Now I'm on to number three, and again there is a theme, which must be dressed for. This one is by far the hardest yet, and also the least respected ( already Thomas and Sarah have neglected it completely and Isabelle and Gilles haven't tried much harder). After must frustration, a 20 minute video chat, several minutes on the floor, and I lot of wishing for my Fairy Godmother to come change brunette (the dog) into a sports car for me, and get some local birds to sew me an outfit, I finally decided on my Ochre yellow tights, (very thick and opaque, and very yellow) a pair of grey tweed shorts and a black sweater.
So tonight is Saturday night, which means for the French: Party! So far I've been to two real parties, both on Saturday nights of course, but both were with my host family, for their family friends, and one of them was thrown by my host family themselves, so its not like they were too wild. Still there was plenty of loud music and dancing and refreshments, and general merriment. Tonight marks the third of these parties and its Gilles' nephew's 18th birthday. The French basically party like we do, though later and with more dancing, and probably harder than most middle-aged american parents party on an average Saturday night. The real difference comes in the fact that each of these parties has had a theme beyond the basic birthday party, or dinner party, or cocktail party etc. that americans are so fond of using. At first I thought it was just one wild exception, after all its not unusual to have a theme. This first theme was black and white, and we were all entreated to wear black or white, or get really wild and inventive and scramble the two. Not too hard, luckily just this summer I bought myself a 'I'm-going-to-France-for-a-year-right-on!' gift in the form of a black short-sleeved mini dress with a wide window pane stripe in thin white lines, from American Apparel, perfect for a black and white themed huge crowd dance party celebrating someone's fiftieth no? . . .yes! Well the next one, being thrown by my host family themselves, I had a bit more warning. They're chosen theme: Caribbean! A fun summery theme with good food, and great dance music to lighten up the month of November. Unfortunately, even with all my extra warning I still didn't have time to go shopping before hand which left me with two options, a little bright green sun dress, or a bright yellow thin sleeveless blouse with . . . I had no bottom save for a light purple over sized scarf that I attempted to wrap as a sarong. It would have worked too, but it was a little too little fabric between the unsuspecting friends of my host family and my 'bootie-shorts,' meant to be worn over a leotard in Dance class, which I employed as a safety measure; after all there would be dancing. As you might have already deduced I went with the sun dress.
Every Friday afternoon, while we are school, a trip to the super market takes place. We are invited, in fact we are encouraged to add to the shopping list in the day preceding this trip. At first I was shy about adding things to the list, and I still try to keep my additions to a minimum, but I feel more confident in adding a need or craving to the list thursday afternoon. However, the really exciting part about this fairly normal, and universal endeavor is not obtaining an item I've pined for, but in seeing what new and delicious completely French goodies have found their way into the cupboards. Every friday I come home to a multitude of pastries, cookies, yogurts, chips, jams, cheeses, drinks that I've never seen before. Its the most glorious feeling; I think it must be akin to the feeling a child growing up in East berlin felt surging in his breast, and stomach upon first entering a supermarket after the fall of the wall, and the introduction of capitalism was well underway. Since a child I have cherished the 'snack', almost always in miniature size, which in itself appealed to me in several ways, first children like things children sized, second, I never ate much as child so that meant it was the right portion, being a picky eater I enjoyed most this time of choice, when the options were totally open. Plus, one always eats snacks at happy times, in the middle of school: time to socialize with your friends without the intellectual burden of classwork, after school: when you have that nice sense of accomplishment for having survived another day, in the middle of the night: the pleasure of being the only one awake, a no man's land, the adrenaline of an act not quite sanctioned, yet not really forbidden, no matter when you eat them snacks=good, its just a fact! Not to mention, snack food is almost always just plain yummier than real food. So imagine the ecstasy of finding a whole new world of snacks only ever dreamed of in the abstract during times of great hunger awaiting, its a snackers paradise, and I am a snacker, the very definition.
I know I haven't written in forever but as today is the French version of Memorial Day and as my absence was not in the slightest due to lack of things to write about, I shall use this holiday to catch up: on blogging, on sleep, on emails, and on homework (though I'm not really behind on that last one).
The last week in October all the schools in France have a break. My host family decided to use this break to start off the traveling around France and Europe that they've planned for me. This first trip we stayed in France, but saw two different regions outside of the North, which was fun for me, as again before this year I'd never been anywhere in Europe outside of Paris, and the suburb towns of Paris. First we went to the South, where Gilles' sister has a second house. Her house is in a little town called Barjac, and is ancient. Its built in huge slabs of white stone, which is very common for the farm houses in the South. Its probably about 400 years old at least. The inside has been redone of course, but there remains the original fire place big enough to stand in. I'm told that when it was built it was designed so that you could put two chairs, one on either side of the actual fire (probably being employed for roasting a large hunk of meat) in the fire place along with the fire to keep warm. The whole south looked like a setup for a postcard.
It wasn't like every now and then you could find a view fit for a postcard, the whole thing was postcard-worthy, everywhere you looked. It was so beuatiful, and I think that October was the perfect time to visit, because many of the leaves had turned and the landscape was a rich ocher color. Rows and rows of vineyards, where the leaves looked like they were dripping sweet honey. and next to the vineyards were rows of lavender. The farm houses were all in ancient white stone with little painted shutters and bowing olive trees. They had tall square walls and almost flat perfectly square tiled roofs. Every now and then you drive in to a town and the road would be covered with a tunnel of huge trees, the leaves of which were burnt umber, and fluttered in the thick mediterranean sun. It was 27 degrees (late 70's up to 80) the whole time we were there, and we were sunbathing on the terrace of the house every afternoon. The first lunch we ate a fresh roasted chicken with potatoes and farmer's market goat cheese with olives and white wine, and the most wonderful baguette (I love France!). It was really quite picturesque, which is why I have included a picture. That afternoon we got back in the car (Barjac is 9 hours from Marchiennes by car) and headed on down to Avignon to see Le Palais de Pape, where the Pope lived when he lived in France for a short time; I believe there where nine popes who lived there. It was beautiful, like being in the Tudors or some other period piece movie. Full of winding stone staircases and turrets and huge feat-halls and hidden pa
ssages leading away from courtyards and arched double doorways. Then there were the painted rooms which are frescoes on the walls, ceiling, and seem to extend by means of painted tile, to the floors. Most of the frescoes, which once covered all the major rooms, have faded but they've been restored or kept in good shpae in a few rooms, which are really remarkable. We also saw Le Point d'Avignon, which is quite famous. It has some religious connotations,
but I was much more taken by the sunset visible from the point then the history involving a shepherd and some miracle boulder moving. It was splendid, never have I seen such a sunset, and I l
ive in New Mexico which is quite renowned for its sunsets, though it was perhaps not my favorite ever, as I'm picky about color and backdrop, it was breathtaking: picture time. What I really wanted to do was walk through the evening streets of old Avignon, which were alive with shops open to the last of the warm weather, and little sidewalk cafes and gelato shops, but everyone was tired and hungry, and we had to drive all the way back to Barjac, so I said I didn't care if we stayed and walked or not. I think Isabelle wanted to walk too, but we decided to leave, which was fine.
The next day we headed down to Marseilles. We left the car in the parking lot of Notre Dame de la Garde, which is called La Bonne Mere, because the huge gold plated statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus mounted atop the Moorish style cathedral is supposed to protect the city and watch over it with a benevolent eye. We then took a little tourist tram down the huge hill to the 'vieille porte' or the old Port, which has been a functioning sea port since the Roman Empire owned it, and its biggest import was Salt. We walked around there and the streets around it for an hour or so before lunch. We stopped during our wanderings in a little confiserie, (or candy shop) and stalked up on artisanal cookies, lollipops, chocolates, bonbons, etc al in a variety of flavors. The shop displayed its goodies in a painted wooden front window with matching shutters and on the interior in large glass cases, with open tops and little baskets and cooke tine filled the shelves about them. A second story was visible from the first as it simply encircled the shop with an open middle. Everything was well lit and there were shop girls in matching aprons handing out samples to everyone. While the cookies were perhaps a little dry, and the bonbons were so-so, the lollipops and chocolates were wonderful and everything was so perfect you couldn't help but be impressed and cheered by atmosphere and merchandise alike. The raspberry cookies which were tinted pink and had soft, but not too chewy fillings of the real fruit were delicious. Then we went and had lunch outside a little cafe. I had the most wonderful salad, which was comprised of a small green salad, with a vinaigrette, and a small caprese salad. It was so hot though that I hadn't much appetite, and I only ate half of it to save a little room for the pasta I'd ordered which was so-so, I think I ordered the wrong dish, but I guess you live and learn. The other discovery waiting in marseilles was the specialty candy which was sold at the confiserie and given out with the espresso in the restaurant: Calissons. They are little almond shaped spongy things with a white icing glaze over the top. They have a kind of citrus-y taste, and are made from almond paste (which you can taste as well as the citrus) and candied fruits.
On the way back to the car the little tourist tram took a longer route and showed off some attractions the city possesses. I think my favorite of these attractions was the prison where the novel The Count of Monte Cristo is set, which can be seen far off on its island in the sea, looking dark and somber in a sea full of hot bright turquoise water, which makes you think of sunglasses and fruit juice and happy hours of vacation, not at all a dark cell and torture. I like Marseilles, though I could tell it deserved the reputation of being France's dirty, industrial city from the surrounding area, the old port and the narrow lively streets leading up the hills around it were fun and full of the mediterranean spirit. On the way back to Barjac we stopped in Cassis for a half hour to see the little town, but mostly to see the ocean. It was spectacular. I have a special soft place in my heart for the sea, living as I do in a land-locked desert. I covet all glimpses of the calm vast expanse, and I have to tell you it had been almost seven years that I had not touched the ocean, though I'd gotten a chance two summers ago to eat on the board walk and be near the water for an afternoon, in California, which was wonderful. However, there is something about putting your feet in the sea which is a thing all to itself, and this feeling was magnified enormously by the fact that it was the mediterranean sea. I really liked what little I saw of Cassis. It seemed like the perfect place to spend a summer, as it possessed the desired mixture of calm beach own cool, and jet-setter excitement that one likes to have during the summer, though I'm sure this would not be a cheap summer, being so close to the sea, and in the South of France no less.
I still have to tell you about Gap, but its dinner time now so I'll have to finish this later. Not to worry though as I have no school Saturday so plenty of time, though Saturday is the night of the big Caribbean themed party my host family is throwing, which should be quite an event, and I must say I'm awfully excited.
a bientot e