Pimp My Crypt: and Other Ancient Things

Something remarkable about the old country: it’s old. As such, there are many old things here, pretty much all over. I guess that’s what happens when people live in the same place for tens of thousands of years–they leave their crap everywhere. Have you ever heard the phrase “take only pictures, leave only footprints”? Well, neither have the French. There are decrepit churches scattered ad nauseaum throughout the countryside. Ancient, majestic spires towering out of nothing and nowhere. While on the train to Paris (how snotty and cosmopolitan does that sound?) I looked out my window to see an enormous gothic turret. I say gothic because I know next to nothing about ancient architecture, and I don’t have a picture for you to prove me wrong. It really was a beautiful relic, jutting straight out of a tiny, sprawling hick town. I know for a fact that it was a hick town because directly in front of the steeple was a large billboard reading “Leroy-Merlin”, and if that doesn’t conjure up an image of a used car dealership, I don’t know what does. That’s how Europe operates. They have lasting memories of long-dead civilizations that they’re not allowed to tear down, so they build their junk around them. It’s certainly an improvement to the United States. At the epicenter of our parking lots, we just have more strip malls.

As I mentioned, I went to Paris. Because I’m classy. I won’t bore you with the details; you’ve seen The Aristocats, you know what the Eiffel Tower looks like. Paris in the rain, yadda yadda. Well, somewhere in the 10 miles of walking per day, we visited a little hole-in-the-wall local favorite called the Notre Dame Cathedral. You’ve probably seen it in that Disney film about the wide-eyed, physically remarkable dreamer who wasn’t allowed outside, but finally escaped to see a festival. I think it was called Tangled. It was pretty impressive, how old and big it was. I especially liked the stained glass windows. I found it a little hypocritical how they kept shushing all of us, and had signs reading “silence please”, when they rang these obnoxiously loud bells every hour, on the hour. No one complained about that ruckus, but whatever. My favorite part of the cathedral was definitely the gift shop, situated right between the pews and the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. Here’s a picture:

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I forget, who was the Patron Saint of Tchotchkies?

I even got this neato souvenir coin. One side has Pope Francis, and the other has Jean-Paul:

Pretty sweet, right? This little number cost me 2 euro. I guess not even the Papacy can resist the cold allure of capitalism.

We didn’t have time to check out the catacombs this go about Paris, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen my fair share of “bone”-hommes. Hardy har har. That sentence was humerus because it was a play on the French phrase “bonshommes,” meaning good men, and the English word “bone”, meaning what your skeleton is made out of. That sentence is humorous because the humerus is a bone. Comedy. Recently I took a tour of the Crypte Saint Laurent, in my very own Grenoble. It was a charming little arrangement of scaffolding suspended over the skinless remains of who knows how many dead people. Here are some of the friends I made there:

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They don’t speak much, but they’re great listeners. My classmates and I argued over whether or not they were real bones. They were skeptical that anyone would leave real corpses within poking distance, but I figure that Europe is lousy with disturbed burial sites. They’ve got more exposed remains than they know what to do with, so they might as well make some money off of them. I think it’s great. These poor souls never got the chance to make a facebook, but now they get the opportunity to feature in countless selfies. A really cool feature of this crumbling church was the ceiling adorned with sweet little swastikas:

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Being half-Jewish, this put just enough fear in me to really appreciate life, which is more than I can say for these puppies:

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I think I’m starting to notice a trend here… When I was in the Louvre I saw a beautiful arrangement of sarcophagi. There must have been 50 of them, There was even a mummy:

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I may be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure this is how you get cursed. Oh well, Europeans just can’t resist violating personal space.

French cuisine tip: Did you know that when eating escargot, you’re supposed to cook the snails first? Well I didn’t, so I need to make a quick trip to the toilet.

Until next time!

G

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Writings on the Stalls

Here’s something odd about French Universities: Bathrooms. Pardon me, toilets. Because in France, the bathroom and the toilet are two separate rooms, sometimes connected, but more often separated by a hallway. That’s a lot of door-handles to touch before washing your hands. For whatever reason, the administration doesn’t believe in toilet seats. I don’t know if it’s political or religious, but you’re lucky if you can find more than two beseated toilets per building. Stranger still, there are still the broken remnants of long-forgotten seats, still fixed to the porcelain bases, begging the question: who took them? Where are they now? Quite frankly, the situation works for me, as I much prefer to squat and pee anyway. Keeps me svelte.

I am moderately unsettled by the fact that most of the toilet cubicles come equipped with nifty cages above them, like this one here:

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I suppose they’re to ensure that you don’t accidentally climb out if you get spooked by a loud noise or a capitalist.

Truly though, my favorite alteration to the campus is the graffiti peppering everything in arms’ reach. I can’t speak for other universities in the country, but this one is riddled with whimsical defacements of government property. The missives are most rampant in the toilets/bathrooms, though it seems like a lot of work to squat and write at the same time. They’re tricky, the French. I must say it is a wonderful distraction from your aching hamstrings. I haven’t called any of the numbers, but from what I’ve read, Carlie P knows how to have a great time. The messages vary in eloquence, but they’re all equally charming, as you can see:

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The youth here are so expressive. The best I’ve seen though is definitely this one:

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For those of you who don’t read French, or have difficulty making inferences based on similar sounding latin-rooted words, it says “The chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir beware.” I saw this on my first day of school and I knew that I was home.

Truthfully there’s a lot of writing all over the school. On the walls, the desks, the ground, the vending machines, and such. It’s just like elementary school, except bigger and you get in a lot more trouble when you bite people.

The street art is pretty great too. There are sheep hidden everywhere. Look at these sweet little nuggets:

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I also found a beautiful spray-painted mural of some dancing gazelle covering the side of a building. I forgot to take a picture of it, and all the streets look the same, but if I find it again I’ll take another picture. I’m a fan of the animal graffiti, although I could probably do without the excessive amounts of furries in advertising:

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I’m not really sure what that’s about.

That’s all for now, I think, but I have to get going anyway. The family mime got out again and I have to put him back in his box.

A bientôt,

G

What’s That in My Mouth?

(B)log date: 1/10/2016

It has been six days since my arrival in France. Still no sign of a bidet. I am beginning to question whether they exist at all, however I remain optimistic.

In almost a week of living here in Grenoble, I’ve started to notice some of the vast differences in our cultures. One of the most striking things is the French relationship to alcohol. Not only can teenagers wander into their local pubs, supermarkets, and gas stations to buy a 40 without getting carded, but my university sells beer in their cafeteria. In their cafeteria. Where college students eat. In the daytime. Is that not the most counterintuitive thing you’ve heard all day? What a country. I should probably point out that this doesn’t mean students and professors are drunkenly stumbling to their classes. Hilarious as that might be, the relaxed position of alcohol in Europe results in responsible behavior; having a beer with lunch, a wine with dinner, going about your day in total sobriety.

In a less agreeable light is the French relationship to coffee. Coming from Seattle, I’ve become accustomed to hooking up an IV of Sumatran blend as I do my makeup in the morning, and keeping a few packs of Folgers Instant in my wallet to snort in case of emergency. I need my coffee, and France leaves a lot to be desired in that respect. Yes, they drink it—they don’t call it a French press for nothing—but their cups are tiny. You know those 8oz coffees your mom orders from Starbucks that don’t make any sense and you wonder how she can even keep her eyes open let alone drive to work and pay your tuition? That’s a French cup of coffee. Sure it’s espresso, but that doesn’t mean what you think it means. It has a higher caffeine concentration per volume, but is generally too small to have as much as a standard cup of regular coffee. Thanks Wikipedia. At least they’re cheap. I can down three café au laits or two café crèmes in under 30 seconds. Impressed yet?

Next on the docket is the French and their food. I’m a vegetarian, but even so, French cuisine really is incredible and blah blah blah, you’ve heard it all before. What I find more interesting are the weird things they do to their food. Have you ever heard of Kinder Surprise? They’re German chocolate eggs, about the same size as Cadbury’s, but instead of a caramel or cream center, they have a little toy inside. Not ringing a bell? That may be because they’re illegal in the United States. Something about parents worried their kids might choke on the little throat-sized hunk of plastic hidden in their delicious chocolate ovoid. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for the French. They up the ante with a little gem called La Galette du Roi. The King Cake. So named after the biblical three kings from the nativity story (who weren’t actually kings, by the way, and were more than likely just travelers—but where’s the mystère in that?). Good on them that they’ve left behind a legacy as distinguished as the Galettes; these harbingers of dental devastation run rampant through France in the time between Christmas and Mardi Gras. They’re very tasty—usually filled with marzipan and sometimes fruit or chocolate fillings—but they have one quirk: a tiny figurine embedded somewhere in their sugary depths. Traditionally, the figurine is a little plastic baby, which is meant to represent Jesus. What’s a better homage to the son of god than accidentally swallowing him in his infancy? These days the festive little choking hazards are less infanticidal, assuming the form of little enamel crowns, or tiny wooden books, or itty bitty porcelain flags. Whoever finds the trinket (la fève) in their cake and manages not to swallow it or asphyxiate, is the king of the feast. It’s a sign of good luck, bestowing upon the king a little crown and the task of honor of purchasing the next galette. Here’s a picture of the porcelain crown on which I chipped a molar at my first meal in the Antoine Saint-Exupery airport. Next to the crown, for size reference, I’ve placed an American penny. You can see Mr. Lincoln, who was kind of a king.

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It must be lucky—my periodontist told me I needed a crown replaced…Badoom-Tss!

Really though, I have my doubts about the fortuity of la fève, considering immediately after that my travelling partner and I missed our shuttle to Grenoble, and subsequently our professor’s free ride from the bus station to the city. Here’s a snapchat of us on the later shuttle:

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We’re smiling, but there is fury in our eyes.

Monoprix, the French equivalent to Target, has a spectacular campaign for their king cakes right now. Instead of a trinket, ten lucky customers across the nation might find a diamond in their bite of cake! I say ‘might’ because anyone who’s ever seen a diamond before knows that they’re not too big. Even the French, savoring each bite as they do, have at least a 20% chance of swallowing that little treasure. But hey, I’d rather pass a diamond than the baby Jesus.

I’d better sign off now. My host family and I are about to go take our baguettes for a walk.

À tout à l’heure,

G

Little Trips, Big Impact

During my time in France, I had two week-long breaks, but I also had long weekends every weekend. The week-long breaks were good for spending extra time in one place (Paris) or for traveling a little further away (Italy and Greece). But even though I enjoyed the longer trips, I found that going away somewhere for the weekend is really fun. My three favorite short trips were: Montpellier and Marseille, Paris, and Arles and Avignon.

Though I spent less than 48 hours in Montpellier and Marseille, I feel like I got a lot of this trip. In Montpellier, my friends and I discovered that just because you look up directions online doesn’t mean they’ll make sense when you get there and that sometimes relying on the kindness of strangers is the best option. In Montpellier, I saw the Mediterranean for the first time. In Marseille, I only planned to be there for a day, so my friends and I wanted to make the most out of it. We’d heard of these things called calanques, so we thought we’d check those out rather than exploring the city. We went to the end of a bus line and were dropped off in a parking lot, and we just started wandering, and we found our way into a hiking trail. We thought for sure we’d gone the wrong way until we came up to a clearing, and we looked and saw the water and knew we were where we wanted to be.

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I went to Paris three times during my time in France: once for my birthday, once for the first week-long break, and once again to play tour guide for a friend. That third trip was by far my favorite. By that time, I thought I’d seen everything in Paris I could possibly want to see, but being there with someone who’d never seen any of it made all of it seem new to me. I found that it is still possible to rediscover something you love.

The Arles and Avignon trip was a trip for all the SU students, which was convenient because it meant I didn’t have to plan anything myself. We drove to Arles on Friday, stayed through Saturday, and then spent a few hours in Avignon on Sunday. In Arles, I got lost in a market, but I found some delicious-looking strawberries. We all went to La Camargue together and had a picnic on the beach, and I discovered that the strawberries tasted as good as they looked. In Avignon, I lost myself in history at the Palais des Papes and on the bridge made famous by the song “Sur le pont d’Avignon.” I learned that being lost can be a fun experience.

While studying abroad is helpful in the obvious way of helping earn a degree or helping improve language skills, being abroad is a learning experience on its own. Learning to travel and learning about myself have been invaluable experiences that I would have never had if I’d never studied abroad. I hope to remember what I’ve learned – both in the classroom as well as outside of it – to help me in my future.

Maura

Paris is always a good idea

Paris is always a good idea.” – Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina (1954)

Before coming to France, I wondered if Paris is actually as incredible as Americans claim it is or if we’re just romanticizing it. Now, after spending a weekend and another week there, I understand the hype: Paris is absolutely beautiful, and there’s always something to do.

I’m a big list-maker, so I looked at these two trips as opportunities to check monuments off of “must-see” lists. Among the list items were typical tourist attractions (the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower at night, Versailles, Notre Dame) and slightly less well-known or less popular tourist attractions (the Catacombs, the towers of Notre Dame, Pont Neuf). I took a 9-hour tour of Versailles and the other two houses on its grounds, the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, as well as the miniature village built for Marie Antoinette (the Queen’s Hamlet). I wandered around the inside of Notre Dame and went up in its towers, which is a great way to get gorgeous views of the city (and the Eiffel Tower). I went underground to see the stacks of bones that are the Catacombs. I watched a friend add a lock to Pont Neuf, AKA the bridge with the love locks.
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In the process of checking these things off my list, though, I found that getting lost and discovering something new can be incredible. What I found while exploring – or while lost – included Point Zéro, Shakespeare and Company, and various food stands and cafés serving delicious food. Point Zéro is a spot outside of Notre Dame that is the official (though certainly not geographical) center of Paris. Legend says that if you step on it, you’re bound to return to Paris. (Naturally, I made sure to step on it.) At Shakespeare and Company, I was in book-lover paradise…until I remembered that airlines have weight limits and buying every book I wanted wasn’t a good plan. Additionally, I found souvenir shops and great little cafés that were surprisingly inexpensive.

I discovered that waiting in lines can be totally worth it and that cemeteries on sunny days are basically parks with weird statues.

As much as I’ve enjoyed my visits to Paris, I think the desire to be there might be out of my system for now. I’m ready to explore some new places and find out what other cities might always be good ideas.

Until next time,

Maura

A Brief Bonjour & Woes of an Overpacker

Bonjour! My name is Maura, and I am a junior majoring in French and Interdisciplinary Arts. I will be spending the next 5 months in Grenoble, France, and two weeks in Morocco as part of the French in France program, which is an SU-sponsored program for French majors/minors.
I’ve been studying French for as long as I can remember, so to be able to study it in France is a dream come true. Even so, I am super nervous about it. All of my classes will be in French, I’ll have to speak French with my host family…talk about immersion. It’s a little intimidating, but I know it will be worth it.
As I haven’t actually left yet, I can’t speak to what Grenoble is like or about traveling or anything, but I have a lot to say about the preparation process, especially in regards to packing.
Packing is incredibly stressful. I have to fit everything I need for six months into 2 suitcases (it’s possible to bring more, but it’s really expensive), a carry-on, and a personal item. To give some perspective on how hard that is for me: I filled the bed of a truck with everything I “needed” for fall quarter. Three months, one truck vs. six months, a few bags. Needless to say, it has been quite a challenge. I got a lot of advice about how much I should bring – “pack the bare minimum you think you can live with and cut it in half”, “pack light and buy stuff there”, etc. My problem with this advice is that if I think I packed the bare minimum, how am I supposed to cut that in half? And why would I buy stuff there when I already have it here? I probably still packed too much, but I did try to follow this advice, so I packed a lot less than I started with. Also, I packed a smaller suitcase inside of one of my checked bags, so I’ll have more space on the way home. We’ll see if that pays off.
Until next time, au revoir!

Maura