Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Church and State

**WARNING: This is going to be a rant. I have had a long day fighting with my World History teacher and defending something, I never in a million years, would have defended had it not been clouded in today's circumstance.**

January 20th marked an important day in American History and the history of the world. Barack
Even though he may not have been my first choice, Obama
is my president and I respect him for that.
Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of my birth country, the United States of America. The world applauded his inauguration, or perhaps it was actually the departure of former President George W. Bush. Regardless of whether I supported or did not support Obama during the election (I did not, but I honestly was not pleased with either candidate. I am a Libertarian, what can I say?) President Obama is my country's president. He was elected by the majority, a 'mandate for change,' and so I stand behind him.

Since the election, France has fallen in love with America all over again. My favorite example is the fact that Miss France is even American (a dual citizen.) They do not even seem to have a little grudge that the world crisis started in America. Why should they? Obama is the president, and everyone loves Obama. In fact a poll taken at my school shows the students would prefer Obama to Sarkozy as their president by 86% (6% did not care.) That is all well and good, but I think the French expect him to be, well, French. And while I am at it, I think they are going to find that Obama is a bit more conservative than they believe him to be. But I guess we will just have to wait and see.

But with France's crush of Obama, it might not be surprising to hear that in both English and History classes, I have watched the inauguration speech. I have my own opinion on speech, but right now I just want to talk about the after effects of watching it. Obama's inauguration speech was filled with religious mentions, he often thanked God and his faith. He placed his hand on the Holy Bible of President Lincoln and swore to fulfill his duty to the United States, saying, "So help me God." And, oh my goodness, "God bless America" what does that mean?

Mind you, this does not even appear strange in the slightest to me. I went to 11 years of American schooling, getting up every morning and saying the Flag Salute, always declaring, "One Nation Under God." The same girl who was infused with patriotism as I watched the Twin Towers fall, and helped my Mom sell American flag pins for the families of the victims. Yes, I know all the words to the American anthems and my heart actually flutters when I listen to American history, which may be short but is filled with heroic deeds and pride. I have a younger sister who will look you in the eye proudly and say, "I am Episcopalian and I believe in God and his love," and a mother who will say, "I do not believe in God." And the American flag always hangs outside my front door, rain or shine.

But that is just me, an American girl surrounded by a classroom of French people. Obama's various mentions of church and state together? Unthinkable in France, even mind-blowing, to say the least. The French believe that their Republic has no connection at all to religion, and is in fact a device used to maintain the separation. The law of 1905 stands strong and binding separating the two powerful bodies. This may be hard to fathom, but the French are not patriotic, proud, yes, but not patriotic. They are proud of their wine and their history (they love the fact that they chopped of their kings head) but I do not suspect they would be willing to give up their lives for France as easily as Americans are. And the truth is, that religion, whether it is in some way shape or form connected or not connected to the state, shapes everything from politics to cultural customs.

So when the speech was done, my history teacher, in an accusatory tone, said, "It is unthinkable for us Frenchmen to watch a nation worship God so much."
 nodded, but replied, "Well it is true that there are a lot of people in the United States who live by their religion, but to be honest, Sir, the religion in my president's speech had more to do with tradition than the way the country is run."

"That is incorrect," he began, and I could tell that it was argument time. Argument time with a Frenchmen, who believes he knows more about America than an American, is a waste of time. I usually just concede because I know changing the deeply instilled beliefs of a Frenchmen is like changing the seasons or the health care system of France (impossible.) But I am tired of being told how America is run and why it has problems. "President Obama is a deeply religious man, but as the former president Bush, and the government. Look at the American dollar, it says, 'In God We Trust.'"

"But, sir, it has always said that. My country was founded on the beliefs that God is almighty and powerful. Our forebearers were religious and instilled many traditions that are still around today, such as the words on the dollar bill, the presidential oath, and the words to the pledge of allegience..." becfore I could continue, the teacher cut me off.

"Yes, every morning Americans students MUST say, One Nation Under God. That is proof enough and unthinkable for us. We created a law in 1905 that clearly separates religion and state," he said firmly.

"Yes but so did we in 1791 with the first amendment, stating that state can not establish a connection and also free excercise of religion! And plus, when you recite the Flag Salute you have to stand, but you do not have to anything! You do not have to say under God. Just like Obama did not have to use a Bible at the swearing in ceremony. Theodore Roosevelt and John Quicy Adams did not use bibles to swear in. Yes, America is far more religious than France, but it also has a lot more tradition!" Okay I resorted back to English, but the baffled and gaping look of the teacher, who speaks English, proved to me one thing. I got my point across, and even of he does not agree and continues to believe America is ridiculously religious, at least I feel better.

But there is one thing that this whole incident has made me realize about life in general. We as human beings, whether we believe in God or not, whether we believe in heaven or just living right here and right now, we all need something to believe in. President Obama believes in the power of God, and prays that the lord will help him bring forth his duty to the American people. The French believe in living their lives on Earth to the fullest, indulging in all the passion and pleasure they can grasp through their strikes, government, vacations, wine, and cheese. Many Americans believe in heaven and hell, and to live their lives according to the rules of God and the Bible. Scientists believe in their field of study, that the way the world works can be attributed to the Big Bang and Evolution. My own family has different beliefs; my younger sister is an extremely religious Episcopalian, my father a Catholic, and my Mother an atheist. As for me? I have struggled throughout the years, but I finally realized that I too need something to believe in. I do not know if there is a God or not, but I will not outright deny his existence. I look around at the beauty of this world and the good things that do happen, and I wonder if it is chance or if it the work some higher power.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Paris: The City of Love?

The Garner terrors do Paris.
I can not remember the first time I said to myself, "I want to go to Paris one day." I was probably still in the womb, like most people who have even the slightest connection to pop culture. But all humor aside, I have never met someone in my life who did not want to see 'The City of Love,' at least once in their life time.

The setting to many romance novels and dreams.
I do not who can be blamed for this phenomenon. Maybe it is Walt Disney and all the storytellers who tell tale tales of being able to see the Eiffel Tower from every window in France. Or perhaps Hollywood, with it's vivid histories of innocent good girls finding love in Paris, with the Eiffel Tower looming blissfully in the background. Maybe it is all the designers in the fashion industry that draw out Paris to be this classy fabulously luxurious city for the rich and famous. I do not really know who can be blamed with the world's lust for Paris. Only that it is not true in the slightest. At least for me.

I have been to Paris now three times. One time was just a run through the Metro and a brief glance of the Eiffel Tower. In just an hour- I fell completely enamored with the city and developed a strange thirst to get back there as soon as I could. I saw the Eiffel Tower for the very first time in my life and in those brief moments of excitement I made the touristy mistake of judging the entire city by it's famous landmark. Beautiful and almost perfect. The second visit was certainly an eye-opening experience. For my birthday, my host parents got me two train tickets for a weekend visit to Paris. The weekend was great- and I explored things in Paris by foot, seeing the things that most tourists skip over or cover their eyes to. Some good things and some bad. Here are some of the things I noted during my birthday weekend:

  • People in Paris have not the vaguest idea how to walk. When you see someone coming your way, you are supposed to go right, just as they are supposed to go right. Walking in Paris is actually like playing a game of chicken. Although you can tell who the tourists are because they are the ones who actually get out of the way.
  • I spent more time watching the side walk for those sneaky little mounds of dog poo than taking in the beauty of old Paris. Parisians never pick up their dog's little presents. Why should they? No one else does.
  • I thought I had seen far too many beggars in New York, but than I took the Paris Metro. The musical beggars take the RER train because they can play their tunes between stops, heckle the passengers for money, and if they see a looming threat, they can just quickly get off. But the African fellows at Trocadero and Montmarte are by far the worst. They grab your wrists and immediately begin tying a piece of string around them. Then you HAVE to pay for it and give them money. In addition, some of the best English speakers in Paris are beggars, so do not even try to use the whole, "I do not speak French" thing.
  • A lot of people complain about the English speaking tourists that come to France and only speak English. Well all I have to say is that I can speak a little French, and every time I spoke in French, the store clerks and waiters quickly resorted to mangled English. So stop complaining about English tourists if you are not going to speak French to an American girl who is ACTUALLY TRYING to speak French!
  • The entire city is aimed for one purpose and one purpose only: tourists. The history of Paris has roots in the times of the Romans, but I am certain they began scheming the tourist trap even back then. There is really nothing wrong with a city aimed at taking people's money, but that makes it harder for folks like me, who want experience the real Paris, to be really happy. Instead us travellers have to suck it up and act like tourists.
As one might be able to tell, I was sure that I had seen and done enough of Paris for a while. And so I was not exactly looking forward to spending an entire 4 days in the city of love with my little sister, Shannon. In the frozen December cold. It had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with my annoyance with Paris.

My kid sister is a typical American tourist, who came to France with visions of French Berets, Eiffel Towers, and Baguettes dancing in her mind. Since I actually like France, regardless of what it may sound like, I wanted her to like France just as much as I did. But what I like about France is vineyards, bodies of water, mountains, and my host family. None of which would be with us while we took on the capital city of France. It was a scary thought for me, but I tried my very hardest not to let anyone know I was worried.

And so Shannon and Julie Garner spent 4 full days in Paris, touring Sacre-Coeur, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and many other things that I picked, and thus, are not exactly major tourist destinations. I can not speak for Shannon, but I know in the first day, she had the same starry-eyed enamored feeling with the city. Who can deny the magic of the Eiffel Tower in the late night hours, a calming blue with mystical sparkles dancing up and down the sides? But one day is all she needed in Paris, and I am pretty sure she grew annoyed with the city just after that.

Sisters at Notre Dame.
As for me? I am certain you are expecting another rant about why Paris bites the big one, but honestly, I love Paris again. Somewhere along the way of dodging of dog manure, having language battles, and learning that if they are not going to move for you, then why should you move for them, I learned something crucial about Paris. Once you can throw out all those old stereotypes: a city of love, culture, and beauty; and accept it for what it really is: a normal typical city just like New York and London, only more catered to tourists, than you are bound to enjoy. Honestly, I can not wait to get back up to Paris and invest in some cheap little Eiffel Tower trinkets for souvenirs.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Another Reason Why Burgundy Is The Best Place in France

That is, indeed, a Saint growing out of my head.
Only in Bourgogne, or Burgundy for all you Anglo-Saxons, can you do all of the following in one rainy gray awful January morning:
Wine parade in the early AM because this is Burgundy!
1.] Have your first glass of Grand Crus Maconnais White Wine at 7:30 AM, after resisting for an hour the heckling cries of the proud viticulteurs offering their delicious treat. Then finally declaring, "Well it's 5 o'clock somewhere! Maybe Tahiti?"

2.] Make the mandatory once a year visit to church, without feeling an ounce of guilt. Why should you feel guilty when you are a) slightly buzzed and b) praying to Saint Vincent and God for another successful season of wine growing?

3.] Weather pouring rain, wet snow, negative degree temperatures, long and far walks while carrying a large wooden saint that weighs a ton, and still having the time of your time while waving at crowds of fellow Burgundians that have come out to cheer on the wine delegations.

4.] Feel so proud to be a Burgundian that everytime someone breaks a glass, you cheer loudly and pat the fellow on the back in Congratulations. Then you break out into the Burgundy drinking song, LA LA LA LA LA LALALALA

Fixin's statue to the patron
saint of wine.
In the spirit of my love for Burgundy wine, my rather dangerous curiosity, and the fact that I really had nothing else to do, I called up Philippe Bernard and invited myself along to the Saint Vincent Festival. My host town had a big celebration last Sunday for the patron saint of wine-growers, but I was unable to go because Brittany was visiting and she needed to be in Dijon for an interview. I had been really disappointed about missing it, until Andrew told me that he had spent 6 hours at the table for the meal. He also firmly declared he would have nothing to do with this Saint Vincent festival ever again, which left an open spot in the car for someone else this morning. *raises hand enthusiastically*

The Saint Vincent Tournante is an integral part of the long and illustrious tradition of wine and winegrowers in Burgundy. The 2009 festival took place in the villages of Chardonnay, Pierreclos and in Mâcon, and is one of the key events of the Burgundy winter. A great spectacle of banners and flags with much marching and drinking, proceedings are rooted deep in the history of Burgundy wine. The Saint-Vincent Tournante celebration is an opportunity to participate in an event which is of great symbolic importance to the wine-growing community of the region. Burgundy now has 80 Saint-Vincent brotherhoods, which are mutual aid fraternities set up to help winegrowers obtain assistance from neighboring vignerons in times of need.

Originally set up in the middle ages under the auspices of the Church, each Saint-Vincent brotherhood was under the protection of its own guardian saint whose staff was carried in ceremonial processions by the brotherhood’s staff-bearer. This combination, social purpose fused with religious passion, is deadly. Saint-Vincent ceremonies are colorful affairs replete with regal red robes heavy with history.
The party is not dull despite the fact that it is dawn.

Each year a different town in Burgundy is selected to host the grand festival. Then each town sends a small delegation with a minimum of two winegrowers, to represent the town by carrying a HEAVY statue of Saint Vincent. As it would have it, the lovely town of town of Fixin was represented by two old winegrowers, and a lovely little American girl (there words, certainly not mine.)
The procession carries on to Macon's
cathedral for a blessing.
We set off at 5:30 from Fixin and arrived approximately at 7. The huge banquet halls was filled with capacity with Burgundian winegrowers and statues of the patron saint of wine. The host town offered the group coffee, bread, and wine of course. I thought it was too early to begin drinking, and my resistance lasted for about an hour. Finally, as the parade began through the streets, Phillippe yelled at me to take out my glass and indulge myself as I was being rude not to. I was amazed at how many folks had come out to watch the procession of towns and saints dance by, since the weather was just ghastly. But just when I decided to give up trying to understand the mindset of these crazy folks that had weathered the snow to watch the parade, someone dropped their wine glass. Suddenly the entire street of people broke out into loud cheers and began singing the Burgundy wine song. In America, we have sports that make people come out in the cold to cheer and be happy. Just look at those whacky tailgaters outside Giant Stadium in a December snow storm. In France, they have their wine.
As the sun began to rise, the large procession reached the host church, where a sitting was to be had in the honor of Saint Vincent. Phillippe went to set down the Fixin statue that he had been lugging around all morning, while I was whisked into the church for an hour of Catholic mass in French. It was pretty boring to say the least, and I began to realize why everyone had warned me to start drinking more. Most of the mass were just spoken passages from the bible about wine, which is amazing to think that so much important stuff is written about wine.

Philippe is in the front with the great Saint on his shoulders.
After the church sitting; it was back out to parade through the streets of crowded Macon, which was now bursting with life since the rain had ceased. We wandered through the streets correcting peoples pronunciation of Fixin, dancing, toasting our glasses, and just enjoying the festival. The final portion of the morning was a ceremony honoring the great Burgundians with medals that just so happened to also be silver wine cups. The winners of the medals were almost always ancient, or propped up from the grave. There was one fellow who was 103 years old and had won because he had delivered bottles of his families wine to the soldiers in World War I, when he was just a toddler. He was in such great shape that he took the medal and then proceeded to do a little dance. A True Burgundian, who makes you believe wine truly is the best stuff for health.

Even though Phillippe had told me that I was going to be miserable at this bizarre festival in the cold with a bunch of crazy wine enthusiasts, I can not even bring myself to understand what he meant. The cold weather, my health, and my French language skills have sort of put me in a roller coaster of emotions of my life here in France. But then things like this crazy festival happen and I reaffirm my love for traveling and experiencing new cultures, and then all the sudden I am back. Maybe it is the wine talking, but I gotta say, Burgundy is truly the best place to be in France. Okay, yeah, it is definitely the wine talking.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Why I Am The Way I Am

I find that I have a tendency of pointing out how non-cenventional my life is, what with France and Japan and all the other weird stuff. That is why this post has nothing to do with how weird I am, but more along the lines of why I am weird. This is all in responce to various accusations I have been receiving about how I am very UN-American, I feel it is time to talk a little bit about why I am the way I am.

One time during my daily internet escapeades, I stumbled upon an incredible profound quote. It really struck a chord in my heart, because it was not only beautiful but it explained a lot about the life I live. "How hard it is to escape from places. However carefully one goes they hold you- you leave little pieces of yourself fluttering on the fences like rags and shread of your life," said by someone called Katherine Mansfield.

I can not even begin to describe how true this quote is. Not a day goes by that I do not think about that beach in Port Douglas, Australia, watching the sun rise over the ocean and feeling small and insignifcant while peering out at that grean ocean blue. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen, and even now, after more extensive travelling, I still believe it was the most magnificent sight of beauty in my life. Or that summer vacation at Midnight, singing Shania Twain, I Feel Like A Woman, besides my Mom, sister, and cousins. Watching the mysterious dancing fire reflect over the pond, where we had spent our day tubing, fishing, pretending, swimming, and loving life. Still not a day escapes me without remembering the most happy time in my life when I was dancing Yosakoi through the broad streets of Kochi, Japan. That particular dance when I strode by only to see the most important people in my life, the Tosajoshi girls decked out in school uniforms, the Masaki's, the Osaki's, and the Katou's, screaming, "YEAH Julie!" and ushering me to the finish line, where I received a variety of medals for great dancing. Or those moments at twilight when the air had the distinctive autumn smokey scent wafting through the village and the vineyards had turned golden and red in Fixin, France.

As usual I made a profound realization with regards to this quote, by doing something rather menial and otherwise forgettable. A few weeks ago, at the Robert's house, Coline and I started decorating the Christmas Tree, or le sapin in French, and since Leonie is German, I may as well throw in the Tannenbaum. Leonie is very specific about her tree, refusing to allow any ornaments that contradict with the white lights. And so almost everything I picked out was too colorful and whatever Coline put on the tree took away from the balance and crowded a particular angle on the fragile view. This nitpicking would have annoyed the crap out of me, but I am used to it. I chucked, as I recalled decorating our fake Christmas pine back at home. My dear Mom is the same exact way, extremely nitpicky with the way the ornaments must go on the branches. When my sister and I were little, and unable to reach the higest brances, we received several scoldinds from my mother about crowding up the bottom of the tree. Being funny, I thought, "It must be a German thing."

But then it is not just the tree that Mom and Leonie have in common. Even though they have a variety of clear cut differences, the things they have in common are often attributed to the German nationality. They both have a slight Obsessive Compulsive Disorder when it comes to cleanliness, are both rather strict at times, and are major stickers for certain things (EX; Tannenbaum decorating.) They both can hold their liquor (actually I do not think Leonie ever gets drunk.) But most importantly, they both are unconditionally addicted to cookies. I keep referring to Leonie as the cookie monster, but my Mom is the same way. Okay, fine, they like the same food, so what? But after Leonie's mom sent the family a package of her traditional German cookies, I saw just how German my mom really is.

And as I thought about that silly accusation, which originally was thought to give me a little chuckle, I could not help but think that it was absolutely true. Even though I come from a family of American mutt's, spawning from drunk Irishmen, cold Germans, snotty Belgians, and a bunch of other nationalities that can easily be given a cruel stereotype, the longer I am here seeing and experiencing all these European cultures, the more I understand where I come from.

Yet in all of this, I still find myself slightly bizarre. Of sure, I know my streak of stubborness comes from the Irish, my cold nature is German, and my humor is the English part of my blood. But, I like to think that I take a little bit of something from everywhere I go in this life. I think that is the reason why I get accused of being so "Un-American," because when I experience another culture and another way of doing something that I think is better, than by gosh, that is the way I am going to live my life.

Another example, slightly odd, but still good enough, are floors. American's love carpets. They carpet almost every room in their homes, with the warm polyester substance that is gentle on the feet, pretty for the eyes, and warm in the winter months. The French hate carpets. They refuse to carpet any place in their house, besides maybe an occasional Afghan rug that can easily be removed. The reason? The French realize that carpets are incredibly unsanitary. When a mess is made on a wood floor, it is easy to sweep or vacuum it up, no harm done. When a mess is made of a carpet, one has to get out the vacuum, and do a major scrubbing. Still, it is almost impossible to get every mess with a carpet, and so non-carpeted floors are just more practical. Maybe not as pretty, and certainly not as warm in the winter months. But when it comes down to it, I think I like the way the Japanese conduct their feelings about floors. They have some rooms with carpets, some with Tatemi, and some with hard substance. Their solution to messes? No shoes in the house. In fact, I am pretty sure the thought of a shoe in the house, is considered rude. Out of the three, I found the most practical by far the Japanese way of doing things.

The way I conduct my life is probably different than anyone else in this world. I wake up in the morning in France speaking French, wear the clothes of a frumpy American college kid (sweatpants and tee-shirts, despite the fact that all of my French classmates make fun of me for wearing pajamas to school), greet people with Japanese mannerisms, and then continue my day switching between the three. Knowing a little bit about why I am the way I am is pretty comforting at times. Just last week, Leonie, in English, referred to me as a, "perpetual pain-in-the-ass." What can I say? It is just the way I am.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Great Galette Mystery

If you are lucky enough to be in France during the month of January (that is pure and utter sarcasm, by the way,) there is something that definitely makes the "must do in France" list. After you climb the Eiffel Tower, see the Mona Lisa, step in dog manure in the cobblestone streets, find yourself a nice little Boulangerie and buy a Galette Cake.

Galette Cakes are lovely delicious little pastry-type cake. In fact, they are incredibly simple, with just a taste of almond and no other icings or fancy decorations. These special cakes are traditionally only made in January to celebrate the Epiphany. Better yet, inside hides a fève which used to be a bean but has now, much to the joy of children all over France, been replaced by a ceramic person or object. (I have a theory about this one- the cake makers saw the success of the McDonald's Happy Meal with a cheap little plastic toy and decided to try the same thing.)Anyway, as I said, the Galette is delicious, but after eating the cake for an entire month of January, one get's rather bored of it's simplicity and probably get's tired of it. That is why it is really only a cake for one month of the year.

The galette always comes with a cardboard crown, and the person who finds the fève in their slice gets crowned le roi or la reine. This is in honor of the three kings who came bearing gifts for the baby Jesus Christ in the manger. After the finder is crowned King or Queen, he can than choose a King or Queen to share in the glory (but not their fève!)

Like all holidays not celebrated in our birth country, we exchange students absolutely adore the crazy traditions of our host country. I did not think I could like a tradition more than throwing beans out of window and screaming, "Demon's Be Gone!" in Japan on Setsubun, but that was before I tried my very first Galette cake.

So this past Monday, after a long morning at High School, I was pleased to come home to the wafting delicious smell of a cooked Galette cake. In addition, I would be able to eat the cake with Brittany Baretto, my fellow New Jersey exchange student in France, who had come down for the weekend for a college interview and just decided to stay and hang out for a little while. Brittany and I had discussed our feelings about the Galette cake, finding a range of similarities. It is truly impossible to not love the Galette because besides the fact that is extremely delicious, there is also the strong possibility that you can win and become King for the day. Nothing tops that. In addition, having eaten the cake a few times before with our host families and friends at school, neither of us had actually won a Feve and thus the crown. And so even before Leonie cut into the cake, it became a clear competition between Brittany and I for the crown.

The cake had actually been made the previous day by Clemence, Antoine's girlfriend, from a a prepackaged cake mix. While Brittany and I ventured into Dijon for her college interview, my host family had selected tiny pieces of the cake in hopes of a victory. They saved a quarter of the pie for Brittany and I after none of the Robert's won the crown. After Leonie, reheated the cake and placed it on the table, I cut a small sliver for myself, and Brittany cut a piece as well. We left one final piece in the box for someone else, because we were sure one of our pieces would contain the winner. We both anxiously devoured our pieces in hopes of chewing on a piece of ceramic, the feve. But after I swallowed the last morceau, I realized that neither of us had won.
Both incredibly disappointed, we realized we had just one final option: we had to eat the other piece.

Leonie, shocked that neither of us had won, agreed to cut the small sliver into two pieces and fairly distribute the pie. As she cut, she claimed to spot the Feve, which got Brittany and I incredibly excited. One of us would surely be crowned king for the day! Now, I know that sounds rather silly, two teenage girls serious about finding a piece of ceramic in a cake to become king for a day. But unless you have lived in France, you are not allowed to poke fun.

After a game of chance, I got the piece on the right and Brittany got the piece on the left. Instead of just eating the piece whole, like I did the last time, I shoved my fingers in the cake and started searching for the little piece of ceramic, while Brittany took obnoxiously large bites hoping to find the piece sooner. I quickly discovered that I did not have the feve, so I sadly bowed my head and conceded victory. This was until Brittany finished her slice and declared that she had not found the feve either.

Leonie was horrified and she swore she saw a colorful item in my slice of cake, which turned out only to be a piece of burnt crust. And so, where had the feve gone? everyone wondered. Leonie was fuming that there had been no feve since she had paid money for that cake mix. The only conceiveable answer was that the company that made the cake mix just forgot to slip in a tiny ceramic item. Brittany and I were disappointed, but we accepted that excuse and did not think much about it. January was not finished yet and there were still plenty of opportunities to become king and queen by way of the Galette.

About an hour after the missing Feve incident, Leonie was doing laundry in the laundry room, when I heard her suddenly shout, "COLINE!" I started smirking, knowing that my host sister, Coline, the cute little 10 year-old kid, who I have hinted out in various forms in slightly evil, did something wrong. Then I heard, "Julie, come here!" I rushed down in the laundry room, expecting to be asked to testify on someone's behalf, but instead saw my host mom holding Coline's bath robe and a tiny pink strawberry.
Surprised, I asked, "What's the matter?"
Leonie, who looked like she was going to explode in anger, suddenly began to crack up and said, "I found the Feve."

Coline, the reincarnation of Lucifer, had decided that if she could not be queen, than no one would. When she came into the laundry room, unaware her Mom had just found the Feve, she took one look at Leonie holding the Feve and burst into laughter. She did not even try to deny her guilt or at least show some remorse. But then why should she show remorse when she had succeeded in making everyone else lose. And thus the case of the Galette was solved.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Because Everyone Loves Stereotypes

My host sister Coline adores the movie, Mean Girls, the Lindsay Lohan film about American high school. Coline is young enough and untouched by too much Hollywood, whereby she does not believe all the stereotypes that the movie portrays us American teenage girls. She always turns to me and says, "Julie, is that true?"
"No Coline, of course not, the girls are mean, but NOT that horrible."
But I am not about to lie to her either. When she asks if we have those horrible trouble with cliques and with gossip, I tell her that it is true. She is horrified, but it got me thinking. We Americans have quite a few fun stereotypes about the French, and I thought I would put what I have thus far found.

1. ] Okay, let's start with something simple and fun!
"Oh la la!"
Yes, the French really really do say 'Oh la la.' And I still have to seriously control the urge to burst out laughing everytime I hear it. It is true that they do not say it very often, and only for occasions where they find something appalling or shocking. Yet when they do say it, I find myself searching for ways to inflict pain upon myself to not laugh.

2. ] Men and their ManBags
Yes, most men carry some kind of an accessory bag. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that ID cards are the size of index cards, which do not fit easily in a back pocket. I also think that men are not afraid to admit that they'd like to have something to carry around all their crap, What I have found is that the French really do have so much crap to carry around. First there is the necessary equipment, huge checkbooks and packs of cigarettes or tobacco for those who prefer to roll their own fags. Then there is the writing utensil or sometimes even a pencil case, ginormous ID cards, and big fat wallets full of cars from every little piece of one's life. Yes- France is a nation of cards and apparently of accessories as well. Now that this is settled, I want to say that the bags are at least appropriately masculine. Younger guys wear those cool backpack thing, all the American Eastpack brand and older guys usually have a smallish daytimer kind of thing. I have issues with men who wear fannypacks however.

3. ] They all wear berets
I almost got into a big fist fight with my little sister over this one. I think in the 4 and half months I have been here, I have seen a grand total of maybe 10 berets. And all of them were donned by tourists in Paris. My own flesh and blood, my younger sister, even bought 3 berets even though she knew it nearly killed me to watch. In the beginning, I foolishly asked one of my friends at school if she owned a beret, "The only people you see wearing berets are asian girls and tourists." What is the difference?

4.] And now for the big one.The French are rude and snobby.
Unfortunately, these are generalizations. It is kind of like saying the English all have bad teeth or Austrailians are all like Crocodile Dundee or all Germans drink alot. Actually, come to think of it, all Germans do drink a lot. HAHA.
So are they all rude? I can say I have met a multitude of people who are down and out right rude. In France and America. I think rudeness should be designated on a case by case basis. As a matter of fact, in my limited experience in eating in restaurants in Paris, I have not encountered a rude waiter. Mind you this taking a lot for me to say, since I usually just tell people the French are in fact pretty rude.
Are they snobby? This one is a little more difficult to determine. I think snobby is perhaps a little harsh; maybe confident is better. They already know that they're at the top of the chain when it comes to food and wine, and everything in that arena. The thing is, they're happy to tell you that as well. We may prefer false modesty, but France is a nation of people who are not afraid to tell you what they are thinking. One must turn up the sensitivity meter when visiting France, and move on.

5.] The French hate Americans.
No, in fact, since the election of President Obama, the French just adore Americans. Of course I'm generalizing, and maybe there are some French people who hate us and our Freedom Fries.

6.] Do the French smell?
This one is my absolute favorite because of how untrue it is. The French are such cleanly people it is ridiculous. Did you know this rumor got started just after World War II? American servicemen who had slept with French prostitutes, came back to the States and told everyone that French women never shaved their armpits and smelled terrible. Well I suppose if I lived in a war-torn country and was a lowly prostitute, I would to. Funny how stereotypes can last for over 60 years.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How I Got To Stay With the Robert's All Year

This has been in the works for a while now. That is, ever since on one chilly December afternoon, Andrew and I made an enormous decision regarding the rest of our year here in France. I announced it before, but I do not mind saying it again. I just wish I could capture the excitement I felt when the decision was reached. I am staying with the Robert's for the rest of my year here as an exchange student. That was a month ago, so I apoligize for not getting this out there sooner. So without furthur ado...

Saturday the 21st of December was the big day when the Robert's, the Bernards, me, Andrew, and our two Rotary counselors were too sit down and discuss the impending host family switch. Even though most Rotary Youth Exchange students have 3 host families, Andrew and I had been different from the start. Only two families in Fixin were obligated to host exchange students this year, two families that sent their own children out on exchange. The Bernards had sent Pierre-Luc, their youngest boy, to Brazil, while the Robert's had sent Charlotte, their oldest daughter, to India. Pierre-Luc is loving Brazil, while Charlotte returned to France after 5 weeks. It would seem like Rotary would only place one exchange student in little bitty Fixin with just two host families, each agreeing to host for just the 3 month obligatory time. But Rotary France is not exactly magnificent in reliability. They decided to place two students in Fixin, each living with one family and then switching halfway through the year. Just like that. Just packing up everything in a bag and changing lives. I never liked the idea from the atart, when on that first day, it was explained to Andrew and I how things would work out. Regardless everything was working out soundly: I adored the Robert's, and Andrew definitely filled the empty shoes of Pierre-Luc.

Of course there is a few things that ought to be said. Charlotte returned home in need of her room and her life back. It would have been really easy for the Robert's to ask Rotary to find me another host family just after she got back. However, they agreed that Charlotte's return would not tamper with someone's else's exchange and that they had signed up to host me and would stick to it. After all, I was only slated to stay with them for 5 months, and surely Rotary would be able to find Andrew another host family in the meantime. Well, not surprisingly, that did not happen. And being the kind of people that stick to their agreed word, the Robert's promised that they would take Andrew. But in the meantime, Charlotte came home, walked around the house in her underwear, not caring that it was just me and Coline who could see her. What I am trying to say is that life in this house is a million times easier for everyone when there is all girls (Antoine is rarely home...)

Knowing this, I proposed to Leonie on the Tuesday before the meeting, that I could always just stay if it would be easier on everyone. I knew Andrew would not really mind so much, and frankly, I wanted to stay. Alright I am going to be honest here, I made the proposition seeming like I just wanted what was best for the host families, but in reality it was me. I did not want to move in the slightest. I just figured that Leonie would let me down easy with something like, "Well Rotary is about changing host families," or, "I am not sure that would be fair to Andrew." But instead she jumped on the idea with enthusiasm. She even told me that she had floated with the idea for some time but figured it would be unfair to me and Andrew if it was brought up. Somewhat like once the idea was put on the table, I would feel like I HAD to stay even if I really did not want to.

The week dripped by slowly and horribly. I agonized for Saturday when I would know the future of my exchange. I honestly dwelled much too much on the subject, because if things had not worked out the way they had, I would have been horrifically disappointed. This is not to say that I would not have loved my second host family, the Bernard's, but you have to understand, I have been through this before. I firmly believe the hardest part of exchanging is changing host families after you have become part of the clan, lifestyle, and are just all around happy. In Japan, I would never have changed my first and third host families, if I had had the choice. But on the flip side, I jumped on the opportunity to get out my second host families house.

On that Wednesday when I told Andrew the discussion I had with Leonie, he seemed disappointed. He admitted he wanted to experience a true Rotary exchange, with a variety of different host families. But just as I thought all hope was lost, he smirked and said that he would also be totally happy staying with the Bernard's, who he had come to really love. Still before he agreed to agree on just staying where we were, he wanted to talk to the Rotarian's and the Bernard's.

At my request, Leonie phoned Martine Bernard ahead of time and asked her what she thought of the situation. But apparently, Martine already knew. Andrew's Rotarian cunselor had told the Bernard's that he was planning on suggesting to the Robert's to just keep me since it would be much easier with all the girls.

So when Saturday came, everyone but me and Andrew were pretty sure of how the outcome would be. Me because Jean-Francois had made a funny joke that morning about me staying with the Bernard's for 6 months, while Andrew was not sure because he did not really grasp what I had told him. So I do believe that he was rather surprised when the idea was brought up during the dessert and coffee. Both families agreed that it did not matter what happened, either way they were happy, and so they decided to let Andrew and I choose what would happen. It seemed unfair to be given such a hefty decision, and Andrew and I made sure to let the families know we did not appreciate their lack of input.
So we decided to have some pay back.
Andrew and I declared that we needed to go for a walk and discuss things, while the families would have to wait patiently for the outcome. Not 30 seconds after we stepped outside, Andrew said, "Well I know you want to stay, and I want to stay. So let's just make them sit and wait for a while."
And so we did. And that is how we got to stay with our host families.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Getting Sick in France

The people in France really do not seem to mind getting ill in the slightest. I suppose though they are justified in this cause- the French government covers 70% of the cost of medical bills and almost everyone has the supplementary insurance to cover the last 30%. This is the reason that France is sort of like a nation of pill-poppers, and that the minute someone comes down with a sniffle, it is off to the free doctor, where they are prescribed at least 5 different types of drugs, some of which may have nothing to do with the maladies. (I really am beginning to understand why the Spanish Influenza originated in Europe- with so many easily available drugs, surely the virus became immune to the millions of drugs per scribed.)

As much as I hate to admit weakness, I have fallen ill again. I say again, because in the words of Leonie, "you know you manage to get sick much more than the average person does." I argued with her for a few moments until I sat back and really realized that she was perfectly right- I have gotten sick quite a lot here. Mostly it has been stomach trouble, which I can relate to the strange food, although that does not explain how I rarely got sick in Japan with THAT strange food.

The difference between me and the other sick French people is that I am more of a suffer in silence type of girl, refusing any and all medical treatment. It is usually only until the last second, when I am either half dead or violently ill, that I give in to go see a doctor. Both of which happened during the past two days. To be totally honest with you, if I was to diagnose myself right now, I would say I am on the cusp of getting bronchitis with a touch of stomach flu. Finally after a night of a troubling fever, in which I woke up in tears the next morning, Leonie said, "That's it! You are going to the doctor NOW, before you get anybody else sick!" After that terrible night, I could not find even the strength to truly argue with her.

And so off to the family doctor for me. This morning at 7, I hopped in the car in the -10 degrees Celsius weather and headed to Dr. Vergel, who Leonie promised was not like the other doctor I had seen. "He is a homeopath," she explained and then chuckling added, "and he will not give out drugs like candy at Halloween." This analogy is used frequently by me when I discuss my previous experience at the doctor's office, whereby a simple head cold got me 5 different drugs One of these drugs was actually for my feet. I did not take any of the drugs either.
"Julie- promise me this weekend you will take everything that the doctor per scribes you," Leonie said before we entered the little office.

Oh that's right Leonie and Jean-Francois are going to be in Morocco this weekend and so Charlotte and I have the whole house to ourselves.
"But he is a homeopath, I doubt he will give me too much medicine," I chided.
"Still, you will do as you are told?"
"Of course," I smiled all though moving my chapped lip sticks hurt just as much as taking a deep breath.

Homeopath my ass. Excuse the French.

The doctor was very kind on the whole, he knew the Robert's very well. He kept asking about how Charlotte was faring psychologically since her trip to India. "Oh very fine, " said Leonie sarcastically, "wouldn't you say, Julie?" I smiled and then shivered fiercely as the doctor placed his cold hand on my back. I could not help but really like the doctor when he told Leonie to shut up since he could not hear my breathing properly with her blabbing on. My wheezing painful laughter showed him that my lungs were in a weak state.

He returned to his desk and sat down, pulling out his pad to write prescriptions on. I became slightly worried as he continued to write and write for over three minutes, and Leonie chuckled as she watched my eyes transform into a bright worried glaze. In English, so the doctor would not understand, she said, "he is a good doctor, he knows what he is doing. And he has found you to be quite ill."

Apparently ill enough for 5 different medications for: fever, stomach trouble, sinus, breathing, and some funky powder that clears out your lungs. Even though it was obvious to everyone that I was most displeased about this prescription, I had promised to take it all.
"How will you feel if I take all these pills and this illness becomes immune and then morphs into something lethal and spreads?" I asked in the car on the ride home.
"You are so bizarre," replied Leonie.

As for this weekend, I really am too sick to do anything. I mean I had planned on staying with Andrew, but he is skiing with his Rotary club. And Alex? She is too stressed to hang out since she is changing host families on Sunday. With everyone out of the house, maybe I will start my recovery. Oh wait- can you keep a secret?

Charlotte is throwing some huge party on Saturday night, so I suppose I will just barricade myself in the room. Besides the fact that I am sick, I am still in recovery from New Year's Eve. I wonder if this is illness is my punishment.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Little Things

As I come back onto this blog to add another post, I can not help but reread yesterday's post in awe. I was really miserable when I wrote that post. In fact, last night I had an intensive fever and no matter I did, I just could not get warm. In addition, I have a little cold as well, making it really hard to breathe. I thought I would come back on this blog and try to give a little more of an optomistic post, since I have finally broken down and taken 50 pills for my suffering.
There are times I just want my kick myself for not carrying a camera everywhere that I go. Whether the camera is my big professional digital camera to capture the beauty of this world, or my new petite little video camera to catch everyday life. But of course the little things are not always able to be captured on a camera. You can not capture tender moments on a camera, and that is why when asked what my most prized possession is, the answer is simple for me. It is my memory. Because after the short time I have been here, I realize that what I truly love about this place are the little things.
My birth certificate may say that I am 18 years-old, but that really does not mean anything. After all my host sister Charlotte is also 18, only 2 months older than me, yet she is so much more mature than I am in some ways. (This could be debatable as I have survived 2 years of studying abroad for a year, and Charlotte came home after a month of her exchange.) She loves to party, stay out all night, drink, constantly have something to do, and be a typical 18 year-old. As for me, I am not a big partier, I like to go to bed early, I love days when I have nothing to do, and my best friend here in France is 10 years-old, Coline.
Speaking of Coline, she is a self-proclaimed brat, always pushing any buttons she sees and causing lots of trouble. But she is by far my favorite person in France. Besides, she is just a little kid. Firstly, she does not have any massive expectations for me, and she knows exactly what it feels like to not understand everything the 'grown-ups' say. She and I have our daily routines, she plays the piano, while I hover over and pretend to know exactly what she is doing. I also know the websites to find illegal music scores for her. So far, I have found and she has learned the words for I Kissed A Girl and Hot n' Cold from Katy Perry, Titanic, Lion King, and the the Simpsons. On Tuesday nights, she comes with me to the pool and swims laps for about 4 minutes, after which she says, "Julie, I'm tired! Let's play in the little pool!" And then we head over into the little pool ad spend over an hour trying to de-pants each other.
My main goal for this year is to learn French. And sure enough, it is coming. But not as fast as I would have hoped for. In fact, frankly, I think Japanese, a language with 3 alphabets, one of which is rumored to have 50,000 characters, is easier than French. On top of constantly being compared to Alex and Andrew, who each took between 4 to 6 years of French before coming here, and also Leonie, when she was an exchange student in the USA (apparently she was fluent after 3 months.) And so, I have not given up on French, but I have giving up really putting in my heart and soul into it. It will come in time, I'm just going to work on enjoying the ride.
Since I am not so worried about the language of the Frogs, I decided it was time to make a new goal, one much easier achieveable.

Swimming in a pool.

I can not pinpoint the exact moment when I suddenly woke up and was horribly afraid to swim in a chlorinated pool. But that is somehow how it happened. After Japan, I returned to America with a fear of swimming in chlorinated water. I really can not explain it anymore than what I have just said.

But one boring Thursday in Fixin, France, I decided that I was going to overcome this silly irrational fear. The problem was that I needed a pool, and I did not know where I might be able to find one. After some research a found the pool of Chenove, which is the village that the American exchange students refer to as, "the New JErsey of Dijon." It is really industrial, full of poverty, and a scapegoat for all the crime of Dijon. I am actually surprised Leonie let me get on the bus for Chenove, walk for 20 minutes through the town to the pool, and then do it all again when it was time to come home.

I was by far the youngest swimmer by at least 30 years, the skinniest by at least 30 pounds, the palest by at least three pigments of white, and yet, I jumped in the pool of Chenove. And then I swam. And swam. And swam.
Now, I swim 2 to 3 times a week. Along with my love of running, swimming has become my new sport. Even though I still love running much more, there is nothing like losing yourself in a lap, or that feeling you get after you finish swimming for an hour and a half and your body is exhausted.
On Saturday morning, I usually go for a hour and half run with Leonie and some of the other Fixin mom's in the local village comb, which are cliffs surrounded by thick woods. However, during the previous night I got kind of sick and decided to sleep in. When I woke up, I decided to not let the rainless day (a rarity in recent days) get away and so I threw on my shoes and plugged up into the comb. The previous night it must have snowed. Even though there were no traces of the white substance in cold damp village of Fixin, on top of comb, which is significantly higher up than the village, the Earth was completely white. The trees were white and frozen solid with icicles. The dirt road cracked below my feet, shattering tiny slashes of glass. Even though there was no significant amount of snow, I felt as though I had entered into a surreal winter wonderland, magical in every sense of the word.
And so there you have it, a more optimistic take on my life in France.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Vacation Is Over and Julie Goes Missing

Today is a useless day for me. Actually the past few days have been pretty useless, in the sense that I am rather ill and I have accomplished nothing. That is not to say that I wake up every morning in pursuit of accomplishing something important and life-altering, but I would like to finish the day having felt like I at least did something. I wonder if I am making any sense?

Last week, I waved goodbye to Brittany Barretto at the train stop just outside her tiny village. We were both slightly hungover and tired beyond words having experienced a huge New Year's Eve party. As my train pulled away from the station, and as I slowly made my way to Paris and then to Dijon and finally to Fixin, I crept back into the 'real world,' where we speak French and live life the French way.

For me, I felt truly alone for the first time in two weeks, at least in terms of having someone to talk to. After nearly 2 weeks of gabbing non-stop in English with my younger sister, partying hard with two other American exchange students, reading books and pamphlets at famous Parisian sites in my mother tongue, watching movies and TV and being able to fully comprehend, and of sharing late-night conversations in bed after the lights are out. All in English. So now, I feel lost, like I do not remember how to entertain myself anymore on this country without turning a fellow Anglophone and saying, "that is SO French!" And I can not remember how to speak French with my host family and my friends. And even though I have so much time on my hands, I do not know how to fill it with things to do. It was a good vacation, but coming home and getting resettled always bites the big one.

The frigid awfulness that is the winter season has slammed into me with full vengeance. Winter in France is so far, not so unlike winter in New Jersey; eternally gray skies, absolutely nothing to do but sit inside and eat crap, and the occasional pestilence of snow. To start, my lovely old village home in the midst of rustic small-town France has no heating. Oh yes, and it is -4 degrees Celsius outside. But, as my optimistic host mom like to point out, "it could be worse. In Paris it is -13 degrees!" What I have come to realize is that the more I travel and see the world, the more I realize how spoiled I am in January in Verona, New Jersey with the heat blasting and a hot shower. In Japan, my second host family only let me use heating when I was stricken with the Flu. While here in France, my host family pays only half price for their electrical bills with this bizarre system that allows the electric company to shut off all their electricity for 22 days of the year. The electric company picks the 22 coldest days that the weather forecasters can predict, and thus, I am frozen in my house right now unable even to take a hot shower. But I am not typing this post to complain because in reality, I like the system since it truly forces you to appreciate the days when heating is available. The only complaint I wish to make is that I can not seem to get rid of this illness, and the constant chill is probably not helping very much.

A few weeks ago, during the Manifestations for School Education Reform, my fellow Rotary youth exchange student and friend, Alex, cut school to come and hang out with me in Dijon. Her host parents did not care because they never found out. Her school never bothered to send a letter home, call her house, or do anything to track her down. The same situation can not be said for me. Even though I did not cut school, and in fact, a fellow classmate told me I had no courses yesterday afternoon, my school went on full-frontal ALARM. They called my host parents and everyone who had anything to do with my presence here in France.
"Where is Julie?"
The students at the school were asked if they knew anything about where I might be. Luckily, I ran into my host brother in Dijon, who told me host parents that he saw me hanging around the city. And so my host parents at least knew I was alive and safe, though Leonie later admitted she worried that I got on a train for some far place in Europe. I told her I was offended she thought I was capable of doing that. Then, maybe because I am a little sensitive when I am sick, I burst into tears, apologizing for something that really was not even my fault. My host dad sort of laughed at me and told me it was stupid that I should be worried, but I am pretty sure Leonie was mad at me for a little while, since she apparently had been worrying throughout the entire day.

You know something though? When I was in Dijon, I found a book in the FNAC book store, called "How to Understand the French." I scanned through it, expecting to to be just some angry expat criticising every little thing about the French. But the author made a really interesting point in the chapter about how the French are always so miserable. "The thing about France is that the country is truly wonderful in the sense that life is all about pleasure. But it is really a hard place to adapt to, to navigate around all the red-tape, to be accepted by the people as a whole, and to find that easily grasped pleasure. Even the French have trouble finding their place in this country, that is why they are often accused of being miserable. If the French do not always fit in, what can be said about the foreigner?"

Sunday, January 04, 2009

A New Year, A Wild Party

For me, there is another truly crucial tradition that goes along with nearly all spectacular holidays. And that is the recount of holiday past. Not a single Christmas goes by that does not find my Mom and Dad imitating my four-year-old self shouting, “this is the best Christmas ever!” when I received my dog from Santa Clause. The same goes for New Year’s Eve, recalling the years zonked out on a couch in front of the fire in Vermont or glued to the television watching the Twilight Zone marathon on Sci Fi. In the coming years, Shannon and I will be able to recite how we spent out Christmas devouring Snail, Duck, Goose Liver, and Yule Cake. As for New Years?
It would be absolute pleasure to forget New Years Eve 2009.

My Rotary district in New Jersey sent two girls to France; Me to Fixin, and Brittany B. to Fountainebleau, which is a decent sized city just outside of Paris. We flew here together, and vowed that we would definitely meet up while during our stay here in France. And it just so happened that when she invited to me her huge New Years bash, I could not say no, especially given the perfect circumstances. I was already in Paris with my younger sister, and I was planning on dropping her off at the airport on the morning of New Year’s Eve. To top it off, the train ticket I had to buy to drop Shannon off the airport was also good to get me to Brittany’s host house. But most importantly, who does not want to spend a holiday with tasty champagne in the company of friends (especially one’s that speak the same language?)

Since I had never taken the train to her village before, it took me nearly 5 hours, 6 different trains, and the headache from hell to get to her village. I was never lost, but apparently there existed a direct train. I almost cried when she told me.
At her home, I met her host family, the lovely people who essentially refuse to speak French with Brittany. I feel bad for her because when she and I arrived in France, her French was light years ahead of mine. Now our language abilities are almost equal. But it really is not her fault, she begs the family to speak to her in French and yet they do not seem to care.

Seeing as I had no nice clothes to wear to a party, Brittany and her host sister, Alix made it their mission to dress me up. I wore Brittany's fancy green skirt with a tiny black shirt from Alix. Barely 5 minutes after we were dressed, it was time to set off for the house where the party was actually to take place. That house, the home of Brittany's second host family, was filled with teenagers getting ready for the party, cooking and cleaning and doing various affairs. Brittany and I left temporarily to pick up Andy, the only other friend of Brittany's who could come to the party that night and an American Rotary exchange student from Ohio.

For about 4 hours we waited for the party to start, chowing down on chocolate chip cookies from Andy. When guests finally began arriving, Brittany took no time in finding some alcohol and throwing herself into a dance. Even I found myself moving to the music and trying my very best to fit into an awkward situation. Yeah- I really do not dance or party for that matter. When I tell people this, almost everyone asks, "so what did you do during High School?"
"Uh... study and speak Japanese," I reply shyly.
But since I am only going to be spending 2008-2009 in France once- I figured I may as well make the best of it. Still luck was against me that night no matter how hard I tried to have a really good time.
Being the little girl from Bourgogne, I found myself only accepting offers of wine- white, red, and rose. Anytime someone threw Vodka at me, I always found a nice empty spot in the kitchen to abandon it in. In addition, I was starving and found myself eating quite a few little sandwiches. Needless to say, the girl least experienced in the party sector was by far the most smart about it. The same could not be said for Brittany and Andy. Midnight barely came and went when Andy got sick all over the living room floor. Then someone must have picked him up and carried him away.
About 20 minutes later, Brittany and I decided to look for him. We searched the entire house, walking in on some not so pleasant situations, and witnessing at least a quarter of the party members get sick somewhere. Not that I was completely sober, but I was absolutely horrified. Brittany was side-tracked for a few minutes, while I continued the search for Andy. When I found him, he was unconscious and laying in a bed. I sat with him, slightly worried about his life, until the party host asked us to go lay down in room with the sleeping bags where a few people had already began to sleep. I made sure Andy was okay and then curled up in a sleeping bag by myself. Some drunk jerk then decided to be funny and dump and entire bottle of champagne on the heads of the people sleeping. I got absolutely soaked and would have started crying had it not been for Alix, who wiped me dry and then told me that she needed me to go and take care of Brittany, who had just gotten sick all over another room. Worried about Andy, Alix and I hoisted him into the room with Brittany, where I stayed with the two making sure that they were okay throughout the night.
Some time during the early morning hours, Brittany woke up and asked me if I was okay. I thought the question was rather ironic, but I replied, "No, I am not okay. When is the first train? We need to go back to your house NOW!" She groaned and said it was not possible, which nearly made me cry. But luckily around 7, Alix came to retrieve the three of us and drive home.
In the kitchen I made myself tea and tried hard not to remember what had just happened, although Brittany said back laughing. I smelled so bad that I cringed every time I had to breathe. Even though I had not lost control during the previous night, I still had a terrible headache that morning, and I felt so weak and exhausted having not slept. It was in this state that I decided I could not possibly stay the extra day I had planned. I did not care how much I had to pay to get back to Fixin, I had to get home, I had to sleep in my bed, and I had to leave this place.
Ignoring the requests that I stay from Brittany, I packed my things and walked to the train station. Amusingly enough, I forgot to buy a ticket, but was pleased when no one checked my seat on the train from Brittany's village to Paris. In Paris, I amazed myself by demanding in my very best French for a ticket back to Dijon. The ticket lady must had either smelled me or seen the thick dark circles under my eyes and took pity on my. I was set to go home. On that train ride home I came to realize something. I really am a lot stronger than I give myself credit for. First, let me get this straight, I am a big believer in stepping outside your comfort zones. But that party was so far out of the comfort zone that crossed into being outside my deep morals. Yet, I survived the party, and I even made sure that my friends survived the party too. Second, you really do realize what a tough beast you when you cross France with a hangover on a holiday, in which every other French person is crossing France and being rude and obnoxious.
Oh home... I did not think I really loved my house in Fixin that much. But that shower and that warm heat and that special smell on all my clothes. Home Sweet Home.