Numbers Tuesday, Jun 15 2010 

While I sat in my bare little dorm room in Caen, I came to realize that almost my entire existence while overseas was dominated by numbers. Now that the experience is over, I thought I would share them with you so you can enjoy them too.

7,000- Number of grams of Nutella Hazelnut Spread purchased and consumed
5- Number of countries visited
240- Number of hours spent in a classroom
4- Number of times my financial skin was saved by a dispersion of money by the University
1- Number of scholarships received
18- Number of masses attended in Eglise St. Pierre
21- Number of days I thought I’d die of pneumonia
1- Number of beer types deemed remotely ingestible
5- Number of loads of laundry done over a span of 4 1/2 months
6,000- Number of  times I deeply desired a Swiffer
4- Number of care packages from Mom and Daddy
17- Number of cards from the USA
11- Number of awkward shirtless, gown-less chest x-rays taken (a group total)
10- Number of scarves added to wardrobe
2- Number of visible melt-downs in a classroom
100- Number of baguettes purchased
5- Number of blush-causing faux-pas
2- Number of visitors from the USA
4- Number of 8 € phone cards purchased to call home
16,000- Number of grams of pasta purchased from Carrefour
Infinity- When I’ll be hungry for pasta again
7- Number of minutes between trams
4- Number of teachers
1- Number of times caught pass-less on tram
2- Number of times the “stupid American” card was voluntarily put into play
70- Number of trips to a patisserie expressly for gluttonous purposes
55- Number of practice DELF tests
36- Number of seeds planted in hopes of flowers
0- Number of survivors
1- Number of WWII 550 KG bombs found on campus
40- Number of trains taken
5- Number of minutes it takes to get to class in a dead sprint
7- Number of pretend boyfriends accumulated
200- Number of tram rides
50- Number of times voltage converter was dropped and did not break
250- Number of handouts in class
1- Number of 50 € stamps purchased for taxation purposes
1,200- Number of pictures taken
40.5- Number of pairs of seins in Nice at the topless beaches
2- Number of trains taken in the wrong direction
22- Number of flavors of gelato tasted within a 24 hour window of opportunity
10- Number of times I was the recipient of random acts of a French stranger’s kindness
83- Number of blog posts
0- Number of regrets
Innumerable- Number of individual people to whom I owe thanks

[Please stick around for the finale post and link to my new blog coming very soon!]

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Character Sketches Friday, May 28 2010 

Because the internet in my room is so unbelievably schizophrenic in its comings and goings, I have been forced, more often than not, to perch my tush on a cold radiator in an echoing lobby of a building desperate for a wrecking ball. The radiator is cold because about a month ago, just before the spring cold-snap, the management turned off the entire building’s heat.

But before they turned off the building’s heat, it was almost pleasant to sit on a hot radiator and visit with the pleusiers personnes (many people) who came and went through the lobby on any given night. I got creepy looks from some people, got blasted by feigned disinterest by others, and watched others using the lobby as a catwalk all in one evening’s comings and goings. The individual people of my building are more entertaining than almost anything else I’ve found on campus.

Over the past 4 months (because today is exactly the 4th “monthaversary” abroad!), Molly and I have made up nicknames for the people we see every day in the halls, and it is my distinct pleasure to introduce you to each of them.

Really Attractive Guy gets first place because he is the source of riotous giggle sessions and blushing. Really Attractive Guy gets his nickname from the fact that he is, in fact, REALLY ATTRACTIVE. Really Attractive Guy wears a man scarf (a scarf that North American men typically look on as painfully “metro”) and trendy awesome glasses. He wears Star Wars tee shirts printed in Arabic. He has a crazy Norman accent that for the life of me I cannot understand. Most of our conversations go something like, “Salut, ce va?” and then he replies with a heart-melting smirk, “Oui, ce va, merci… [incomprehensible middle bits]… ce soir?” Which translated essentially means, “Hi, how’s it going?” and then he replies, “It’s going, thanks, [Norman accented mumbo jumbo]… tonight?” which I usually translate into him asking me what I’m doing on that particular evening. Most conversations leave me grasping for every language ability I own and listening closer than I ever have to anyone else.

Molly’s neighbors take 2nd place collectively. “Guy Who Showers With Girlfriend” lives on one side of her and “Irwin” lives on the other side. Irwin plays music by Nine Inch Nails and Def Leppard at all hours of the day, and he has shaving habits I believe include a Weed-Whacker. Guy Who Showers With Girlfriend explains itself and the only further explanation for him includes the distinctly obnoxious, whiny and amazingly wall-penetrating voice of Girlfriend.

Third Place belongs to Really Smily Polish Girl who sits on a red cushion instead of the radiator downstairs and has a smile that makes her whole face perk up into little smile lines. We exchange French: hers really good and mine scraping by with lots of pantomime and giggling.

Motorcycle Guy gets 4th place. He saunters through the lobby, holding his shiny helmet like a guy who has had too many dork jokes handed to him in middle school. I’m quite sure from his anti-eye contact aloofness that he has decided to turn over a new awesome leaf and ride a really rad motorcycle that “les filles will vraiment dig” (chicks will really like). The problem, of course, is actually talking to said chicks.

Messy People get 5th place and their own paragraph. They are a group of people who, after preparing something in the kitchen that smells painfully delicious, leave all their trash all over the kitchen and then the cleaning lady (because she has the power to do so) locks the kitchen with all the trash hanging outside the door in a bag, smelling nasty. Until the trash bag disappears (by magic or not), la cuisine remains annoyingly locked. Messy People leave their shampoo bottles in the shower too and the cleaning lady leaves angry notes on the showers threatening to lock the salle de douche (shower room) if Messy People don’t stop being messy.

6th place goes to perhaps my favorite person: Really Nice Guy. Really Nice Guy is a guy who, amazingly enough is really remarkably nice. He is the kind of guy who gets up from whatever he is doing at the moment and gives you a bisou. He offers to share his pizza with you. He is intently interested in what you’re doing, where you’re going and if you’re Molly, what your email address is. Really Nice Guy is so nice that he introduces you to his other fellow Algerians and creates a really nice awkward social interaction. It’s all really nice when you’re talking about Really Nice Guy.

But in spite of all of their misgivings, all these people in my building are fantastic. They’re hilarious! They’re awkward! They’re unforgettable! And along with the two giant suitcases I will be hauling out of my building Sunday, I will be carrying the memory of these people with me.

Saying Bonjour et Au Revoir Tuesday, May 25 2010 

This part of the trip is always about what little things need to be completed last-minute so that the experience of studying overseas finishes with such a smooth ride that you almost don’t recognize its finale. I seem to have accumulated an enormous list telling me what last-minute things I need to do before I leave Caen. Who do I need to visit? What words of encouragement do I need to speak? How in God’s green earth am I going to fit everything in my suitcase??!?

Within the last week, I have been saying goodbye to people here who I know I may not see for the rest of my life. It’s a difficult situation because I deeply love my friends in France and have been blessed excessively by their presence in my life these past 4 months.

When my friend Martha asked me to play violin last week at the Feast of the Pentecost Mass and consequently her confirmation service, I couldn’t think of another way to be a bigger blessing. I met Martha the very first Sunday in Caen at Eglise St. Pierre. Molly looked at me like I had lost the last remaining marble when I told her that I was going to thank the pretty violinist for playing in church. I had no idea what to say to Martha! I stumbled through bad French while she looked on at me, amused, and then asked in a perfect American accent, “Are you American?” My jaw must have hit the floor because she laughed and we instantly became friends. She introduced Molly and I to the “other girl from Minnesota,” Mary Elise Holmgren. Mary Elise, in turn, introduced us to many people from the Aumonerie, the Catholic student organization that has been the source for so many wonderful conversations and friendships.

My sister, Marthe, whose friendship has shrunk the world by a whole ocean.

"The other Minnesota girl," Mary Elise, who helped Molly and I make so many irreplaceable friends.

Friends at the Aumonerie house during a BBQ

Since that time, I have made friends with people from all over the world, on every continent and from every financial, educational and even emotional status! I have laughed with, cried with and been angry with people. With my friends, I have giggled until my stomach muscles begged for respite, been introspective and frightened out of my mind. During this journey, when all else failed, we held hands and prayed. It has not been an easy time, but one that with faith and friends is far from impossible. I grieve to say goodbye to my wonderful friends from my classes, but know that they’ll always be close to my heart.

Preston Leslie and me at a cello recital in Abbaye Aux Dames.

Mary Elise, Molly and the birthday boy, Louis Guillotte

Me, François Cogez and Molly in the garden at the Aumonerie house

Today, I welcome one of two Americans friends to France for the last 14 days of staying in this beautiful country, rich with culture and sights to see. Laura Vein [“Laura the Chef”] is currently making her way north to Caen to see me while I struggle through the last little hoops of my education at the Universite de Caen Basse-Normandie. While I pass my exams, she’ll be soaking in the sights, smells, tastes and sounds of Caen… and then, it’s off to more exciting adventures when Laura Trude arrives on Sunday. We will be traveling from Paris to Nice, Nice to Monaco, Monaco back to Nice, and then Nice to Dijon. From Dijon we return to Paris and catch our respective flights. There will be many pictures, stacks of stories and many adventures.

Stick around while we wrap up this journey as friends!

Mmmm… Saint-Malo, Mont-Saint-Michel and Mutton! Wednesday, May 19 2010 

Sometimes when I begin entries such as the following, I have to struggle to convey how fully indescribably beautiful the sight was without being a mini-Rick Steves. The two places I have to tell you about are so fantastic that the only way to truly appreciate them is to visit them yourself.

Our rented car!

I hopped in a rented French car with my Italian friends Maura Talozzi, Valentina Graziosi and Stefano Laboni. I will tell you up-front that I was scared brainless because of several reasons. I was 1) traveling to a place I’d never been with 2) people I hardly knew 3) in a car driven by Italians who have a bad reputation for driving habits. I was thrilled to find that all my worries were completely irrational as we drove 140 km (about 90 miles) to Saint-Malo and Mont-Saint-Michel laughing and speaking in French and Italian.

A panoramic shot of Saint-Malo. (Not work by yours truly!)

Saint-Malo, an ancient city in Brittany, is tucked into protective walls that look like a medieval take on inner city housing. The ramparts are no longer used to keep people out, and we rambled alongside the beautiful walls to gaze on the Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel (Mont-Saint-Michel Bay). The city is home to more seafood restaurants per capita than any other place in the world, and Maura and I longed for les huîtres (oysters) when we smelled the sweet, salty air coming off the baie.

We enjoyed our lunch in a park surrounded by ancient buildings and hungry birds and then said au revoir to Saint-Malo, headed for Mont-Saint-Michel!

Beautiful lady! My friend Maura, perched on the ramparts of Saint-Malo

Beautiful aqua water of Saint-Malo and Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

Ramparts of Saint-Malo. Right behind what looks like rowhouses is centre ville (downtown)!

Situated just between Brittany and Basse-Normandie, there is a small island that until about the year 700 AD was called Monte Tombe (Tomb Mountain). Work began on a monastery after the Archangel Michael appeared to the Saint Aubert, Bishop of Avranches. In 933, William Duke of Normandy (and later known as “the Conquerer”) annexed the little island and its monastery. Ducal patronage helped expand the monastery for many centuries following the Norman Conquest (which was depicted by the Bayeux Tapestry and in which Mont-Saint-Michel has a prominent role!). [Click here if you need a refresher course on William the Conquerer and his cool tapestry!]

Beautiful, beautiful Mont-Saint-Michel by night. (I did not take this picture either!)

The abbaye has resisted invasion after invasion over the course of its 1,300 year existence. Its natural fortification of water, quicksand and unnaturally fast-moving fog-cover and tidal swells seem to be divinely placed. In the Hundred Years War, although the English failed to capture the abbaye itself, they did capture the area and granted safe passage to pilgrims in exchange for payment. People of all walks of life paid homage to the mountain and its safety, many drowning in the quickly rising tides, sneaky quicksands and strange weather patterns associated with the area.

Warnings posted on the beach about the quicksand and quickly-flooding high tides.

The walls and streets are steeped in history as are many places in France. Molly said it best when she said in response to one of my offhanded remarks, “Well yeah, Kelli… France is fairly tripping over itself with history,” which I remembered with startling clarity when I tripped numerous times over the ancient, hand-laid cobblestone steps and streets of the village. The village of Mont-Saint-Michel has a grand population of 46 people. While most of the workers in the dozen cafes and tourist shops live in Pontorson, a small city 6 miles south of the Mont, a few people actually live right on the Mont itself along with a few monks who live in the abbaye.

Mont-Saint-Michel, the way I saw it today.

The busy cobblestoned streets packed with pilgrims, tourists and very overpriced omlettes!

The landscape is marked by very gently rolling collines (hills), dotted with the black-faced sheep and dairy cows who lazily roam les collines and the damp marshes. The sea that soaks the land twice a day at high tide makes the ground naturally salty and in turn grows tangy, salty grasses. When the sheep graze, they themselves become salty. Therefore, it’s completely honest to say that every Breton shepherd has a herd of bona  fide pre-seasoned lamb chops roaming around on the marshes of Mont-Saint-Michel, completely oblivious to the fact that their diet of grasses is making them one of the most sought-after dishes in Brittany!

Looking through the ramparts of Mont-Saint-Michel to the salty marshes below

Me, overlooking the marshes and the Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

Look at all those sheep!!

While I got to know my new friends the Italians and said “O la vache” (“holy cow!”) and “très joli!” (“very pretty!”) more times than I could count, I found that there was no place on earth quite like Mont-Saint-Michel. The sun warmed my back and danced across the water in the baie, the wind kissed my cheeks, and I watched les goellas (gulls) drift lazily on the updrafts from the sea. I was perfectly, 100% contente and thankful.

To learn more about Mont-Saint-Michel and its almost limitless history lesson, get a lamb-chop and click here.

To learn more about the beautiful little port town of Saint-Malo, click here.

Rouen Run Monday, May 17 2010 

When my friend Maura Talozzi (from Sienne, Italy!) asked me to go with her to Rouen, France, I knew I had a really great opportunity on my hands. If I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity, I’d regret it. Boy, was I right!

We left Caen via one of the smooth, comfortable regional trains and headed toward the stunningly pretty capital of Haute-Normandie (High Normandy). The city is about 80 miles north of Paris and just like the larger city, Rouen flanks the Seine River. It was founded by the Romans shortly before the time of Christ (58 BC) and was the second permanent city to be founded in France after Paris. Rouen was hit very hard by the Hundred Years War, mainly because of its location between England and Paris. The beautiful, white hills that surround Rouen and loom over the Seine are mined for the mineral qualities used in the famous ceramic wares that come from Haute-Normandie. Unlike Caen, Rouen was mostly spared during the bombardment of World War II. For that reason, the unique and gorgeous Norman half-timbered houses are largely untouched and look like they may have 300 years ago.

Mes tres belles amies (Maura et Molly) pendant une pause dans un parc (My pretty friends (Maura and Molly) during a break in the park)

Even though the city has a multitude of enjoyment to offer, people usually associate the city with two things: the magnificent Cathédral Notre-Dame de Rouen and Sainte Jeanne-d’Arc.

La Cathédral Notre-Dame de Rouen is the “crowning glory” of Rouen. The cathédral’s enormous cast-iron Lantern Spire rises above the city 495 feet, the tallest tower in France. The Lantern Tower was begun in the 13th century and raised in the 16th century. Construction on the cathédral itself was begun in 1150 and took on its final appearance in the 15th century. La Cathédral Notre-Dame was badly damaged during World War II and has been under constant reconstruction for 50 years and will most likely continue for another 25 years. The cathedral itself was the subject for a series of impressionist paintings by Claude Monet in the early 1900s. Monet was interested in how sunlight effected the pictorial capturing of a constant subject. It is estimated that if you were to buy only ONE of paintings by Monet, it would sell for approximately $45,000,000.

Beautiful Cathedral Notre-Dame de Rouen

Sun streaming into Cathedral Saint-Ouen, another exquisite cathedral in Rouen

One of Monet's paintings of the Rouen Cathedral worth about $45 million.

In the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen (Museum of Fine Art of Rouen), I was thrilled to actually see one of the incredible impressionistic pieces of the cathédral by Monet along with other invaluable pieces of art by the likes of Clouet, de Boullogne, Vouet and Jouvenet. The musée holds an incredible collection of irreplaceable art, hideous art and we even found startlingly realistic art in the form of a living statue. The living statue was cloaked in a white sheet, and her face was painted white. She did not move. Not even a flutter of an eyelash was delectable! Only after regarding her for several seconds did I realize she was a living, breathing human being. I marveled.

We toured the one remaining tower of the ancient castle built by Philippe Auguste in the 13th century and the place where Jeanne-d’Arc (Joan of Arc) was subjected to torture and imprisonment before her hideous fate on May 30, 1431. Jeanne-d’Arc was canonized in 1920 and is the Patron Saint of France. Throughout Rouen, there are many tributes to the saint: a cross in the Vieux-Marche (Old Market) where she was burned at the stake and Eglise Ste-Jeanne-d’Arc (Church of Joan of Arc) completed in 1979 are only two of many.

Vieux-Marche (Old Market) and I believe what is supposed to look like Jeanne-d'Arc's helmet

We spoke in French the entire day, falling into yet another culture “melange” that has become very comfortable yet at the same time remains painfully exhausting. As we rolled back into Caen after such a full and wonderful day, I thought that the world had shrunk a little bit more with the acquisition of my Italian friend Maura while we spoke in French about things of the world.

Beautiful half-timbered houses you do not commonly find in Caen because of the bombardment from World War II

If you’d like to learn more about Rouen or see what the newer parts of the city look like, click here.

To learn more extensively about La Cathédral Notre-Dame, click here.

Beautiful Cherbourg (Part II) Sunday, Apr 25 2010 

I slept soundly and greeted the sweet sunshine that poured into Petra and Nordahl’s lovely flat in the center of Cherbourg. The sky was nearly cloudless and I could tell it was going to be an absolutely fantastic afternoon.

Petra and I enjoyed cup after cup of yummy coffee and toast with rhubarb jam and laughed about silly things like girls usually do. Cultures are wonderful in this way: you can travel the world and the little things you take particular delight in follow you around and manifest themselves in different ways. The joyfulness of sharing a cup of coffee (or three!) with my Czech friend was simply irreplaceable.

We left the flat and went on another tour of Cherbourg, this time to see what we could see of the sea from the Montagne du Roule (say that ten times fast). We walked along the Avenue de Paris to another beautiful park, full of exotic birds and not so exotic birds (giant chickens and geese), and I looked up to the beautiful blue sky to see the Fort du Roule, where the Germans, while they occupied Cherbourg, entrenched and offered fierce resistance before surrendering to the Allies and Free French.

Petra and me, on top of the Montagne du Roule. It was a little bit windy!

The Montagne du Roule itself is noteworthy because the mountain hosts intertwining tunnels dug entirely by man-power of a prisoner held in the mountain for two years. There is a war museum in the fort perched on the side of the mountain, too. It was opened in June 1954, just nine years after V-E Day.

Looking out on the Montagne du Roule. You can see the fort tucked on the right side of the mountain.

The following pictures are what we saw when we got to the top of the mountain! I hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I enjoyed the experience. The wind whipped our hair around and kissed our cheeks while the warm sun brushed our cheeks with a little bit of red. Boats drifted lazily in and out of the harbour, and I felt that if I had a picnique, I could stay up on the mountain for a very long afternoon.

One View from the mountain...

Second view from the mountain top

Petra's photography! Me, hopping down from our perch high above the ocean.

If you want to learn more about the Fort du Roule, click here

But if you really want to see beautiful countryside, immaculate parks and oceanfront, there is no choice but to visit Cherbourg for yourself. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

The Golden City Wednesday, Apr 14 2010 

I am inexplicably in a bus traveling toward Linz, Austria. The sky is getting darker and darker and I am left to think about the last 2 days as well as why I am on a bus instead of a train.

I spent a beautiful two days in Prague, capital of Czech Republic with my friends. It was my 4th journey to Prague, and every time I visit the “Paris of the East” it seems to get nearer and dearer to my heart. When I landed in the plane, it was almost like I was coming home. We were warmly greeted by a kind driver who brought us to our hostel. Sir Toby’s Youth Hostel immediately won our love because of its giant fluffy pillows, warm comforters and exceptionally nice desk workers. In spite of the rain, we ventured out to a wonderful restaurant and ate traditional and delightfully cheap Czech food and then hurried back to attend a wine and cheese party at Sir Toby’s. We met a lot of interesting world travelers and shared many laughs over the Czech “stinky cheese.”

This is Sir Toby's, the Greatest Hostel in Prague.

Culture shock manifested itself with the switching of currency (it’s stressful doing division in your head all day for money purposes!) and the people-to-people customs (a startling lack of KISSING in Czech Republic as opposed to France!). I was struck again at my complete and utter lack of language skills. I have, in comparison with my Czech langauge abilities, perfect French.

It’s easy to forget that communism ruled over this country only 20 years ago. In Prague, one is surrounded by the glittering beauty of a city that works tirelessly to obliterate any trace of the deep scars imparted by communism. The rambling, majestic castle stands beyond the swiftly-flowing Vlatava River over which the Charles Bridge and all 31 of its famous statues seem to preside.

Me, on the Charles Bridge, ignoring the fact that I was getting more and more soaked with rain. Prague is beautiful, even in the rain and when you have wet feet!

Big Square by night in Prague.

One of my favorite little things about Czech Republic is the existence of terracotta rooftops and the warm glow that the color seems to give the city as you look over it from the Petrin Observation Tower (which is why Prague is oftentimes referred to as the “Paris of the East”). In spite of the unwelcome rain that thinned out the usual crowds of people, I soaked in the distinct beauty that one can only find in Prague by night.

Prague, splendid view from the Petrin Observation Tower

The City of Terracotta rooftops. The reason it was called the Golden City comes from the practice of putting the city's extensive gold reserves on the rooftops, safe from thieves.

The people you meet in the shops, at the hostels or waiting your table seem to be bred for niceness, as though its part of their very core to be kind and generous. Yet at the same time, as my friend Molly observed, there is a distinct feel to the city and its people. The Czech people have suffered under persecution from destructive government regimes for many decades, and it’s as though they are very anxious and happy to show others what their city is truly like (warm and welcoming!) instead of the stigma that might still linger from the days of communism and a closed-off country’s inhospitality.

Prague Castle by night. The lights of the castle are reflected in the Vlatava River.

If any country in Central-Eastern Europe can make you fall in love, it’s Prague. Come visit! Stay for awhile and soak in the kindness, the atmosphere and the beauty of a country that is worth a second look. The story of how I came to be on a bus instead of a train will be saved for the next installment of my adventure in Czech Republic.

Me, Molly and Laura spending time in the castle gardens with breathtaking views of the Vlatava River and the city.

To learn about the Petrin Observation Tower, click here.

To learn a little Czech History and how far this country has come in the last century, click here.

To see where I stayed and where you can find Sir Toby’s, click here. You won’t be disappointed!!! This is the BEST HOSTEL!

Brothers and Sisters (A Picture Post) Monday, Apr 5 2010 

On Easter Sunday, I went to church at Eglise St. Pierre and reveled in the joyous ambiance that is the epitome of Easter Sunday. Sun streamed into the stained glass windows and the smell of incense filled the sanctuary. As the organ blasted arpeggios and powerful chords, I closed my eyes and soaked in the happiness.

Eglise St. Pierre, where I worshiped on Sunday (It was a lot more populated on Sunday!)

I came home after going to Sunday Market where I bought a fantastic galette and a baguette. I ate the last of my Peeps and Bunny Mallows–sweet, sweet taste of America!–and felt that all was right with the world. Just when I thought it could get any better with a mid-afternoon nap, I got a call from Molly asking me if I wanted to come over to the Aumonerie house for Easter celebration. The Aumonerie is a group of students who meet at least once a week to worship and fellowship together.

I have one brother who I love to pieces. Everybody should have such an awesome brother, but unfortunately for all of you, he’s mine. But yesterday, I got a whole bunch of amazing brothers and sisters through the Aumonerie to supplement my sibling cache! That is by far the best Easter present I’ve ever received! Jean Christophe, François, Thinh, Joseph, Mary Elise, Molly, Martha and I sang songs while accompanied by instruments and laughed ourselves ill over silliness. We played games and had an Easter Egg Hunt outside in the grass. We danced around like kids and ate amazing food. My fingers were joyful when my sister Martha let me play her violin.

The Aumonerie House, where I spent Easter!

Lovely Spring Daffodil

Martha, Mary Elise and Molly

Jean Christophe, being funny with a scarf and Mary Elise playing guitar

Easter Egg Hunt!!!!!

Jean Christophe found an Easter Egg! Haha

Being Funny with Ballet, Mary Elise and François

Jean Christophe, Me and Martha goofing off after the Easter Egg Hunt

It was a joyous day, one that will remain forever in my memory as one of the best Easters I’ve ever had the privilege to celebrate. Christ the Lord is Risen! Alleluia!

A Trip to World War II and Galette Land Sunday, Feb 7 2010 

The idea of World War II strikes a different chord with the people here. As the memories and real-life experiences of the men and woman  fade away with age, the memorials and grant founders seek out the individuals who aided in the war effort and their stories.

We went to the World War II Memorial of Caen yesterday with our friends Mary Elise and Louis. It was a brisk day, and we walked a long jaunt up and down the hills of the countryside to the outskirts of the city.

The memorial is something that you must first prepare yourself for utter sobriety.  After all, the war impacted the whole world. There were 50-70 million deaths as a result of World War II alone.

The museum is entered through a small, reflective door and beautiful entry-way in a long flat stucco façade, which symbolizes the Allies’ improbable breach of the “impregnable” Nazi Atlantic Wall. Inscribed in French across the façade are the verses: “Pain broke me; brotherhood lifted me. From my wound sprang a river of freedom.”

The Museum by Night

We saw so many interesting things here. Everything from the Vichy (think hard, all you Casablanca buffs!) to the Resistance to the Holocaust to the Cold War and beyond.  It was beautiful, horrifying, amazing and terrifying at the same time. I urge everyone to attend this place if you have the chance to do so.

Caen

This is what the city looked like circa 1944. Can you imagine coming back to your “home” and finding this?  Living here gives a person a whole new appreciation for what the American, Canadian, French and British GIs did for this country and the liberty of their own countries.

GIs outside of what may be present-day Eglise St. Pierre

After we left the memorial, we went to our friend Louis’ dorm where he made us the most amazing galettes we had ever tasted. I took diligent mental notes so when I return to the United States I can make them too. Get ready to have your culinary palate blown to smitereens because galettes are just that good.

Louis making Galettes

We had the regional cider (pronounced in French like “see-druh”) and enjoyed the awkward pauses that people who don’t share a fluent language usually do. It was a perfectly delightful evening.

God Bless France and the French!

If you want to learn more about the museum, visit the website here.

To learn how to make Galettes (but not Louis’ because he probably has a secret recipe), follow and bookmark this link.

Faux-Pas Thursday, Feb 4 2010 

Because I go to a school specifically for foreign language students (like me), it wouldn’t make any sense for a fluent French speaker to be in my classes. This is a bummer, but I have found ways to meet French friends. I have, as you might know, never been one to get the short end of a social stick.

When Molly and I went to church last Sunday, we met about 6 different people. One of them, whose name was Francois, introduced himself straight up without the formal classroom model, “Hello, how are you? My name is ____.” He simply said, “Francois.” And me, being culture-shocked-grasp-any-word-that-I-remotely-recognize said, “AMERICAIN!!!!”

In the split second I had to process my French language success, I realized with horror that I had not only completely disregarded his NAME, but I had mistaken it for a NATIONALITY. To top off the Moronic Marvel, I added that I was an American BOY. Not a girl. Uuuugh.

I realized my error and covered my face in absolute mortification. I knew they weren’t laughing AT me but rather at my epiphany, but I desperately wanted to find the next large casket in the church and crawl into it. Molly insisted I was endearing, Francois was a complete gentleman about it and we are all laughing about it now.

In the next 2 weeks, I am going to be attending a wonderful little “fête” for Mardi Gras at Le Club Ancienne Mairie. I have no idea what I’m getting myself into especially for Mardi Gras, but I am excited to make even more friends and practice what French I know (WITHOUT wanting to crawl into a casket!).

This picture has nothing to do with the post. I just love Molly and this picture SO MUCH, I had to share it with you.

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