I’ve made it to France! I’m safely in Tours with my current host mother, Françoise Remion, who is absolutely wonderful. Thanks to my "host sister" Anna, I'm able to use the WiFi at l'Institut de Touraine to publish this post! We’ll get into all that later on.
Since our last post, I had two more flights. I managed to cat nap a bit on my flight between Boston and Dulles, then I relaxed a bit before my friend Red I mean Rouge’s flight came in. I waited for her by her baggage carousel, then we got her and one of the other Sweet Briar girls that was on her flight something to eat, chatted for a bit, and waiting for Sandra’s flight to come in. Once she got her bags, we headed over to the Marriott near the airport where our meeting was going to be held. When we got there, we met up with Sheila and Krystal, the other two girls from our college that were going on the trip as well. We all chatted for a bit, and exchanged stories of how we were excited that there was actually a wine tasting on our itinerary for Tours. Well... Sandra, Rouge and Sheila were excited. Krystal and I don’t drink, so we’re worried. The other girls are pretty sure Krystal and I are going to be tipsy or worse after our tasting, and they find that hilarious. That led us to all of us exchanging drunk stories before our meeting was going to start...
Right before we headed into the meeting, each one of us picked up three things; a name tag, a list of what to do once we got to the Charles De Gaule airport, and a sealed envelope with our names on it. I didn’t want to open the envelope because I thought it was a bill. I was wrong, it was our host family assignments for Tours!
Translation: [My host mom] is retired. She’s dynamic, and is the president (or presides over, however you feel like translating it) of a foreign exchange program in Tours. She has a cat, and she doesn’t smoke. For hobbies, she does charity work, cooks, and travels.
After the basic informational meeting was over, we were all bussed back to Dulles, checked our bags (hello $100 fee for Air France for a second bag, but I saw that coming), went through a crazy line in security, got some food, met a really cool guy named Sven from South Africa, got on our flight to Paris, and headed off. They served me a gluten-free meal that was pretty good. One thing I really like about being gluten-free: you get your airline meal FIRST. I had an aisle seat, which was supposed to be good for my clotting disorder so I could get up and walk, but I didn’t want to walk at all, so that just made it harder for me to sleep. So I guess I still like having window seats. I was able to sleep a little bit, I think the sleeping pill I took helped.
Once we landed in Paris, I was able to navigate the airport pretty quickly. First stop was the passport checkpoint you had to go through to get to your baggage. A few other Sweet Briar students had gone in front of me. Once I got to the employee, this conversation happened:
“Vous êtes etudier à Paris aussi?”
“Et vous avez un visa?”
Then the employee started to laugh, and looked at her co-worker in the booth with her and said:
“Les filles savent tous. Les hommes... rien. Sorbonne aussi?”
“Oui... mais je suis s’inscrit au Sorbonne Nouvelle.”
“Ah. Bon chance.”
Apparently the poor guy in front of me was still a little tired from the flight. Either way, score one for some how being alert... After that, I went to baggage claim, got my bags, and bypassed customs since I didn’t have anything to declare. I went out to the buses, dropped off my largest bag to be stored until I need it when I return to Paris in two weeks, put my carry on and my smaller bag in the storage area of the bus, and took a spot inside. I was able to sleep more on the bus than I had in the planes. We stopped in Orléans for lunch, and as promised, I’m trying to take pictures of every meal I have in France.
So that was my first French meal. A store bought Caesar salad without the croutons. Rouge ate them for me. Back on the road, and a couple hours later, we were in the garden of the Institute of Touraine where we were meeting our host families. Like I said, Françoise (though I still call her “madame”) is absolutely wonderful. She drives a Saab, which I think is cool. I think she’s a widow, since she talks about “her husband,” and there are pictures everywhere, but he’s not living here anymore. She complimented my on my French speaking ability, so I’m happy about that. She’s hosting another foreign exchange student from Japan named Anna, and she’s been here since April. Madame also knew about my gluten thing before I got here. She happens to have a friend who went on a gluten-free (and lactose/casein-free) diet for her fibromyalgia, so she’s having an easy time with it. On the way to the Institute, I saw a little health food store that advertised gluten-free food, so I asked Madame if we could go check it out soon. She was intrigued and said we would. She has a cat, and I’ve forgotten was her name is at the moment, but the cat is adorable. She likes to climb on the furniture, and she’ll come in my room every once in a while. I almost got a picture of her sitting on the desk chair in my room, but she ran off before I could. The cat will try to claw the furniture and Madame will yell “ne griffe pas” at her. Griffe is the word for cat claw. At first, I thought it was the verb for the act of the cat clawing at something (because of the ne...pas clause used), but madame told me it was just the claws themselves. Believe it or not, the cat listens. Madame walked me through a few things, including the fact that if I choose to go out at night with friends and I have to come home alone, she’d like me to call her to come get me (instead of having me try to walk home or take a bus), because “pour quinze jours, vous êtes famille.” and I almost started to cry. This is the hospitality I knew existed in France that no one ever really talked about. I feel like actual family units in America don’t treat each other this well. Granted, I have no plans to be out that late, but it’s good to know Madame’s there for me if something like that were to happen.
Time for a picture tour of my room!
This is my own personal desk. My Macbook charger won’t fit in the area where the socket is, so if I sit at the desk and work on my computer, it’s running on battery, which is unfortunate, but it’s still pretty cool. The glass doors behind the desk open out onto a balcony. When I’m home, I keep the doors open to let some air in, and when I’m in the room in the evening, I open the shutters to get some cold air in to cool the room down enough so I can sleep.
This is what you see when you first walk in. I’ve unpacked and moved the suitcases out of the way by now of course... The bed is really comfy! When I’m working on my computer when it’s plugged in, I’ll unplug the lamp, plug in my computer with the European adaptor from the world kit, and sit in the blue and green blanket covered chair, which is also super comfy.
My boyfriend’s family is really big in Rotary (like past club presidents and District Governor big), so I thought they’d appreciate this. I talked to Madame about this a bit more. She’s served as the president of the local Inner Wheel club, which is the women’s club, and her husband served as president of their club a couple times. I think she mentioned something about having either a friend or her husband be district governor or director as well...
This is off to the left wall if you’re sitting at the desk. I’m not sure what all of these medals mean, but they’re cool to look at.
These are the views you get from my balcony!
There’s a bookshelf that kind of outlines my bed about three feet above it. Hey look, more Rotary stuff!
I wanted to get a closer look at that cool globe.
This is a bookshelf that’s immediately to your right when you walk in the door. I’m think Madame is in both of the pictures you see here, but the color one is definitely her, and it's been taken recently. The pipe thing is pretty cool as well.
This urn type thing is sitting on a nightstand bookshelf at the foot of my bed.
Hmm. It’s meant to satisfy that late-night cigarette craving we all know I have... not. Still cool. That would explain the ashtray in the room. You can kind of see it on the small round table in the first picture.
Enclosed bookshelf turned half-used liquor cabinet! In case the glass of wine I had at dinner wasn’t enough (you'll hear about that in a minute)! Again, still really cool.
This set up was behind the door. I’m not sure whose backpack this is, or why it’s here, but the US Army patches on it are super cool, and it’s definitely cool that this just so happens to be in my room.
This is in a bookshelf between my bed and the armoire in the room I’m using. Jean Remion (Madame’s husband) can be seen in the picture in the center, and that was supposedly taken when he was 51. There are pictures of him around the house looking much older than he does there, which leads me to believe that he passed away in the last few years. I noticed that his name is still on the door when Madame brought me to the house.
After I unpacked, Anna came home, and we had dinner. Tonight's dinner had four courses. Madame got a phone call right before we sat down, and Anna didn’t hear the first call to dinner, so I snapped a quick picture of the set up on my iPod camera (I carry my iPod with me at all times in the house so I have my LaRousse French-English dictionary app on hand whenever I need it, and I've used it a few times already, Madame says it's a good thing to have).
Isn’t it cute? I’ll admit, the wine on the table threw me off. Madame offered it to me, and I hesitated, but had a glass anyway. I figure I’m going to have to start having a glass of wine with dinner at some point, might as well get to it. It’d be rude to refuse, after all. It was a rosé wine, and was pleasant (until I had to down the last half of my glass at the end of the final course after Madame and Anna had refilled their glasses twice). Our first course was the entrée, and I’d never had exactly what we had before. Radishes (they were either raw or very lightly blanched) with butter and salt. Madame and Anna had to walk me through this one. I tried taking the radishes out one by one with my fork and knife, but Madame told me to do it with “les doigts” meaning my fingers. You took a little bit of butter, smeared it on the tip of the radish, dipped it in salt, and bit that piece off like you were eating a baby carrot. I’ve never been one for eating radishes, but that was really tasty! I think I ate about nine of them. You can see them in the little bowl in the center of the picture. Next course was the plat principale. Madame had us throw our green radish tips into a bowl, then she took the bowl of leftover radishes away, and brought out a platter of three pork cutlets and a bowl of green beans mixed with garlic, cream, and some cheese. Very delicious. We cleared those plates, then had our cheese course. We had some Camembert, and some kind of spreadable cheese that I can’t remember the name of, but it was delicious. Dessert was the last course, and we had some fresh nectarines. They’d been on the table the whole time in a basket. The plates we used all portions of the meal were already on the table when we sat down, it was just a matter of taking off the ones that’d we’d used, and “dishing out” the clean ones.
I had the morning off today, so I left the house with Anna and walked with her to l'Institut so I could get a feel for the route. Once classes start, I'll have to leave the house a bit earlier than she does every day. It's about a 20-30 minute walk. Now that I'm done with this, I'm going to head back into the business district to see if I can buy a French SIM card and get it to work with my phone. If not, I'll get in touch with Sandra and buy her phone from her. I'll see if I can stop by that health food store I saw yesterday from the bus (it's right by l'Institut) and pick up some gluten-free goodies to show Madame as well, since there's more to the gluten-free world than the galette de riz (rice cakes) that Madame bought for me to have instead of bread (which I'm very grateful for, of course). I’m going to see if I can get Madame to take me to a pharmacie to get some toiletries that I need to “upgrade” from travel size to my regular size (I can do that on my own, though), or maybe even just a tour of Tours in her car. She’d offered that yesterday, but I was too tired to do it. Today is an easy day with Sweet Briar. We’ve got a welcome reception, a picture we get to take, a welcome cafe meeting that Anna is going to take me to... We’re going to visit a big Château on Saturday, Sunday is a free day, and classes start on Monday. Let’s hope I can get my phone situation taken care of before then! Tout arrive en France. -La Rochefoucauld.