people who do it all day are serious champions, serious champions in great shape, I am so sore today!)

The grapes we were picking were a "Gamay" - full name "gamay noir à jus blanc" which makes a red wine (which I totally bought a bottle of afterwards) that is apparently strong, but light, and fruity and is only cultivated by hand.
I'd like to note that this vineyard overlooks the valley of the River Cher and the Château de Chenonceau, known as one of the most beautiful castles in all of France.
After lots of not-so-long hours of working and very sticky fingers, we stopped and got to see the machine they use to strip the grapes from the stems and crush them into juice and then were allowed to try the freshly squeezed grape juice. Welch's could and really should take notes from them. This is the nectar of the earth, no joke.
We were then led into a room and were served a 5 course lunch with 4 different kinds of wines - a "fines bulles" (known in the United States as "champagne" which is blasphemously incorrect most of the time), a rosé (pink! very yummy), and 2 types of reds. Along with lots of cheeses, meats (I love that most of the time I have no idea what I'm eating and it's usually amazing), salads, pastas, and lastly - a pear tarte prepared by the 70 some odd year old great granddaughter of Père Auguste (the vineyard is now run by 3 of HER 4 children)

After a very long, very delicious meal (where in one of the young migrant workers "Franc" ate with us and was flirting shamelessly with 11 girls at the same time...pretty impressive, actually), we were given a tour of the "cave" or cellar of the establishment by the great-great granddaughter of Père Auguste. The limestone cave was dug out by our dear Père Auguste in 1880 by chipping away, putting dynamite in the stone, blasting it away over and over again, and then he used the rock to build the house and the cavern to store and make wine in! Genius!

My favorite part was going into a storage room with upwards of 300 bottles of wine, all covered in at least a quarter inch of dust, all unlabeled. Apparently the grandfather and father of our tour guide at one point forgot to label some bottles and when they took them out, they had forgotten what they were so into storage they went. The bottles are all around 50 years old. On special occasions the family takes one out and tries it, if it's great - fantastic! But if it's terrible they throw it out and pick up another bottle until they find something worth drinking!

We then all bought wine (three bottles 14 Euro...not bad) and sadly, departed.
Brilliant sort of day.

And when I came home Laura, another American, had arrived! Party in the house. It's nice having someone to talk to (still in French) that is a little more on my own wavelength. Tomorrow we're visiting two chateaux so look for another (highly pictorial) update soon!!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

les endroits que je préfère

Welcome to Giverny, the home of Claude Monet. I'm pretty positive that this is a place where part of my heart will be for the rest of my life. This is where we went Saturday morning of the Paris weekend, about an hour away. Beautiful, cold morning and we couldn't have picked a better time of year to come. There are virtually no tourists because it's mid September, just some locals and elderly people on a giant tour. All the right kind of people to have in a garden.

Right after the entrance this is what you see - the arches that have vines starting to grow on them. I want to come back some day in the spring and see them full of roses and morning glories. I took literally hundreds of photographs of flowers, bees, of scenes, of the hills behind, at Giverny. There were also hundreds of moments spent with my eyes closed, inhaling the impressionism, which I had never realized had a smell. It does, and a distinct one at that.

The entire time I was there it made me think of people that I'm very close to, especially my mother and my sister. My mother, for those of you who do not know her, is an incredible gardener and has turned our home into a piece of paradise with our garden. And my sister is an artist. I would have given anything to have had them there with me...they probably would have loved it even more than I did.

When I was walking to the waterlily pond I realized that as much as Monet had a talent for impressionism, I cannot see how anyone could have lived in Giverny and not been an impressionist. There is a tiny bridge going over one of the small streams off of the large one that circles the pond with long grasses growing in the water. The blades were at least a foot long and the way they undulated in the current underneath waves of weeping willow branches blowing in the wind...Impressionistes were the first artists to see through creating pictures, the exact images of what they saw, and instead painted what it really was. They painted feelings, movement, they painted life.

Enough poetry :)

These two are some of my favorites. Throughout this entire weekend I attempted to take pictures of the things and palces that millions of people have taking photos of differently. With different angles, different focuses, and in these, I think I truly reached this goal. The waterlilies. You can see them, they're there and they're beautiful, but the focus on Monet's home. I wish I could show this to him and ask him if this captures his home. I hope he would say yes.

Okay...more photos of waterlilies and willow trees...

I could go on about Giverny for hours and show you every single one of my photos. When I come home, I probably will. But for your sake, and my sleeping needs, I'll move on to Chatres.

Sunday morning after visiting the museum which features Monet's paintings of his waterlily garden, we headed out from Paris. Chartres is located roughly half way between the two which was convenient and lovely. Chartres is an adorable little town, very provincal French looking. Sadly the front of the catheral is being restored, so I didn't get any spectacular phots of the front, so I resort to google images :)

There is no way to describe how impressive the cathedral is when you stand in the back looking at the immensely huge interior. It's someone who lives right outside of New York City and looks at skyscrapers frequently, it's HUGE and impressive. As pointed out by one of the girls - it's impressive to us today, imagine what it was like for people in the 13th century who lived in hovels. The stained glass is incredible, the organ is huge (Chartres homes a huge organ competition twice a year), the choir curtain is 20 scenes carved in stone that took 200 years to finish, so much incredible everything. I wish I could remember all the history told on the auditory tour.

Everything was nearly unbelievable. I wish I could do it justice with words and photos, but it's impossible. Truly impossible. So I'll finish with a fun story!
As I turned the corner outside during the tour (we each had individual headsets) I saw a bride and groom coming up the side of the cathedral. They then took pictures underneath some of the most beautiful overhead arch way carvings and the columns were beautifully carved too.
Happy day, happy ending. And they all lived happily ever after.