10 March 2008

the weekend before lyon

The weekend before we left for Lyon was kinda … interesting. Because we hadn’t planned further in advance for the trains and everything, we ended up leaving on Monday instead of Saturday or Sunday like pretty much everybody else. This choice was made primarily because the price jump between Saturday and Monday was fifteen euros, give or take. On Friday (the 22nd) afternoon Collin’s girlfriend Rachel got in from Barcelona, where she’s studying this semester. I didn’t meet her right away, though. I ate lunch with some peeps and then hung out in the CIREFE cafeteria doing some homework type things while I waited to Mark to get out of his class. We were supposed to meet Amanda and Julia at the SNCF office to buy some train tickets to Grenoble/Annecy. I put the slash there because Amanda kept changing her mind. Actually first I believe she was planning on going to Nimes? I don’t even remember anymore. She started plans for a handful of cities before finally settling on one. Then she was surprised when Mark and I hesitated to jump in on the plan with her. At the time I was just happy that I had managed to some up with a light outline for the week, one which put us actually leaving Lyon every other day. So we had a fun ten minutes or so standing in front of the boutique feeling (or at least I did) like the meanest people in the world for agreeing to meet up and buy tickets, then finally agreeing that we actually didn’t want to. In the end it turned out just fine, of course, because that’s how things are, but at the moment it was horrible. After that little endeavor Mark and I went to the minimarché and got snacks, then walked to the Parc Thabor, where we (surprise!) ate the snacks and watched ducks. There’s this, like, almost duck zoo on the edge of the park. Small children come and look at the birds, and they are adorable.

On our way back through Place Hoche to the bus stops at Place St. Anne, we ran into Collin and Rachel. Rachel is hilarious and amazing. I wish she were studying in Rennes, because she’s so much fun. We got introduced and Rachel grinned and said, “I’m sorry about this but I was supposed to tell you that you look very tall today?” It’s a running joke…haha, so funny. When will you people realize that I’m tall EVERY day? It’s not like I change my legs every night…or do I? After our chance meeting, I kinda started to hurry, because I had told my mere that I was coming home for a while, then heading out to Collin’s for dessert crepes. Haha. If only I had known that when I said “crêpes,” which in my mind is almost always totally completely translated as “for dessert,” in her mind it was translated simply as “food.” So I got home and realized that I wouldn’t be eating anything at home that night. Oh, that was a fantastic moment. I played it off pretty easily, especially since I knew that Collin still had about a million left over penne noodles in his fridge from our fantastic night of noodleness. I headed back into centre ville after an hour at home, and on the bus met up with Jessica, who had ended up eating alone because her family was gone. I laughed pretty hard then, because just before getting on his bus, Mark had gotten a text from his mere telling him that he would be on his own for dinner that night. We all should have just eaten en centre ville, but “free” food is “free” food. We were just looking at spending the entirety of the vacation week eating out. Anyway…Mark and I wolfed down some hastily heated baked penne and then let Rachel and Collin serve us crêpes. They. Were. Amazing. Rachel made fried bananas……which, when added to Nutalla, equal: yum. Then we watched some Shrek again, trying to actually finish it. We didn’t. Just after 12 we all left and headed to our beds. Oh, beds, how comfortable you are at one in the morning…

Saturday was a really good day, I thought. I went with Jessica to the gare (train station). She was early, so we sat out front for a little bit and she ate her peanut butter and confiture and nutella crepe, and in the middle of that time Mark texted me. Pretty much everyone had left town already (it was interesting to see how empty the city could be on a Saturday morning-weirdness). When Jessica left to board her train to Vienna (so cool, the opportunities we have) I took the metro to Republique and Mark and I got galettes saucisses for lunch from the marché. We walked around a little and then decided that we didn’t really truly know the city that well, so we needed to find something new to look at. We looked at a map and found a park that was relatively nearby which we hadn’t heard of and decided to walk to it. The fastest way to get there was to cut through Parc Thabor, which we did, and in so doing, we ran into Rachel and Collin again.

It’s like they were stalking us, seriously (and in view of wanting to be as honest as possible, I totally just typed “stocki-“ before I changed it to “stalking” and I just wanted you all to know that…haha “they stocked us” beautiful). The fun part was when they didn’t see us walk by and I threw a bit of tree-ness at them. Ok, so we were on a path below them, on the other side of some bushes. They wouldn’t have seen us unless they were looking for us. And it wasn’t big tree-ness. It was a little nut thing. Like, the size of a walnut. Tiny. Harmless. Mwa haha. It truly is sad, how I find entertainment. The four of us ended up walking around the park and then going to see Juno together.

I’ll take this opportunity to comment on French/English traductions. Translations. I’m not sure how many of you saw Juno (if you love teenage angst and awkwardness and Aaron Sorkin-esque banter, go see it, I loved it) but it was chock full of slang. I don’t know if Juno said one word that didn’t have some crazy twist of insanity. The problem with this is that none of it really transfers into French. I mean, seriously, they don’t have a word for “creepy”. Or if you want to say that you were ignoring someone, you have to say “I paid them no attention” or something like that. So all the slang got glossed over, and there were some super obvious times when we Americans were guffawing and no one else was. So sad. One of the main peeps says “Wizard” all the time. This, as most people should know, is a synonym for “cool”. Haha…in French it’s “ma magicienne”. “My magician”? What? Ok…

Another problem with translating here is getting over the cultural slang. The French have two main types of slang. There’s argot (say “ar-go”), which is pretty much normal slang, like instead of saying C’était très bien fait, le film (The film was very well done) you’d say Le film était vachement cool, quoi (The film was “cowly” cool, what). The French end almost all of their sentences with “quoi.” Literally, it means “what”… depending on the context it generally means, “hey are you listening” or “agree with me now.” So if you’re learning French and want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, start saying “quoi” all the time and when you’re annoyed with something say that it’s vachement nul (say “vash-mah nool”). There are other words but I’m getting the feeling that teaching people more French curse words maybe isn’t so much the way to do things.

So back to Saturday…After le film we went to dinner….um. I can’t remember where. It was a place…oh, we went to a crêperie! First time ever in an official one, you’d think that I’d do it all the time since crêpes are a Breton specialty, but no, it was the first time. Ok, now I’m remembering…we started with aperitifs, des kirs Bretons (Breton Kir: Cidre and cassis…which would be alcoholic cider with fruit juicy stuff added in) which were so yummy, and then we had our galettes, full of meat and cheese. At least, they were as full of meat as French people make them. The idea of a French sandwich is a baguette sliced down the middle with one piece each of thin lunch meat and cheese. Then we shared dessert crêpes and delighted in the fact that all of it only cost, what, twelve euros each. Something like that. Maybe it was less. No, wait, it was less, it had to have been, because the final bill was paid for with a 50 euro bill that Mark wanted to break, and he ended up getting a little bit back…ok nevermind, twelve each was probably right.

Haha…how’d you like my stream of consciousness? I thought I’d just leave that the way it is.

After dinner we tried to walk off all the deliciousness and only got a few blocks before crashing onto a stone bench at Place de la Parlement (which is the same as “parliament” pretty much, and means “talking”… “Place of Talking”) where we watched hippies play with fire. It was a lot like being on Pearl Street in Boulder with all the street performers. I had my camera and tried to take some pictures, but I couldn’t get any good ones without going and standing right next to the hippies, and there was no way I was going to do that. Hippies in Colorado are at least usually nice. Hippies in France are quite often les SDFs (Sans Domicile Fixe aka homeless dudes) and are kinda creepy and scary and always seem to have at least one or two dogs, and no one knows why or how. Apparently they don’t have enough money for a house but have enough for dog food? What? Ok…

But the fire thing was pretty sweet. One guy had these two chains with sphere things on one end. His friend came up and lit the ends on fire and we were all excited because there was fire and spinning and since it was dark (10 pm at least) it was so cool and then all of a sudden THEY WERE FIREWORKS and I just wasn’t fast enough with the recorder on my camera and I missed it. I know, I know, I suck at life. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was really super cool.

The next day was Sunday. Michel took me to the Musée des Beaux Arts (say “moo-zay day bow_zar”) to see an exhibit of paintings of the American West. Yeah, I thought it was kinda funny, too. Michel’s an artist and a painter, and loves history to boot, so he loved it. It was a very small exhibit, though, and we went through it in about an hour or a little more. It was so strange to see maps of my own country and to know that the people around me weren’t necessarily familiar with the regions or the stories. Apparently Buffalo Bill visited Rennes one year, I don’t remember which. It actually made me sad. I don’t remember ever being sad when I read about other Buffalo Bill stuff in the States, but here, it just hit me even more how much of a spectacle we made things. I don’t know, it was a strange feeling. Afterward we grabbed Virginie and Elisa from their house (I’ve figured out that we eat with them every Sunday night) and went home.

Another thing I love about Sundays is the afternoon walk. When the French say that they’re on a break, they mean it. No work means NO WORK means “I am going to sit here and think about being productive while watching rugby/soccer/reading a book.” It’s fantastic. Then there’s the walk, where you go to the canal and let your dog run loose and see almost every person who lives nearby but don’t say hello or nod to anyone. Unless, and it’s only in special cases, you want to A. Cuss them out for cutting you off or B. Laugh at your dogs who are sniffing one another or C. Do something totally American like tell them you’re sorry for stepping in their way.

A strange thing about the canal etiquette here is that bikes don’t care about you. You’re expected to somehow be able to hear them coming up behind you on the packed trail. This is, you might have guessed, almost impossible. In Colorado if you’re on a bike and you’re coming up on some pedestrians who don’t know how to walk in a straight line, you say “On your left/right” and they move and everyone is unhurt. In St. Grégoire if you’re on a bike you just ride and if someone doesn’t notice that you’re there, tough, you get to yell at them or better, turn around later on the trail and glare at them as you ride by a second time.

The only time it’s acceptable to actually acknowledge or talk to strangers here is when someone nearby does something idiotic, and you “accidentally” catch the another individual’s eye and you laugh together. Of course, this is only possible if, after the initial chuckle, the laughter is immediately quenched and you continue to stare straight ahead. Preferably in the direction of nowhere. Or there are a couple moments when you’re allowed to laugh with the person. For instance, I was on the bus two weeks ago in the afternoon.

I went to the back to find a spot. I was riding alone and sat down across from a mom and her daughter. The grandma was sitting to my left. The girl’s birthday was coming up, and the adults were talking about what they were going to do party-wise. They asked the kid what she wanted for cake. Actually, they had to ask a couple of times, because this little chica was totally into playing with her Winnie the Poo toy, and wasn’t really paying attention. Finally she looks up and, still messing with the toy and sounding rather uninterested, says, “Well do I have any cousins coming?”

Her mom smiled and said she thought so, probably.

“Ok. Boy cousins and girl cousins?”

“Yes. What kind of cake do you want? Chocolate? Strawberry?”

“I want both of them.”

“Both of them?”

“Yes. Chocolate cake and strawberry cake and the boy cousins will eat the strawberry and the girl cousins will eat the chocolate.”

“What about you?”

“I’m going to eat both of them because I love them both.”

At this point I was grinning so largely that I couldn’t help myself, I pulled my eyes off of this adorable piece of magic (she was going to be 7) and looked at her mom, who grinned back at me. That moment was fantastic for so many reasons. The most obvious reason is that French people don’t smile for no reason. I (rather, her daughter) earned that smile. Also, the exchange of happiness over that one overheard conversation proved that I understood their French, which actually had a twist of Arab to it, I’m pretty sure. It’s amazing how happy I get when I understand even the smallest things.

Like the television. TV here isn’t a leisure activity for me. It is for mes parents, but not pour moi. If I want to understand, I have to pay attention. Lucky for me news stories aren’t very long. But the moment a couple days before vacation when I discovered that –holy cow- I understood the TV without really super investing myself in every single story and word…man, that was a great moment. Really really great.

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