22 September 2009

Did I come here to go to school?

Well, I don't have too too much to tell in this post. Lately what has been going on in school logistics which are NOT FUN.

Kim's GRRRR moment: Ok, I want to rant but I don't want to do it for a whole post. It seems like everything with french universities is just so unorganized. Like they want everything to go well, but oh, I'm not going to put in any effort to make it go well! I'm just going to run things all willy nilly and just HOPE that things turn out like they're supposed to! Won't that be fun?!
But actually it's the opposite of fun, and what it means for me is that there are courses without descriptions or schedules or professors. It also means that I'm not sure what to take to get credit for my major. It also means that I don't know where to go to take the class. It also means that I get really frustrated!! The good thing for me though is that the classes that I'm looking at don't start till monday the 28th or even monday oct 5! So I have some time to figure things out!! *sigh of relief!*

We went this past friday to Monet's gardens in Giverny which was absolutely AMAZING!! The weather was perfect (as it has been my entire time here), and everything was still in bloom. I have a picture album full of all the flowers on facebook if you want to take a look! I was awed at the beauty of the gardens as well as the fact that Monet designed and kept them up himself! He had the help of a handful of gardeners, but he designed everything, including the irrigation system for the pond, himself! Everything was beautiful, from the waterlilies in the pond, to the morning glories that were abundant around Monet's house. We weren't allowed to take pictures of the inside of the house, but every room was so colorful. The kitchen was all blue-- like everything from the tiles on the wall to the counters. The dining room was yellow. The entrance hall, green. They were all these vivid colors that were so ahead of their time! It was a wonderful excursion to go see Monet's gardens. I'm glad I got to experience something so incredibly beautiful.

Thank you everyone for your feedback on my blog! It makes me feel very comforted to know y'all are out there and reading!! I miss you guys; thank you for continuing to care for me.

I will give an update on classes soon! Cross your fingers and wish me luck!

15 September 2009

La campagne!

Okay, I'm going to attempt to title these. The first one (with the flags) is from an American WWII memorial that we passed on our way to and from Vertus. I don't know what town it was in, but it was one of the towns where the American soldiers stayed during the French Occupation. This same caption goes for the stone façade.

The inscription says "Their Name Liveth For Evermore"

This is the front of the Renault's country home in Vertus, France built in 1902. C'est jolie, non?

This is the Garden in the back of the country home. It is small but very pretty. It's in need of some TLC since the Renaults haven't been there for a while. To the right is the raspberry bush!

This is the street of the village that the Renault's
house is on. Here, having a country house doesn't necessarily mean that there house is on a plot of land (like a ranch house or farm house). It's actually in a small village with about 3,000 inhabitants although during the Vendange, it increases to 9,000 because many people (gypsies) migrate around france to help with different seasons of grape picking, and in this season they reside here. Many of them come in RVs but some just pitch tents.

These two pictures are of the vineyards you can see heading out of Vertus. All of the specks of white are trucks and trailers that are out there to be filled with grapes. Some of them are the trailers of the gypsies that migrate here to work.

Ok, so this is my first time uploading photos on here... not sure exactly how it works cause they're kinda all out of order. These are my photos from my weekend in the french countryside! Sadly I did not have my camera for everything we did, but maybe I'll be able to go back there sometime in the next 10 months and photo document things better.

Well, this past weekend I went to my host family's country house which is in Champagne country in a little village called Vertus. It's about 2 hours outside of Paris. We went there for the Vendange (I'm pretty sure that's how you spell it) which is a kind of festival during this time of year when they pick the grapes for Champagne. My host father, Olivier, grew up in Vertus, and his father still lives there, so they own a piece of a vineyard. Here it's not like in Texas where you can have 600 acres of land, everything is very small, and only the largest Maisons de Champagne have their own large vineyards. Most of the other families in the village each own a small plot of land for their grapes. In the village (as well as around the rest of Champagne country) there are various brands of champagne that have their own (breweries? wineries? factories?... I don't know what you call that..), but there are also Co-ops that everyone can take part in. Did you know that you're not allowed to call sparkling wine champagne if it doesn't come from the Champagne region of France?

So, my family has a very nice 2 story house that has 4 bedrooms. It also has a wine cellar down below, which they call the "cave". The house was built in 1902, so it's very old and rustic. The cellar really does resemble a cave! It's not finished out at all, simply an unfinished 100 year old basement. Kinda creepy. The family doesn't get to go to their house as often as they'd like anymore now that the children are older, which I totally understand-- like my family and I used to go to the ranch when we were younger and now haven't been in years. They still go a couple times a year though. Out in the back garden they've got a raspberry bush (I told my family once that I like raspberries and raspberry flavored things and they've taken it a bit overboard), so they were excited to show me that. You can eat the berries right off the bush! Everyone in america is so paranoid about pesticides and all that, but I ate so much fruit straight from the source this past weekend! The raspberries were very very tasty.

We were only at the house for the day Saturday, and left Sunday, so it was a short trip. When we got there on Saturday, we went out to the vineyards. Olivier handed me something that resembled wire cutters and a pail and showed me how to cut grapes! Unfortunately, this is the part where I forgot my camera at the house :( I know, I suck. What you do to pick them is you pull off the surrounding leaves so you can see where the grapes are, then you find the stem, then SNIP! and put it in your pail! The grapes are the tiny (size of a dime or a little bigger) green champagne grapes, which I thought were really bitter, but actually they are ridiculously sweet!! I would love to eat these grapes instead of the ones we buy at grocery stores. We ate them straight off the vine, and they were amazing! Cutting the grapes, you get all the sugary goo on your hands and it makes them really sticky, so Olivier showed me how to clean them. You take a bunch of grapes that are not ripe (still hard and very small) and you smush them in your hands-- since they are not ripe, they don't have any sugar in them, and it really washes your hands! And then your hands smell like grapes! Not sticky, smelling like grapes-- win, win! It was a really cool trick.

After we picked some grapes (doing that for too long can give you serious back pain!) Olivier took us (us is my little host sister, Marion, and her friends from school, Nicholas) to one of the champagne... for lack of a better term lets say "breweries." We went to the Vertus Co-op where apparently Olivier knows everyone because he was saying hi left and right (growing up in Vertus he used to work in some of these factories, so he knows a lot about the champagne process). The floors were all sticky of course, and, since it was the end of the work day, there were a ton of trucks and tractors bringing in their load of grapes for the day. First they weigh the grapes to know how much their putting in the presses, then there are 2 different types of presses they can go into. One is more old fashioned, the other more modern. The old fashioned one kind of looks like a big wooden barrel like Lucy in I Love Lucy jumps in to mash the grapes with her toes... except for instead of people mashing the grapes with their toes, this big mechanical press comes down and squishes all the grapes. I know, I know, not as fun as the villagers dancing on a big pile of grapes... if you want, you can imagine that instead. As the grapes are mashed, their juice runs down these trenches which lead to vats which are in the basement. The second method of pressing really isn't worth my explanation because I really don't understand at all how it works. What I got from it is that essentially it's a big metal round torpedo looking thing that the grapes go into then it goes woosh woosh all around and then grape juice comes out somewhere maybe and then the squished grapes are taken out somehow maybe. But after both of these are done, the juice goes into these vats below where they sit til the impurities sink to the bottom. Then there is the fermenting process, the addition of yeast, and the bottling, which I did not get to see. I hope you liked this addition of Champagne making for dummies.... or actually by dummies... since I have no idea what I'm talking about. I'm sure pictures would have helped here, but alas, I am the dummy who forgot her camera.

wooo... I definitely feel if I'm prattling on so much. Y'all tell me if you'd rather hear the Cliff's Notes version of my time in Paris next time instead. Brevity in writing has never been my thing.

Continuing... after the vineyards, Olivier took us to his grandmother's home which is in the village. They rent it out to someone now, but the family still keeps the garage and the garden. He opens the doors to the garage, and what is in there?? A 1944 US Army Jeep
yep... it looked just like this. Crazy. AND! It still runs!
So, we took it for a spin around town! You should have seen everyone's faces... there was one old man who looked like he had just seen a ghost!! Olivier explained to me that it was dropped in on a parachute during the invasion during WWII, and they left it here. It was very cool.
Anyway, after that he showed us the garden, which is terraced, so when you get up to it you can see everyone's roofs! It was very cool. They've got all kinds of things growing in the garden-- tomatoes, pumpkins, strawberries (which I tasted-YUM!), white figs (which I tasted... eh. I don't really get figs), white peaches (yum again), lettuce, onions, basil, flowers.... everything! It was very cool and very pretty. I asked Olivier how old the house was, and he didn't give me a straight answer but instead told a story that went a little something like this: "Well, about 20 years ago we were doing some renovations near the garage, and in opening the wall we found a skeleton of a woman! Archaeologists came to look at her and said that the body dated to the 12th century!" So, what I concluded from this story was WHOA. OLD. HOUSE. crazzyyyy.

Anyway, I think those are the interesting parts of my weekend in the french countryside. I hope you enjoyed this edition of Kimberly's travels :) Do let me know if I need to be more brief... when I write, the fingers just go and I just kind of let them.... haha.

11 September 2009

La vie est toujours belle

So, I'm still in Paris, in case you couldn't tell, and I'm still having a Great time! It is so cool getting to discover a new city. What's been going on since I last wrote is... well, a little bit of everything I guess. We've had several informational meetings with EDUCO about things like course registration, visas, residence permits, etc.... not so fun. But we've also had some free time to go exploring! My friend Sam and I have been finding different cafés to eat lunch at every day, and we are loving the amazing french food! I haven't had a bad meal yet. We also like to stop at the Boulangerie (Bakery) to get a baguette, pain au chocolate, or a tarte. You can tell the best bakeries by how long the line is. :)

This week we started our French review classes that give us a refresher of grammar and acclimate us to the French writing style. I absolutely love my professor! She is hilarious and makes us laugh all throughout class. The title of this post is credited to her because "La vie est belle" is definitely her catch phrase (which means "life is beautiful"). Whenever we get a question wrong she says, "C'est pas grave, vous avez vingt ans et vous êtes à Paris: La vie est belle" or "Non, ça n'est pas correcte, mais la vie est toujours belle." (translations: 1) It's ok, you are twenty years old and you are in Paris: Life is beautiful. or 2) No, that's not right, but life is still beautiful). We've been reviewing some easier concepts and also learning idiomatic expressions to integrate into our everyday speech. One of the funny things that we learned today is that to say bless you, you say "A vos souhaits" or "May all your wishes come true," which is really cute. And then, if someone sneezes again you say "A vos amours" ("To your loves) and the sneezer is supposed to respond "Que les votres durent toujours" which means "That yours may endure forever." I don't know, I just thought that whole exchange is just very cute. She reminded us, however, that this is only to be used with people that you actually know. You don't just say it to the old man that sneezes on the metro. If you do, they will be very confused and possibly even offended! haha. She is full of all this useful and funny information. She's also very theatrical and keeps our attention well, which is a feat during a 2 hour grammar review, eh?

We haven't really done too much tourist-y stuff, although being here for 10 months, I feel like I'll have plenty of time to see and do everything. I've really been trying to get acclimated... I end up tired and hungry at the end of every single day. I swear, no matter how much I eat I am always famished! Several people have been experiencing this too... we have no idea what's up. Also, these people eat all the time! And so well! And so much bread! How are they not fat??? I have seriously only seen like 2 people in this entire city that would be considered obese in America. How do the frenchies do it? I'm going to learn their secret and take it back home with me. Never you fear. Anyway... One of the tourist-y things that we did was a ride on the Seine on one of the Bateaux Mouches. Sam and I sat on the back of the boat where it was quieter and we could just enjoy the view. Although the day had started out very nice and temperate, it had gotten cold and a little bit rainy by this times, so we were huddled together in our scarves to keep warm. There are photos up on facebook that you can take a look at to see the beautiful monuments!
Today we got to play tourists again and a group of us went to the Musée d'Orsay to have a guided tour. This is one of my favorite museums because it houses a very limited time period of art (late 1800's to about 1915) with works from the end of the classical era, to realism, to impressionism, as well as expressionism. This period of art fascinates me, and I love getting to see the works that I've studied up close and personal. Moreover, I love understanding everything the guide was saying (in French) as well as being able to supplement this with my own knowledge of all the works. It's just a nice feeling, kinda like putting a face with a name. I have some pictures that I took of this up on facebook as well! Check them out and comment! I would love to know that people are looking at my stuff.

My family is wonderful. They are really so nice and patient with me. Sometimes when I can't understand things, I get down on myself... but then I realize that I've only been here 5 days; I'm not supposed to understand everything! I have so many days of learning ahead of me. I can't wait to improve more and more each day. I already feel like I've improved some! Last night I got to meet the 17 year old daughter, Margot, and we celebrated her acceptance to Sciences-Po, which is not an easy university to get in to. We had Champagne and then ate a special dinner. They are a very loving family, and I'm so happy that they're so warm and welcoming. Marion, the 10 year old, made meringue cookies for dessert that were delicious! I also got to try several different types of cheese, some of which were too strong for me, but I liked them all. This weekend I'm going with my family to their house in the country, they told me it's about 2 hours away, to watch them pick the grapes for champagne and relax. We're leaving saturday morning and coming back sunday at noon, so it's not a long visit, but a little get-away.

I have enjoyed learning how to find my way around the city so far! I'm not going to lie, I'm pretty proud of how well I've done. I mean... don't get me wrong, there's been a wrong turn or two, but all in all it's been pretty painless. Although the other day, in trying to get to Pont Neuf to meet for the bateaux mouches, sam and I walked in the wrong direction for quite a ways. It was an experience though. The metro has been super easy to learn to navigate. It's so crazy having public transportation that's easy and reliable and that everyone uses! I don't know what I'll do when I get back to Texas where everyone drives and even the bus system in non-existent. Or even New Orleans where the streetcars only run on one or two main streets... the metro here is my new best friend. As is the application that I have on my iPhone! I can put in any 2 stops I want to get to, and it gives me fail-proof instructions! (Thanks daddy!!).

Well, I think you're all caught up on the goings-on of the past few days! It's been a great experience so far without so much as a hard moment. I am very grateful for this :) and hope my lucky streak continues! It goes without saying that I miss you all, and I hope you're able to live a little vicariously through me and my blog posts! Leave me some love and go look at my pictures on facebook! It seemed a little redundant to put them on here too...
Oh! And if you have skype or iChat or anything and would like to chat with me, let me know what times are good for you. I'm making a bit of a schedule of when everyone is free. Keep in mind that I'm 7 hours ahead here (from central time) and I don't really stay up past midnight! I would love to talk with any of you though, and so far video chatting has worked really well. Let me know if you're interested!!

À bien tôt!

07 September 2009

Je suis là!

Well, I am finally here!! It hasn't really sunk in yet at all... I drive past Notre Dame and the Louvre and it feels totally surreal.

I landed in Paris from Amsterdam at about 10:45 on Sunday, and went straight to the hotel by taxi. I felt like I was absolutely escaping from the airport because NO ONE asked for my passport or anything! I did not pass through French customs. The whole way to the hotel in the taxi I was looking over my shoulder like someone was going to be following me... I felt like a fugitive. Haha. I figured out a little bit later (as I had already expected) that I passed through customs in Amsterdam, and you only have to pass through a European Union country once... and then you can travel among them. I still thought that they were going to deport me or something.. haha.

For our first day (after I literally had not slept for about 36 hours .... for some reason I could NOT sleep on the plane...) they put us on a 2 and a half hour bus tour through Paris from 4-6:30 PM..... Everyone was falling asleep! It was a little bit ridiculous. Afterwards I got to know some of the kids from the program better and we all went out to eat at the cafe. It was very comforting just to eat and talk and get to know everyone. There are about a billion students here from Duke, a bit less than a billion from Cornell, 7 from Emory, and 7 from Tulane. About 60 or 65 in all. After dinner I did not have the energy to go exploring, so I absolutely passed out.

This morning we had our first informational meeting, met the EDUCO staff, and got a bunch of important documents. The staff seems very nice and helpful. We talked about getting a pass for the metro and getting a cell phone. I'm going to be getting a year-long metro pass and a year long cell phone subscription. Most of the kids are only here for the semester, so they only have to get a rechargeable cell and metro pass... for us year-long kids, it makes more financial sense to get a resident's pass.

We took the metro to get to the EDUCO center for the first time today, and it is so easy! I'm excited to learn my way around. The weather has also been absolutely BEAUTIFUL so far. It's been about 76 and sunny and it hasn't even been too too cold at night. Even for a Texan/Louisianan like me! Although my host family gasped in shock when I told them it was almost 50 degrees celsius in Texas this summer!! haha.

Which brings me to my host family! I took a taxi to 31 rue chanez today (with the nicest cab driver ever... who asked me if I was from Paris!! *best compliment everrr*) and my 10 year old host sister came to great me! I lugged my 50+ lb suitcase up to the 2nd floor (and the 2nd floor in Europe is actually an American's 3rd floor, because they count the ground floor as zero...bleh) and I got situated in my room! It is so adorable. As soon as I get all of my things arranged I will post pictures! Marion (ma soeur) chatted with me while we hung up and folded my clothes. I absolutely love her!! She reminds me so much of Alexandra, the girl I tutored for 2 years in New Orleans. I also met my host mom and dad who are très très gentilles. They are both lawyers, and I think they work a lot, but they are so kind and funny and welcoming. They told me to treat the house as if it was my own. I also met my older host sister who is studying in New York's boy friend. He is very nice and helpful. He helped me look up stuff about my bank account and find my stop on the metro and he's offered to help with my cell phone. Apparently he hangs around the house (and I think is staying here for a while?) even when Morgan isn't here.

I feel like I'm writing too much and being boring, but I want to give y'all a taste of my 1st few days here! Oh, by the way, people from Duke and Cornell think Y'all is a hilarious word. I've forgotten that being southern can be a novelty, since it's totally not at Tulane!! I also taught Marion and Francois Xavier (Morgan's boyfriend who I'm supposed to call FX or "eff ixx") that y'all was the only real English equivalent (in one word) to the french "Vous". It just means y'all. That's actually what we were taught in Texas. Yep. Y'all was taught in the classroom haha.
My host mom says that some of the people in the neighborhood want to set up a group and a little work for me so that I can do some English tutoring with the enfants and I told her YES PLEASE! A little extra monnaie and a little teaching experience sounds formidable!

Well... I'm going to try to skype for the 1st time tonight, and if it works, I would love to set up some skype dates! With the subscription that I'm going to need to get with my phone, I also get some international calling/texting, so hopefully that will work out! My host fam also thinks that I get free international calling to house phones in America with their house phone, so if you have a home number you want me to call, let me know!!

Tomorrow I have another informational meeting and then our first refresher French class. We'll be in orientations every day for the next 2 weeks before classes start... I still can't believe I'm here!! Leave me some love on facebook because I'm definitely missing all of you! No matter how wonderful a time I'm having, home is always in the back of my head. Hope y'all have enjoyed my first French blog post!! Miss you and love you! Pictures to come soon!

04 September 2009

24 hours until lift-off

Leaving in 24 hours. Almost done packing? Not up to mom's standards I'm sure... haha. I've just photocopied every even minutely important piece of paper work so that I will have covered all of my bases. I've run all of my errands. I've crammed as much as I can into that poor suitcase...

I think I'm ready to go!! All there's left to do is check into my flight (Which it won't let me do until exactly 3:05 today grrrr) and throw together the odds and ends!

Wish me luck! :D hopefully I'll have pics to post soon.