A Travellerspoint blog

Fete des Lumieres

No, not that candle stick from beauty and the beast...

snow -2 °C

As I walk down the cobblestone street by the Rhone river, blue lights flash peacefully at me from the water. They float there and bob against the flow of the current, silently glistening a calm blue in alternating interludes. The glowing lights are not the most intricate display of lights I’ve seen. They are in no real formation and their task is simple. Yet as I walk linked arm and arm with my friends, singing random English songs and laughing as we stop to teach each other dances, the lights provide a soothing yet wondrous background to a lovely evening. They are beautiful in their own simplistic way and the combination of the atmosphere they provide plus the enjoyable company gives me that happy- to- be-alive, storybook type feeling which I adore.

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This is my introduction to the Fete Des Lumieres; walking down the banks of the Rhone River to have a drink with some other language assistants on a slightly chilly December evening. The Fete des Lumieres is a city wide festival of lights which takes place every year in Lyon, France. Each arrondisment (or neighboorhood I guess we would say in English) is decorated with assorted light displays. Some neighborhoods have rows of colorful flowers lining the streets, while others have huge light shows displayed on ancient churches. There is a little green Michelin man hanging from the “mini Eiffel Tower” on the hill and the Ferris wheel in the Place de Bellecoeur can be seen from any high point in town. Thousands of people wander through the streets with maps of Lyon in their cold chapped hands, trying to find the attractions in each area. My friends and I spent hours wandering around Lyon trying to discover all of the attractions, and I must say we did a pretty good job. If I walked over 10 miles that night alone, I would not be surprised one bit.
fetes de lumieres view of the city

fetes de lumieres view of the city


Street lights

Street lights

As you walk around looking at the glowing purple cathedral high upon the hill and listening to random bands as they start playing in the street, you are greeted by the overwhelming smell of fresh made food from the stands lining the street. Each stand offers basically the same wonderful choices: crêpes made right before your eyes, Gauffres (basically waffles covered with nutella or jam), vin chaud (amazing spiced hot wine) and kebab (kind of like chicken shawma or spiced chicken inside of a piece of pita bread with fries on top). The feeling is almost magical as you walk around in this setting, with lights over your head, a cup of hot wine in your hands and friends at your side. We wandered around for a while and then headed back to Isabelle’s place for the night. Paty’s (one of my roomies) friend Isabella was incredibly nice and let Sivlia and I stay at her place for the weekend so we could fully appreciate the fete. We made the long journey back to her apartment on foot as to avoid the crazy jam packed metro. (The city of Lyon courteously makes transportation free for the Fete des Lumieres, however the metro workers were on strike that day. So take thousands of people wanting to use the metro and subtract the normal amount of metro times by 5 and that equals a very packed, uncomfortable free metro ride. No thank you, I’d much rather soak up the atmosphere of the lights a bit longer and walk back to the apartment. )
cool trees at la fete des lumieres

cool trees at la fete des lumieres

Another amazing part of the weekend was the Christmas market. Christmas markets seem to be fairly common in Europe however I have yet to see many of them in the U.S. The Christmas market consists of a bunch of wooden stands full of wonderful delights which are for sale. You can get rid of all of those heavy euros in your pocket by purchasing little wooden toys, jars of homemade fois gras or jam, vibrant Mediterranean looking ceramic plates or some warm food and drink to keep the winter chill at bay. Familiar Christmas songs filled the air as we walked from stall to stall looking at the different items for purchase. The crowds of people did indeed become a bit irritating but with the music, food, laugher and warm atmosphere our irritation faded before the last line of “Jingle Bells” rang out from the loud speakers. (or maybe it wasn’t the atmosphere that erased our irritation as much as the warm wine….)
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I left Lyon on Sunday afternoon feeling in the Christmas spirit and ready for the holidays to begin. In other words I got back to Roanne, cranked up Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You” and started to remember why I love this season.
Vin Chaud and a Bretzel sucré

Vin Chaud and a Bretzel sucré

Posted by jauntypag 08:02 Archived in France Tagged events Comments (0)

The Ellis Island Experience

medical visit in Lyon

overcast 5 °C

To legally stay in France as an assistant I had to go for a medical examination in Lyon for the day on Thursday. Since all non European assistants have to do this, I was fortunate enough to have Paty with me to help navigate the streets of Lyon. After a good 45 mins, we discovered the immigrant dr. office on a little street in Lyon. As we waited for it to open, we stood outside with about 30 other foreigners all waiting to get the “Ok” from the doctor so that they could stay in France.

It was weird to think that I was foreigner in the country, and technically an immigrant. I don’t plan on living here forever, but living here for over 4 months makes me an immigrant to the French Government. Besides the fact that there were 30 of us instead of 30 thousand, and the fact that we were on a little side street in Lyon instead of an overcrowded Island in New York, I imagine that in some ways it was the same as those early days on Ellis Island in New York. Everyone standing there looking kind of worried, people discussing things in a multitude of languages none of which you could identify, trying to stay away from the large Portuguese man with the scary sounding cough and everyone hoping that the appoint goes well. Thank goodness I wasn’t sent to the infectious disease unit or told to get back on the boat to the US. Once we went in everything went smoothly. The doctors I saw spoke rapidly and seemed kind of rushed, but they gave me the stamp on my passport I need to stay here.

While sitting in the waiting room I looked around at the other people sitting next to me. The ones who smiled at me when I smiled back were Americans, a very easy nationality to spot because of this trademark characteristic. (French people usually don’t smile back at you if you smile at them. Not because they are rude, it’s just not in their customs as I’ve seen so far). Anyways it was nice to chat with some other Americans and talk about our experiences here so far! It seems like many of them are paying the big bucks to go back to the states to visit family for the holidays instead of staying in France. This made me a bit sad but then I realized that a ticket home would cost more than my rent for the ENTIRE time I am here! And luckily mom and Emily will soon be in La France for a visit!!

Besides discovering other assistants, I also discovered at the dr. office that I have lost weight since being here. How, I am not really sure since I am constantly eating despite what my roommates say. (They both told me that I don’t eat enough.) Kind of excited about the weight loss except for the fact that this means I have to find new pants here, a task which I have found very difficult. Unless I want to buy skin tight jeans, finding pants is a bit tricky. I am kind of in between sizes and there are not many varieties of jeans to choose from. I plan to search for pants, a new coat and other clothing items tomorrow. Final interesting point of the Dr. appt, Paty and I had to get an x-ray of our lungs. I have never had this done before and felt a little bit odd doing it, but after wards it was kind of cool to see the results. We compared them and although Paty is way smaller than me, our lungs look the same on the e-ray. Go figure. I taped Paty’s x-ray on her door where it can be found right at this moment.

Some little things I’ve noticed recently:
• I have no idea where the idea of French people being impolite came from. Saying this general statement is like saying all Americans wear cowboy boots and can’t go a day without eating a hamburger. The French people I have met here have been beyond nice to me. They have one on one French session with me so I can practice, French friends come to pick us up from the apartment when we go out so we don’t have to walk through town, an English teacher I don’t even work with told me I can come stay at her house for the evening so I can travel around the region she lives in as well as finding me a place to say in Dijon, and the list goes on…. Who ever made up this “the French are rude” stereotype obviously never really talked to a French person before.

• Eating things like mussels for lunch in the lunch room is not odd. When I saw them on my plate next to the fish, I was shocked. I figured that you would only eat mussels in a fancy restaurant, yet when I commented on it no one thought it was odd. They only thought that I was odd for staring at my plate in amazement.

• Sticking with the above statement, I often eat foods here that I am completely unfamiliar with. I first try to figure out what it is, taste it then ask what the name of it is in French. If I still can’t figure it out I usually eat it anyways, just hoping that I am not eating duck feet or earth worm nose hairs.

• French students don’t find it super weird that they don’t get out of school until 7pm sometimes. They do find it crazy that school in the U.S ends at 2:30. (They ask “but what do the students do after school?)

• French people decorate their places for Christmas too! I have walked by some apartment balconies which are totally decked out in lights! It reminds me of being home!
• I find it scary that I know my way around Lyon, the second biggest city in France, even though I’ve only been there a couple of times. For the Fete des Lumieres (which will be discussed in the next blog). I knew where we were about 95% of the time. Not too bad…

• I’m speaking French in my sleep. This weekend in Lyon, we all slept in the living room. So when I began to introduce myself to some random person in my dream in French, my friends could hear and understand what I said! We proceeded to talk about this the next day. I’m taking this as a good sign though!

Posted by jauntypag 15:40 Archived in France Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

A Very French Thanksgiving

(and Adventures in the French Countryside)

overcast

I truly do need to start updating this every day since so many things happen, yet finding the time to actually sit down and write for a decent amount of time is difficult. Therefore, I apologize for the long entries! I do hope that you enjoy them however!

Skipping Thanksgiving was not an option this year. After having my roommates cook traditional meals from their countries, I knew without a doubt that I must make them Thanksgiving dinner. What kind of American would I be without introducing them to the day where we stuff ourselves full of food and watch football? I therefore began to search the supermarkets to find necessary ingredients for my Thanksgiving meal. Come to find out, Roanne is small (duh!) and does not have many of the things I needed for Thanksgiving. Example: I could not find turkey for the life of me. The butcher probably recognizes me now since I always went to the meat section straight away to search for this Thanksgiving essential. I wound up getting turkey breasts instead of the whole bird, which is probally better anyways. I also had difficulty finding gravy, cranberry sauce and of course pumpkin pie mix since they only eat pumpkins as part of a main meal. My loving mother however helped out on that one and sent me a Thanksgiving care package complete with pumpkin pie spice, French’s onion rings for green bean casserole and even a cut out Turkey to put on the table! I was a bit nervous to prepare all of this food for the assistants and worried that I would destroy their image of Thanksgiving, but it all turned out well! Nothing burned, the food tasted pretty good and everything was ready ON TIME! (ok, so maybe that last part isn’t realistic of an American Thanksgiving, because you all know that dinner is never ready on time!) The only thing which I was a bit disappointed in was my little pumpkin pie bites. Since I couldn’t make pumpkin pie, I made pumpkin pie cheese cake (aka plain cheesecake sprinkled with pumpkin pie seasoning.) At first the cheese cake didn’t stick to the crust, so it kind of looked like mashed potatoes sitting on crushed gram crackers. Yet after 2 hours in the fridge they were ok and the girls seemed to like them! It was actually really cool to share and explain this holiday to my friends here and introduce them to some new food as well! I also realized how difficult it is to explain the origins of Thanksgiving in French. Go figure that I never learned how to say “Pilgrims” and “Native Americans” in my French classes. To go along with tradition, we all ate too much and then sat around and talked for a while about how stuffed we were. Sitting there around the table with friends, sharing food and thinking about my family at home made me think about things I am thankful for, like having this opportunity to broaden my horizons and teach others about my own culture. I’d say it was one of my favorite Thanksgivings!
The assistant's first Thanksgiving!

The assistant's first Thanksgiving!

Lots to tell from this weekend, but I’ll condense it for you so you are not reading 50 pages worth of detail.

Friday was Silvia’s birthday so we had dinner at our place with Nastaja and Gulia, complete with yummy French treats for dessert! Silvia insisted on making dinner since I made all the Thanksgiving food the day before, so again we ate way too much. We then met up with some friends at a bar in Roanne for some drinks. Saturday Nastaja and I decided to go explore a little town close to Roanne called Charlieu. The bus ride there only cost 2 Euro, so we figure it would be a cheap trip and a good chance to go exploring! We discovered that although Charlieu is pretty, it is indeed quite small. So we walked around most of the day looking at the little stores and chatting. We met a nice lady in the office of tourism who was completely thrilled that I was from the U.S and instantly switched to English to speak with us. The point of interest in Charlieu is the abbey which was built in 875 by Benedictine monks. Visitors can walk through and see where the monks lived and look at the ruins of the old church which used to be there. It was very cool to see a place which was so old!
Abbey in Charlieu

Abbey in Charlieu

Today Giselle, one of the teachers who Silvia works with, invited us to go hiking with her and a friend. She picked us up at 9am and took us out into the country side where she lives to pick up her husband, dogs and friend who were to accompany us. Jean-Paul, Giselle’s husband drove us out to the bottom of one of the hills and we started our trek. The country side is exactly what you see in the pictures, rolling hills, tiny little farms with cows grazing under the hazy grey sky. The tiny little calves who were leisurely lying next to their mothers stared openly at us as we passed. They had large, orange circular number tags hanging from their ears which made them look as if they were trying to be chic by wearing earrings. Even the cows here are more fashionable than me! We hiked for about 2 ½ hours, stopping randomly for a coffee or water break. At one point we came upon some hunters who were hunting in the woods for wild boar. (I had no idea that there are wild boar in this region!) They told us that we were trespassing and the large shot guns they were holding looked pretty intimidating. However the trail was clearly marked as a hiking trail and about 10 seconds after they told us we couldn’t be on the trail a horn sounded which signaled to the hunters that the hunt was finished! We therefore continued down the rocky trail and I tried not to fall on the rocks which were hidden by the leaves. After our hike, we headed back to Giselle’s house and had an enormous meal. French meals are always enormous, so my weekend of eating continued. In French meals, there is always an appetizer (Today it was endives with walnuts and walnut oil) a main meal (roast pork with mashed potatoes and pumpkin) which is followed by cheese (there were 5 kinds and Giselle insisted we try them all) then dessert (an AMAZING tarte aux pommes, AKA French apple pie) and then tea or coffee. No wonder I haven’t lost much weight here!
Hiking in La Cote Roannais

Hiking in La Cote Roannais

Needless to say, it was a very entertaining yet very tiring weekend. Great people, Great (and too much) food and decently good weather! The weekends pass so quickly here! Back to classes tomorrow!

Posted by jauntypag 13:45 Archived in France Tagged educational Comments (2)

A PLAYful weekend

semi-overcast

Roanne Theatre

Roanne Theatre

The play was a hit! I am absolutely stunned that 3 groups of high school students, who all came from different countries and spoke different languages were able to work together to create an improv play in only 4 days! Of course they did have help from a professional actor and many teachers, but still I find this quite amazing! I am very glad that I had the opportunity to help out because I really got a behind the scenes chance to see how each part of the play developed. Some of the students absolutely astounded me with their acting ability. Example: one student was performing a scene where she had to run up to this guy whom she liked and start reading him a poem. This girl who usually is quiet throughout class had no problem dramatically reading this poem to this guy whom she barely known. Suddenly the professional actor whom was directing the scene told them to stop and asked the girl if she sang. When she said yes, the actor told her to start singing the Edith Piaf song “Non, je ne regrette rien” to this other guy. And she did, perfectly, like it was a normal part of the scene! I was stunned.

The international students brought a ton of new cultural aspects into the play which I never would have expected. The Turkish students for example preformed a Turkish wedding scene during the play, complete with costumes and music. The night of the performance the Turkish members of the audience went absolutely bonkers when they heard the music introducing this scene. (Apparently there is a decently large Turkish community here). They sang along as the students sung the wedding songs and bopped around in their seats when they were dancing. Some of the German and French students wore the costumes during the piece which must have been a really interesting experience for them! I wish that I could do a program like this with my future students in the U.S yet however 1) the Comenius program is based in Europe and 2) it would be incredibly expensive to fly students over to Europe to perform a play. However the idea is amazing! I also spoke with the actor who put all of the play together and worked with the students about other theater opportunities in Roanne. He said that he has a work shop on Friday evenings for adults and that he will be creating a play in June. Obviously I won’t be here for the play, but I think I am going to go and check out the workshop. Although I know it will be really difficult and I will be petrified beyond belief, but I am going to try it out. It would be a great way to meet more people and to practice my French ! Plus I have to say, being in the theatre again made me miss it more then I imagined it would. Hearing people rehearse lines, sitting in the audience for tech rehearsal and watching the emotion of each actor brought me back to those plays in highschool… sigh..
Students in Turksih costumes

Students in Turksih costumes


Turkish Wedding, bride and groom

Turkish Wedding, bride and groom

In other news, I made barbeque chicken wings for the roomies this weekend! They turned out pretty good if I do say so myself. I did however manage to spill barbeque sauce all over myself and the floor while cooking, so that was slightly problematic. I also had a problem with the oven when I was making the French fries, however I found out today that it was not my fault. The oven was not working properly because one piece was not attached the right way, which actually could have ended up being slightly dangerous. Thank goodness that the maintenance people at the school are ridiculously friendly and are always coming to fix things for us! I wish I could say the same thing about the people from Orange (our telephone company). We have to go back to see them again tomorrow because they charged us over 200 euros for our past phone bill when it was only supposed to be 50 euros….

Lets get back to food for a moment. This Thursday I am going to make Thanksgiving dinner for the assistants here! Although I could not find a whole Turkey, I found pieces of Turkey breast which I am going to try and prepare. My awesome mom is sending me a care package full of things I cannot find here, like packets of gravy, stuffing and those crunchy onions that you put on top of green bean casserole! Now that the oven is fixed, I am hoping that my dinner will work out properly! I must say it is weird preparing for the holidays in a foreign land without my family around me. It almost feels like Christmas won’t come this year although there are already decorations in town. There are no people preparing to shop at 2 am on black Friday. No one is going to lay on the couch and watch football all day on Thursday after gorging themselves with Turkey and that little chill in the air that lets you know that Winter is coming is not around. (Although when we were out the other night one of my friends said that it was getting chilly and might snow. I looked at her in astonishment and said “Chilly? Oh, there is no way that we will get snow now, this isn’t even cold!” That’s what growing up in Michigan will do for you!) You get used to doing things the same way year after year, with the same people and suddenly it is not the same anymore. I am very excited to introduce everyone to Thanksgiving here, but of course I’ll be missing everyone at home as well! Just because I’m across the sea doesn’t mean I am not thinking of you all… :)

Posted by jauntypag 14:25 Archived in France Tagged events Comments (1)

Dining in France; Mussels, Lamb Brains and Crème Brûlée

This one is for you Sophia

sunny

If you have been anticipating the intimate details of what a French dining experience is like, look no further! After my experience at a French restaurant last night, it would be quite unfair of me not to share my experience with you all.

My advisor and head of the Comenius Theater project which I have been working with for the past couple of weeks, invited me to eat dinner with him and the international teachers who are here working on the play with their students. The 12 of us met at a quaint restaurant close to the school and started the evening off with aperitifs (drinks). I decided on a black berry Kir, which is a bit like wine and juice mixed together. As we said “cheers” in French, German, Turkish and English I made sure to look everyone in the eye to avoid the “bad luck” which would come to me if I did not…

The next task was deciding what to order. I could understand most of the terms on the menu but some items I was not familiar with. The French teachers around me gladly helped to describe the different words on the menu which I did not understand. Everyone decided to get a “menu” which is basically a complete meal. It includes an appetizer, an entrée, cheese, and a dessert. In other words, you get a ton of food! I decided that I needed to be a bit daring and try some things I have never tried before, so I chose the mussel soup as my appetizer. During my travels abroad I have always wanted to try mussels, yet I never wanted to pay 20 euros for a bucket full of them and end up not liking them. I figured that since the restaurant was so nice, I had a pretty good chance of liking my soup and if not then I knew I had other food coming soon after! So I had the creamy mussel soup and really enjoyed it! The millions of chopped up veggies in it went nicely with the mussels which were not as chewy as I thought they would be.

Earlier in the evening, I had asked another teacher about a specific item on the menu. Although I knew the two words separately, I somehow did not understand that “cervelles d’agneau” was lamb brains and I almost ordered an entire plate of them. I was slightly interested in how they would taste and to my surprise one of the other teachers happened to order a salad with “cervelles d’agneau” mixed into it as an appetizer. She was extremely kind and immediately offered me some so I could try it. It’s kind of odd to describe. The herbs on it tasted good, but the texture was a bit mushy. Not bad, but it would not be my first choice of a meal. Another teacher told me that she hated lamb brains and “had never tasted anything so revolting in my entire life!” I explained that most Americans would be extremely grossed out if they saw brains of any assortment at a restaurant. Apparently some people believe that if you eat brains, it will make you smarter! (I found that kind of ironic but I suppose it makes sense.) Talk about cultural differences… Instead of the brains, I decided to get a type of chicken which was surrounded by mushrooms from the woods along with lardons (which are kind of like bacon). Simply put, it was amazing!! All of the entrees came with a side of veggies which included pea pods, mashed potatoes with ham mixed in and a strange mashed potato like orangy substance. After again asking the teachers and having everyone taste it, they decided that it was a type of pumpkin purée mixed with carrots. It had a very mild pumpkin taste and didn’t resemble pumpkin at all except for the orange coloring.

After the main meal (and when I was getting to the point of being extremely full) out came the fromage blanc, French cottage cheese, except this cheese is not all mushed up into little parts. It comes in a little circle after which you add sugar and cream to it. Then finally came dessert. Although I have had it before, I felt like I could not miss the opportunity to eat crème brûlée again and it was definitely a wise decision. The dessert was just like I had it in Paris, a creamy vanilla pudding on the bottom topped with a sugary crunchy top layer. Really so incredible. If I could make it for you when I get back I would, however I happen to know that it is difficult to make without burning the top layer! Maybe I’ll just bring a French chef back with me to make it for you instead 

We got to the restaurant at 8:30pm. We left close to 12:30am. I told you before that dining in France was different, looks like I wasn’t kidding, eh? I know what you must be thinking “Yeah you had a lot to eat, but how on earth did you spend 4 hours in a restaurant?” It is not just the food in France which makes the experience different, but it is eating in general. Everyone talked, we drank wine, I learned about the different types of wine glasses and how to tell the difference between a red wine glass vs a white wine glass. I talked with the principal of the school about all the different places she has lived and the differences between U.S and French school systems. The French enjoy their meals and take time to really taste the food instead of rushing to eat it all and move on with the day. I think any waiter in the U.S would be sending evil glares in your direction if you remained in a restaurant for over 2 hours; however our waiter was very kind and didn’t seem to notice that we had occupied so much of his time. At the end of the evening, everyone was contently full yet obviously tired from the day. We said goodnight and I got a ride back to the school from the principal who also lives there. (This is another thing I learned, principals in France are required to live at the school! She told me however that her apartment was way nicer than mine and she actually likes living there!)I most definitely enjoyed my French dining experience and it was great to practice my French while dining on authentic food.
Next on the food agenda:
Thanks giving dinner for my roomies
Trying Frog’s legs and escargot (when in France…..)

Posted by jauntypag 14:26 Archived in France Tagged food Comments (0)

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