Tuesday, September 23, 2008

End of Paris, Beginning of Angers—The American Keyboard Version

Alright, here’s a more thorough overview of our last couple of days in Paris and our first few days in Angers.

A few final Paris adventures included the Quai Branly museum, which is a somewhat archeological/anthropological museum of the world—excepting Europe, interestingly. We didn’t love it, as it seemed really strangely organized. Ancient artifacts and relatively contemporary things were placed side by side, rather out of context, organized instead by appearance. The whole set-up was almost more artistic than historical, which was just odd considering the objects they had on display. Also, the 100 “best” objects in their collection are permanently stored in the Louvre.

A couple of us went to the Pompidou Museum one day, which was pretty cool. One of the best things about the building, which is incredibly interesting in itself (with colored pipes on the outside, each color representing the pipe’s purpose—water, electricity, etc.) is that, from the top, it affords an incredible view of Paris.

We also saw the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower, by night, which were each lovely. The Eiffel Tower was blue with the stars of the European Union when we went, and we also caught it sparkling a few times, which I attempted to catch on video. It’s sideways, though. Anyone know if I can change that?

After our busy but fun stay in Paris, we arrived in Angers on Thursday afternoon. My host brother Jonathan picked me up at the train station and drove me home (asking me on the way if I understood the slang and curse words he was using as he drove, which I did, for the most part). He lives in the apartment above his father’s, where I’m staying. My host father, Jean-Pierre, was at work until later in the afternoon, so his girlfriend Marie came by to hang out with me for a bit. We eventually met up with him for dinner.

He and I get along really well, so I think we’re both pleased with how this living arrangement has worked out thus far. He’s a middle school teacher, so we obviously have a shared interest in education, but we also both read a lot, enjoy the arts, and fortunately for both of us, pretty much eat the exact same types of food (and it turns out that he cooks quite well!). We have had a lot of great conversations, ranging from literature to French film to politics. I will, without a doubt, learn a lot from him. Also, he is currently the president of an organization which promotes development efforts in struggling countries. At the moment, he is in the process of planning to send a group to Africa. Pretty awesome.

I met up with the rest of the students for our courses at the University (and exams) on Friday, and then we went out for a lovely dinner with our contact from the Fulbright program and various others involved in education in Angers. Jean-Pierre and Marie picked me up afterwards, and we went to a pub for a drink. They seem to know everyone in town, which is awesome, because I’m meeting new and interesting people all the time.

I spent an excellent weekend with the two of them. On Saturday, we went shopping at the biggest outdoor market in Angers. We got lots of fruits and vegetables, and I learned a bit of new vocabulary. We wandered around the center of town for a while, and then met up with a few of their friends. We went out for drinks with them at this cool little place that feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere—you actually have to ride a little boat/raft thing across the water to get there—and then we had dinner at a Thai/Indian fusion restaurant.

On Sunday, we went to visit a twelfth century monastery and a castle, had a picnic outside along the Loire, and then I came back and chilled out for the rest of the afternoon.

Spending a whole weekend speaking French (literally, I didn’t speak one full sentence in English since Friday evening) was mentally exhausting, but certainly an important step in my time here. I’m finding myself at a point where all language seems a little bit awkward—English words are escaping me because I’m devoting so much of my concentration to making sense in French. It’s certainly uncomfortable, but I know it’s natural and important. I can only get more comfortable from here (I hope!).

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