Archive for the ‘Crusaders’ Category

Penultimate Week Panic

Wednesday, December 31st, 1969

Time is boiling down, and drop by tiny drop, everything is splashing into place for my adventure abroad. With less than two weeks left until departure, I made my second journey into Washington, DC to obtain my visa. After an anxious forty minutes of traffic and congestion, I parked my car in front of the French consulate, and I attempted to brush aside any disconcerted notions about the tow truck on the opposite side of the street.

The Embassy approved my visa a few weeks ago, and now I had come to pick it up. After a short wait that seemed like hours, they returned my passport, and I zoomed off. Suddenly, the stressful burden perched on my shoulder shifted its weight, and I can say that I now breathe easier. Unfortunately, I still have to obtain a notarized French translation of my birth certificate. Anyone have any ideas? I will let you know how that goes…

With logistical paperwork for the most part out of the way, only one task remains: packing. Some of my friends may be inclined to say that I have a mild clothing problem. (Case in point: I may or may not have jerry-rigged the bed in my dorm room this past year to hang up clothes underneath it.) This being said, I have enlisted the help of one of my fellow Crusaders to help me out.

Fresh from flying in from Franklin, Massachusetts, my friend Michelle graciously agreed to lend a hand with filling the limited baggage I’m allowed. I picked her up from the airport around noon, and we dove right into the ocean that is my closet. And it is a good thing because I’m starting to worry. With only twelve days remaining, my frenetic, panic-prone predisposition is starting to kick in. I hope it all fits, and I hope I have enough clothes. At this point, I’m just glad I don’t have to swim the Atlantic with my luggage on a raft behind me. That would just be more preparation I do not have time for.

Mont Saint Michel

Wednesday, December 31st, 1969

It’s going well! Class is actually pretty amusing, and my teacher is tough but interesting and very helpful. I’m beginning to notice improvements in my speaking ability. Of course, I’m also beginning to notice how nuanced all the different sounds in French are. Oops. So Tours in French isn’t pronounced like tours in English? Okay. There’s a difference in the sound between la rue and la roue? Okay. I’ve commenced serious work on my vowel sounds.

Life at L’Institut is not all work and no play though. Thursday, we took a trip in the afternoon to see Chanonceau, at chateau in the Loire valley and we also toured a winery. Despite a voluble tour guide and the entire world visiting the castle at the same time as we did, the Crusaders had fun and learned a lot too. Anne de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici built the chateau on a bridge over the Loire, a construction idea I had never seen before. But with all this excursion excitement, I most looked forward to Mont St. Michel on Saturday. An enthusiastic art history major, I had heard so much about the magnificent church precipitously perched atop a small mountain surrounded by the foaming ocean. Now, I finally had a chance to see it.

Waking up before the sun, I boarded the bus and tried to sleep for some of the four-hour bus ride. And without question, the end result was worth my stiff neck and burning eyes. After eating the picnic my French dad packed us, my friends and I ascended the steep slopes of the little mountain, and waited for our tour to begin. The building, breath-taking from far away and up close, mixes Romanesque and Gothic architecture to great effect. Even with our same garrulous, francophone tour guide and excess heat, I loved it. To get a brief repose after a fair share of climbing, our group headed to St. Malo, a popular beachside town situated not too far from Mt. St. Michel. We dined, watched a Michael Jackson impersonator go through five costume changes during his street performance, and walked along the beach. We even found a public bathroom we didn’t have to pay for. Not bad for some St. Malo neophytes.

Frenchies Veronica Forsythe, Sarah Cicchetti, myself, Caitlin Hodson, and Claire Borzner  all posing for a Kodak moment in front of Mont Saint Michel.

A view of the beach at St. Malo with fortifications in the distance.

Touring Around Tours

Wednesday, December 31st, 1969

Somehow, I did it. All of it. Everything, except one winter coat, which will have to be shipped, fit into my allotted luggage without exceeding the weight limit. I checked my bags and siphoned through security at Dulles International Airport without sustaining any injuries (physical, emotional, or otherwise). I proceeded through customs and collected my luggage easily when I arrived in Paris. By the time I finished carting my luggage on and off the tram to the railway station, my friend Caitlin already stood waiting for me. I even managed to have two full French conversations to obtain my train ticket to my final destination. Seventeen and a half hours after leaving my house, I finally made it to Tours, France.

My French father, Bernard, picked me up at the train station and brought me to the house he shares with his wife Colette. Built in the 1700s, the four-story home offers everything from fourteen-foot ceilings to WiFi and my own bedroom complete with courtyard and bathroom. This is going to be my home for the next three weeks? All this and a five-minute walk to school? Yes, I could very easily get used to living in France. My family here accommodates for pretty much all of my needs, including my vegetarian diet, which I certainly had a few qualms about. My French dad cooks some of the best tofu I’ve ever had.

All French students from HC, whether they study in Strasbourg or Dijon for the year, begin their year abroad in Tours at L’Institut de Touraine. The school is kind of like French boot camp. Early Monday morning, the professors talk with all new students and gage their French-speaking abilities. This evaluation, compiled with an hour-long test we completed online before arrival, allows them to place us in the appropriate level. Fortunately, I ended up in a level with three of my other friends. Each day, we have about five hours of class, as well as two hours for lunch. Approximately ten students make up my class, and any language but French is forbidden, though this rule is almost moot. Coming from all different countries like Switzerland, Japan, Brazil, South Korea, Spain and the United States, the students only share one common language. Luckily we haven’t had any drill sergeants yet, and with any luck, this won’t be a problem. Of course, if I can’t get my prepositions straight soon, one may just be in order


L’Institut de Touraine where I have classes everyday.

The Government Center for the City of ToursThe view on the way to one of the shopping districts. All heat and no air conditioning makes Crusaders want to go swimming in the fountain of the Tours center of government.

It Ain’t Always Easy

Wednesday, December 31st, 1969

Stitched together, the colors of emotion I have felt here in Strasbourg create quite a technicolor quilt. Fear and fascination are mingling with anxiety and anticipation. Red roofs remind me I’m not in Worcester anymore. My humble pink house here hardly resembles my gray home back in Maryland. In the streets, streaming threads of brunettes and blondes, without a redhead in sight, poke at my Holy Cross heartstrings like a pin. No indeed: on Mount Saint James I am not. Yes: I miss my home and my Holy Cross.

But my homesick heartache blushes at the hope of the future. I have only just begun to weave my story abroad. Words lost in translation or stumbled over in French comprise but a patch of this experience. I am finding that I could not be with a warmer, cozier family who is here to help me create the most fantastic time in France. In simpler words (and in response to my last post), they don’t hate me, right-handed people, or kids who got sunburned once. They even have Wifi. If my family is any reflection on the kids I’m going to be meeting once class starts tomorrow, I might make it after all.

So what does this mean? I don’t think I ever could have anticipated the hurdles and challenges my fellow Crusaders and I have faced here. The culture, the language, and even the food are far more complex than at first glance. It is not possible to find your way perfectly from Gallia to Homme de Fer the first time without a little help and patience. You may have to ask what the difference between the tarte flambée and the galette is. But it’s like pulling a big blanket all the way above your head in bed at nighttime. At first it’s completely dark and lonely. But after a while, your eyes adjust, you get comfortable, and soon enough you have cozily settled into your own personal niche. Oh, and there’s your stuffed panda by your elbow. For right now though, let’s just say I’m only barely able to make out the stripe pattern a few inches in front of my face.

Chez Hubert in the European Parliament quarter of Strasbourg. A little close to the street for my personal comfort.

The very vintage key to my home, sitting next to some “fric” on my bureau. Fric is French slang for dolla dolla bills.

Gallic Geezer

Wednesday, December 31st, 1969

Well, I’m there. I’m finally over the hill. Furrowed wrinkles crease and crawl across my face. Meager gray hairs sprout sporadically atop my bald head. What’s worse, my vision, now so dramatically impaired, caused my driver’s license to be revoked. Huh, what’s that? Speak up! I can’t hear you. My hearing isn’t what it used to be. Oh, “What am I talking about?”  I just turned twenty-one. I am officially old.

As you may know, the lawful age to imbibe in France is three years younger than it is in the United States.  Thus, since my arrival I have been able to order a glass of wine without any validation of my age (of course, when you’re bald and wrinkled, you don’t get carded often anyway). So, what is it like to pass such an important milestone in a place where said milestone lacks its import? One might think it would be anticlimactic. He or she would be right. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t wonderful.

So then, how did I spend my birthday? Well, unbeknownst to me, my fellow Crusaders had planned a surprise party in honor of the day I was born. And they got me! I’m almost never actually surprised by things like that. Held at the home of last year’s French FLA Stéphanie, the girls prepared burritos, as they are well aware of my affection for Chipotle and the desperate withdrawal I am currently experiencing. (My mother has already looked into airmailing me my usual vegetarian burrito, but it wouldn’t be warm by the time it got here. You think I’m kidding? That’s funny.) The party was incredibly sweet, and it lifted my rather somber spirits. The fête turned out to be the perfect beginning to my birthday week, as it was held a few days prior to the actual date.

When that particular Tuesday arrived, my friends and I kicked it off with a magical three-hour French lesson, followed by a substantial lunch of sandwiches, soft pretzels (a regional specialty), and eclairs. I then returned home, where my family greeted me with a card, a cake, and a plaid bowtie (c’était très chic!). After opening all the birthday cards my family sent along with me the day I left, I Skyped with my mom and the family cat until I left for dinner at a restaurant called HK. (If you think there seems to be a lot of eating in this story, you would be correct).  Then it was time for after dinner drinks including Long Island Iced Teas with glow-stick straws. (NB: It’s fun to hear French people say Long Island Iced Tea; you should try it some time.)  The following day when I returned to my room, I discovered a large package containing all the goodies one could ever ask for. Thanks mom and dad! Clearly, I need to go to other continents for extended periods of time more often.

Apologies for the prolific use of parenthetical expressions in this blog entry.

The brilliant birthday card given to me by my Holy Cross amies. As you can see, Sarah made it.

The lovely, if incredibly rich, chocolate cupcake, complete with candle, from our favorite patisserie “Kretz.”

Some of the goodies Mama and Papa Wey sent me for my birthday. Other care packages are always welcome!

A Scientist in France

Wednesday, December 31st, 1969

Hi Friends!

If you can believe it, my five fellow Crusaders and I have now been in France for two whole months. As such, it is only appropriate that I provide an unbiased evaluation. Lucky for you, I have conducted tenacious analysis and completed daunting qualification of quantitative experiences. I believe a preliminary hypothesis I developed back in Tours (in the clandestine corner of a coffee shop, aptly named The French Coffee Shop), now has sufficient proof to become a theory. And much like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, I am ready to present my results, despite the fact it may not be a law:

Hypothesis (flagrant stereotype):

French cultural norms would be eviscerated with acerbic celerity in the United States.

Experiment (daily observation):

-Lemonade stands are illegal, as is having two jobs. That is not a typo.

-Some days, the newspapers just aren’t printed (oui, vous Le Monde).

-During the month of August, nearly every store is shut down.

-Stores also like to close on Mondays.

-Many businesses, including the post office, take a two-hour lunch break (smoking can take up more time than one might think).

-“Edible” cheese can be entirely moldy, as in completely blanketed in the color green.

-There exist lingerie stores… for men. Just for men, like the hair-coloring product.

-Often times, using the restroom in public places requires payment.

-The notion “pick up after your pet” is more foreign than the terrain of the planet Neptune.

-Bus drivers do not always know their route.

-Teachers do not always provide their students with a book list or bibliography even six weeks into a class.

-Occasionally, one’s cell phone will deliver a message up to four days late.

-Primary school children only have school four days a week. See ya Wednesday!

-Here and there, a waitress will drop a carafe on a child’s head before it shatters on the cobblestones spilling its aqueous contents every which way. I wish I were making this up.

-A strike can happen any time, anywhere. This month’s topic: changing the retirement age from sixty to sixty-two (this month, last month, next month, etc).

-Now and then, a student will answer his or her cell phone in class and proceed to carry on a conversation. The teacher often says nothing.

-Drivers often invent parking spaces if one does not exist. Regard for means of egress or pedestrian accommodation is as real as the Tooth Fairy’s twelve-year-old molars. See image below (not of her molars, silly goose).

creative parking

Analysis (comparison to American daily life):

Due to the litigious and quick-paced nature of the American people and their market-based economy, an average Marylander might find himself somewhat culture-shocked.

Conclusion (my theory):

The French way of life is quite different from that of the typical American. So, yes the aforementioned egotistical, xenophobic hypothesis would be more or less correct. But with refocused global lenses, I may revise my premise a little. The calmer tempo of French daily life that focuses more attention on family and friends is a welcomed change for an adventure-seeking Crusader. For any American, these changes would be difficult, but place a French person in the US, and he or she would have the same difficulty. This is what I call the Weyland Theory of Cultural Relativity. All it takes is some perspective.