Bienvenue à Rouen

A few weeks ago a friend asked if I wanted to visit Rouen- pourquoi pas? I replied. Train tickets were cheap and it would be fun to visit another French city. I had NO idea what was in store. All I knew was that Katherine had found us a place to crash on a ‘couchsurfing’ website.

Nathan (our other friend) and I boarded the train at St. Lazare on Friday afternoon. French countryside flashed by, the sun slowly set along the horizon, and BAM we were already in Rouen. Met Katherine there (she had taken and earlier train) and we walked through the town to the apartment where we would be ‘couchsurfing’.

Prête à manger!

Our host, Jeremy, was SUPER nice and cooked us a leek quiche and an apple tart. Plus salad and bread, bien sur. He works as a local cook so it was super delish. We enjoyed getting to know him and swapping English and French slang words and pop culture. Jeremy also drove us to a local look-out ‘panorama’ point on a hill where you can see the whole city. Very pretty!

Next morning we woke up très tot at 7:30 in order to meet Katherine’s family friends who were driving us to Mont St. Michel, an incredible tidal island in Normandy. It had the potential to be awkward- Katherine had never met these family friends and Nathan and I were total strangers- but it was a lovely day! We spent the 3 hour car ride talking with Brigitte and Dominique (but also sleeping!) Unfortunately there was a TON of fog so we couldn’t really see out into the countryside as we drove.

We arrived around lunchtime so decided to grab some déj before climbing the Mont St. Michel. Decided upon the very toursity but delicious “La Mère Poulard”. Grâce à Wikipedia:

“The restaurant dates back to 1879, and is known for the wall of autographs from over a century of famous diners, including Ernest Hemingway and Yves Saint-Laurent. Most famous for its speciality giant omelettes: several inches thick, made in hand hammered copper bowls, and cooked over an open fire.[2] The omelettes resemble a soufflé more than a traditional omelette.”

About to become egg-cellent omelettes

It was BEYOND AMAZING. I was stuffed to the gills after feasting on the vegetarian starter plate, the omelette, and then a chocolate tasting plate for dessert. Noms. Also: very tasty local cider from Normandy. NB: Almost all cider in France is hard, sparkling cider! Not your average apple juice upgrade that’s appropriate for elementary schoolers.

Next, we mounted the Mont. There were tourists absolutely everywhere even though it was such a crappy day. Nevertheless, I loved checking out all the churches and little nooks and crannies within the buildings. Very cool place, and beautiful view despite the fog.

Mont St. Michel, et crazy amounts of fog

Fog fog fogg

All the while, Katherine, Nathan and I were trying to figure out whether we had been invited to dinner by Brigitte and Dominique. They had been using the pronoun ‘on’ to talk about their dinner plans, and it was unclear whether ‘on’ refered to just them two or to the whole group of us. Confusion/awkwardness! We finally figured it out (the answer was no!) and happily joined our couchsurfing host Jeremy for dinner at his friend’s house. Super random, super nice of him to invite us along. The three of us, Jeremy, his friend Thibault, and Thibault’s two nephews  nommed on fajitas.

They invited us to join them to go LAZER TAGGING. 10 PM on a Saturday night and what were we up to? Playing lazer tag in Normandy with a 10 yr old, a 14 yr old, and two 26 year olds. I had never played (and was absolutely horrible.) Some employee at the place went through the instructions and I put on my litte vest-thing. The game began and we were all running around this weird little black maze with flashing flourescent lights. While some of the players were stealthily hiding behind columns, I was pretty much running amock like a chicken with its head cut off…. haha. Our team lost 😦 And Katherine, Nathan, and I placed in the last three slots out of all twenty players. Good work, Amuuurika. We walked the nephews back, got a drink at a local bar called “Les Uns Les Autres”- like the movie- and then headed home for some good ole American pillow talk before bed.

Like any decent French young people, we slept in on Sunday. Jeremy and his girlfriend took us to the local market. It was a bustling place! Antiques, fruits, veggies, cheese, meats, cider, jams, books, clothes, there was everything under the sun there. We picked up some cider, camembert (Normandy’s specialty), sausage, bread, and veggies and brought it back to the apartment to nom picnic-style with a salad dressing that Jeremy whipped up.

Market in Rouen

All in all, a VERY solid weekend. Good looks, Rouen. Now back in Paris! I just discovered this video on YouTube- a mashup of the song “N*ggas in Paris” by Kanye West, with scences from the Woody Allen movie, “Midnight in Paris.” So much Paris, so much win.

-A

Hi-Five (weekly recap)

Looking like a BAMF as per usual

1. Monday: met up with Sarah and her boyfriend for a cup of coffee. He rides a scooter (I’M OBSESSED) and let me wear his helmet (la casque) around. I looked like a fool but I felt like a BAMF. Priorities.
2. Monday night: my program organized a wine tasting (un dégustation de vins). Honhonhooon (stereotypical French pretentious noise that nobody actually ever makes). Everyone arrived and sat down at this large and in charge wooden table in this cave-like room at the bottom of ÔCHATEAU. A young (and cute) employee named Guillaume led us through the tasting, right after two modelesque women dressed in black brought us these AMAZING places of sausages and cheese (Cantal, Comté, Sainte Maure de Touraine, Camembert de Normandie, Saint Félicien.) And duh, of course woven baskets heaping with fresh pain.

Anyway, the tasting began with champagne. Super light and bubbly and délicieux. Myth has it that the monk who first tasted champagne said “Come quick! I’m drinking stars!” Nice quote even if the monk did not actually invent the first sparkling wine. Next up: two white wines. One from the Loire and the other from Bourgogne. We learned out the evalute them based on look, smell, and taste. Proud to say I can swirl a wine glass like I mean it now. Next up: two reds. One from Bordeaux (world’s major wine industry capitol) and Rhône. Yum. All of the wines were quite expensive- not exactly in a student budget- aka all the more reason to savor the experience.

3. Tuesday: Celebrated a friend’s 21st birthday! A little bit anti-climatic because the drinking age here is 16 for beer, 18 for hard liquor. But a birthday is a birthday! We celebrated with class.

4. Wednesday: Another birthday! My Dutch friend from my philosophy class, who was turning 23, invited me to join her friends for an informal morning get together at a coffeeshop called Les Pères Populaires. She is an Erasmus student so she has a ton of international friends in her program. I met a German girl, an Italian guy, a guy from Belgium, a girl from Argentina, and another girl from Italy. We all spoke French to one another! Very cool experience. We sang happy birthday in French but then went around the table and each sang in our own languages. Ha.

5. Wednesday night- had that amazingly awesome dinner of cheese. Already wrote blog post about it HERE.

Stay tuned for an update on my excellent weekend adventure couchsurfing in Rouen!

-A

Legen-DAIRY

“Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage?” (“How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?”) – Charles de Gaulle

CHEESE. FROMAGE.

It is taking over my life. In the best ways possible. Basically every meal. All day, every day… casual. Hey- there’s some calcium in there, right?

Strolling through the cheese aisle in Parisian grocery stores is definitely a lactose intolerant person’s worst nightmare- hard cheeses, soft cheeses, blue cheeses, shredded cheeses, unpronouncable cheeses. And all this in just a regular grocery store! Don’t even get me started on the wonderful open air markets full of fresh farm cheeses.

Also, unpasturized cheese is legal in France, unlike in the US. I’m not quite sure how risky consuming unpasturized products can be, but the camembert I had was super delish and I still seem to be alive and kicking, so all’s well.

This cheestastic post inspired by my dinner last night.

Kids are on vacation this week, host parents were working late. Host brother, two female cousins, and I chowed down on “raclette”- a type of cheese from the Swiss Alps that is prepared in an interesting manner. A goofy looking machine has an interior for each person’s little cheese shovel thing. You place a piece of raclette cheese in your shovel, stick it in the machine, and twiddle your thumbs until it melts (approx. 1 min) Then you pour the gooey mess onto whatever pleases you. We put ours on top of potatoes and ham slices.

I also made baked brie for friends last week. Melted brie and cherry jam sandwiched in between buttery pastry goodness. Recipe found here: http://joythebaker.com/2011/12/bite-sized-baked-brie/

Also sucessfully made a chèvre and apple panini for myself. NOM.

And the best part of cheese in France? It’s fairly inexpensive! A round of decent chèvre is under 2 euro. That’s basically the price of A SINGLE Ladurée macaroon (1.70- quite the luxe price for one cookie.)

Latest and greatest cheese discoveries have been neufchatel (soft cow’s milk cheese) and cantal (pressured aged cheese.)

-A

A rugby/brunch kind of weekend

Here’s the super impressive STADE FRANCE. Cara, Anna, and I spent a somewhat cloudy Saturday afternoon at the Paris v. Toulon rugby game. Even though we didn’t know all of the rules, we loved being part of the huuuge crowd cheering for Paris. Every time the home team scored, the crowd would go wild and wave these pink flags. Real men wear pink, right? There were three women sitting near us who were loudly cheering for the other team, and they were jokingly heckling these little boys in front of us- it was very entertaining.

There was a guy with a drum near the field who tapped out a typical sports cheer beat (dun dun dundundun, dun dun dun dun…) and then everyone would yell PAR-EE, except for the three women who yelled TOU-LON. At the end of the game, they said “À la prochaine!” to us, which means “See you next time!”

I hadn’t really bought into the whole “Paris is beautiful in the rain” idea until this past Saturday night. Went for a loong walk in the drizzle, around Place D’italie. The rain isn’t heavy enough to be annoying, but the moisture makes the city lights glow just a little bit more mysteriously, and the puddles on the streets reflect the old architecture with a fairytale-like shimmer. After traipsing around, our group sat at a cafe, ordered a boisson chaud, and watched the people of Paris meander along the boulevards. I tried my first vin chaud- mulled/warmed wine with a piece of orange, served in a glass mug. Not exactly my favorite, but perhaps it’s an acquired taste! You’re supposed to add sugar and cinnamon, so maybe I got that part wrong.

On Sunday I brunched it up with the best of them- Sarah and her friend Eliza. We met up in Monmartre. Here’s me and Sarah in front of a wall decorated with “I love you” in different languages. We spent the beautiful sunny day walking around the cobblestone streets, and then sitting and gorging ourselves at MILK (Mum in Her Little Kitchen), a cute hole-in-the-wall café.  OJ, fromange blanc, omlette-things, salad, tartines with jam and nutella, chocolat chaud, and dessert. YUM.

Brunch convo included a lesson in french slang/useful expressions. Some of my favorites (and ones that are blog-appropriate!)

glander- to chill out

bouffer- to eat (Or, you can say, “je peux manger un boef, j’ai trop faim”- “I could eat a cow, I’m so hungry”

se faire plaquer- to be dumped

chacun sa merde- whatever floats your boat

-A

Thursday: Macaroon workshop

Macaroon demonstration

It wasn’t love at first bite for me and macaroons. I must confess, I am a chocolate girl at heart and delicate flakey macaroons in crazy flavors wasn’t exactly my jam. Nevertheless, I was SUPER PUMPED to participate in a macaroon workshop at “L’École de Boulangerie et de Pâtisserie de Paris.” Instead of going to high school (le lycée), some students opt to take classes at this special school. SO COOL. We got to peek into the bakeries and see the students rolling out baguettes and taking some artisanal loaves out of an oven. Special treat: our guide/chef broke open a multigrain loaf and gave everyone a taste. mmmm!

Making the macaroons was relatively simple. Ingredients include egg whites, sugar, almond flour. The trick is to whip the egg whites just enough so that the consistency allows the macaroons to have little domes when baked. Once the batter is whipped, we piped it onto a baking sheet with a pastry bag. Popped those babies into the oven, and 10-15 mins later they came out looking beautiful. Afterward, we used white chocolate ganache filling to make the little macaroon sandwiches.

YUMM

After learning how macaroons are made and trying my hand at it, I definitely appreciate them more. Taking a bite is like sinking your teeth into a delicious fluffy cloud filled with sugary goodness. The sweet sugar hits first, and then the subtle flavor (I’ve tried chocolate, cafe, caramel, and other fruit flavors.) Plus, there’s a satisfying crackle as the shell of a fresh macaroon cookie breaks. Yum! Chocolate might still be my one true love, but I’ll definitely make room in my life for a macaroon affair or two. 😉

-A

gettin’ #studious

What I love: learning

What I don’t love: studying

Lucky for me, my life in Paris is heavy on the learning (experiential, mostly), light on the studying. Nevertheless, I am currently taking 4 classes.

1. Academic Writing: Taught in French to American students. Learning how to write a French ‘dissertation.’ It’s actually not all that different from types of academic/analytic writing that is common in American universities. Very dialectic, with an intro, developed body, and conclusion.

2. Le Mythe de Paris: Taught in French to American students. Class addresses why Americans romanticize paris, and whether these clichés and impressions are true. Basically an exploration of American pop culture regarding Paris! During the first class, we listened to part of the radio show “This American Life”. I looked up the transcript and pulled my favorite quote, from a woman who has lived in Paris for 5 years:

Why do you live in Paris? And I say, well, you know, I just sort of wanted to. All the reasons that you give sound really embarrassing, cliche, and ridiculous at this point. I mean, Paris is a stale dream. And it’s kind of like falling in love with the most obviously cute boy in the class, or like the star of this– or like a movie star. It’s like being a groupie. And then you try to convince the other 25 women who he slept with the last week, well, you know, I really love him, and I think he loves me, too.

HA!

3. La Diversité: Taught in French to American students and students from the prestigous university- Sciences Polytechniques. We discuss cultural differences and progress made towards ending discrimination in education, in the workplace, etc. Very interesting! Discussion based- which is intimidating with native French speakers! Also, we have visiting lecturers who talk about their academic studies on discrimination or affirmative action, etc.

4. Merleau-Ponty: Taught in French at Paris IV, a French university. I’ve only been to one class so far because it just started. I felt right at home when the professor started lecturing and I recognized philosophy terms, and names of well-known philosophers. The whole gang- Rawls, Wittgenstein, Camus, Sartre, Descartes. Thankfully the professor has a nice and slow lecture style with lots of reflective pauses- ideal for the non-native. I’m definitely not at a level where I can understand EVERYTHING- but crazy cool to be able to listen and comprehend like 90% of what’s going on.

Special mention to “Métiers de l’écrit”, a second class choice that I decided against taking. Prof talked a mile a minute and this French guy in the class told her to slow down! Woah.

-A