Post Honeymoon

Trip Start Aug 16, 2010
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Flag of France  , Languedoc-Roussillon,
Saturday, October 2, 2010

OK, so I know it's been a while since my last blog… Been kind of going through a bit of a funk. Everyone told me this would happen, including myself but that didn’t make it any easier when it hit.  The honeymoon phase is over.  I’m no longer fascinated by every little thing.  There is no longer something new around every corner.  I no longer force myself to stare out the window endlessly on each bus trip, no matter how tired I am.  I used to stare and try and take in every detail, every passing mountain and group of trees, every blade of grass was somehow precious.  No more.  I have really begun to miss my many friends back in Northridge and the many things that I have access to in the U.S. that I do not here.  Learning the language is not as easy as I thought it would be despite being submersed in the culture.  This compounded by the fact that our program is very different than the one described to me before we came.   They switched host universities on us mid-summer and the resulting new program is very different than the one I signed up for, with fewer things to transfer back to my resume back home.  This makes me feel even more as though I am twiddling my thumbs for a year in regards to my education.

                Now before you go and start judging me for not appreciating this great opportunity, remember that I’m just going through the post honeymoon phase.  I am still overall having a great time.  I’ve still been traveling and seeing new things.  I’ve been meeting new people and learning still more about French culture.

                A couple weeks ago a group of us went to an open rehearsal at the Pavillon Noir.  This is a government funded dance facility which houses several government funded dance troupes.  I was expecting basically a run through of the entire show in costumes and everything, to get ready for the opening of the show.  I was surprised when the dancers came out in their sweats and obvious rehearsal attire and started stretching.  It turned out that we were watching an actual rehearsal.  Which was fascinating in an entirely different way, being able to watch the creative process, with the choreographer giving instructions and critiquing the dancers was simply captivating.  It was even more impressive when they would run it with the music which was some very strange modern thing, it wasn’t really even music, it was kind of background noise of a subway station or park with a guy talking or mumbling random words.  There was no rhythm or tempo for the dancers to take their cue from.  They had to be completely in sync with each other.  I was already impressed with how much support and funding they were obviously receiving from the government for the arts; in this case specifically for dance both classical and modern, but now I was very impressed with the French themselves.  The theatre was nearly full.  Tons of French people had turned out just to watch the dancers rehearse.  The appreciation for the arts they have in this culture is truly admirable.

                September 18th there was a city wide event in Aix, where there were numerous exhibits, mostly about history, and many places such as the theatres and opera houses were offering free tours and all of the museums were free that weekend.  My madame gave me a flyer with a list of all of the events and I headed out with no real itinerary in mind to see what I would find.  On my way I was passed by a man dressed in a powdered wig and period costume to match.  I figured he was probably heading somewhere cool, so I just started following him through town to see where he would take me.  I was right, he led me right to the center of the old town where there were several booths open and a group of other people dressed in 17th century costumes.  I wandered through several museums and saw numerous objects and artwork from old Aix.  After the museums I went to see some sort of re-enactment show.  It turned out to be kind of a hokey skit with a pretend Louis XVI and court.  But there was a cool sword fight demonstration, but it was followed by a fairly lame dance routine, which I assume was traditional dance from the time.

                That night was the last night that the Japanese girls were staying with us.  It also happened to be one of their birthdays as well as Madame Cheminade’s.  We had lots of wine and the Japanese girls made dinner.  At the end of dinner the girls taught us how to make origami swans.  They laughed at mine and we decided it looked more like a dinosaur.

                On the 22nd a group of us through Aix Connections went to see a Calisson Factory.  They showed us the process through which they make their candied fruit and of course Calissons.  They make these absolutely delicious candied melons which they fashion to look like pumpkins.  They have them boiling in a sugar solution for 3 months!  The candied melon pumpkins and the Calissons are both a traditional Christmas dessert in Provence.  Calissons are a pastry made from candied melon, candied orange peel, and almonds, with a sugar frosting on top.  They are to die for!

 On the 24th we went on a trip to a Liquoristerie, where they make Absinthe.  Although, they actually called it Versinthe, because it is illegal to call it absinthe.  But that is still essentially what it is, it just has the ingredient removed that used to cause the hallucinations in people like Paul Cezanne.  But if it can cause that kind of artistic inspiration I don’t think it can be all that bad.  The absinthe itself wasn’t that great, but it was still an interesting experience.  They also had us try several of their other liquors from different distilled herbs and fruits, some of which were quite good.  While we were inside, it started raining, so when we left I became very popular, since I was the only person in the group who had thought to bring an umbrella.

The next day we were supposed to go on a trip to Nimes and Pont du Gard, but when we arrived at the bus station at 8:30 in the morning our guide was not there and never arrived.  We finally got a hold of Caroline, one of the directors of our program, who was able to figure out for us that the trip had been moved, and no one had told us.  We were very frustrated, especially since we had dragged ourselves out of bed so early.  So we decided to go on a hike along the river below the city.  I had found it a couple weeks prior, but they had yet to see it and wanted me to show them.   Before the hike we went shopping and grabbed groceries to make dinner that night.  It was my first night to make dinner for myself since I had moved in with my madame, and I was actually looking forward to it.  We made Ravioli with a slightly spicy marinara sauce and grilled vegetables.

                Last week I started taking classes in Tir a L’arc (Archery), at the university gym.  I don’t understand everything that the professor says, but I get the general concept.  Luckily I have done a decent amount of archery while I was in Boy Scouts, so I already know at least the basics.  I’m looking forward to the rest of the classes.  I was hoping to take fencing lessons as well, but they were only being taught during my regular courses, so hopefully next semester.

                Last Friday the 1st of October we went to Picasso’s Chateau in Vauvenargues.  It was formerly the palace of Roi Rene, the last King of Provence, and later belonged to some important Cardinal.  In the 1950’s it was purchased by Pablo Picasso, who lived there for several years and later used it as a seasonal retreat home.  He and his second wife are also buried on the site, with no tombstones only a green mound with a statue on top, titled lady with a gift.  It is still owned by his family, who only first opened it up to be viewed by the public last summer and re-opened it this summer.  Not even the tour guide knew if it would be opened again next summer, so for all we know now it may never be opened again to the public.  The family still lives on the grounds and therefore photos are not allowed, which was very frustrating.  I snuck a few of course, and didn’t get caught until the last one but we were on our way out so I didn’t get in trouble.  There are none of Picasso’s paintings there, but there are numerous statues made by Picasso and a gallery of photos taken by his wife.  His studio is exactly how he left it.  There is still paint on the floor as well as paint and paint brushes.

                The next day Saturday the 2nd of October we went to Nimes and Pond du Gard.  This time our guide actually showed up, yay!  Our first stop was an old Roman tower at the top of a hill overlooking the town.  It was originally a watchtower and part of the ramparts of the old Celtic tribe in the area but was then enhanced by the Romans and made part of the city walls.  It was later used as an antenna in the early days of the telegraph before Morse code, before that it was badly damaged by a man who believed that a prophecy by Nostradamus said that there was treasure buried beneath the tower.  His search for this treasure damaged the foundations so badly that now there is a support beam up the middle of the tower.  Despite all this damage and years of neglect there are still two of the original three stories remaining.  It still gives an amazing view of the city, at the top there is even a panoramic drawing of what that view used to look like during the Roman Empire.

                Afterwards we went and saw the Stadium, which is still used, except for bull fights instead of gladiator fights.  On our way to the Roman Temple, we stopped and had some amazing Thai food.  The first good Asian cuisine I’ve found since I got here.  This turned out to be a mistake however because we missed the last group allowed into the temple.  The front was even undergoing reconstruction, so we really didn’t get to see anything of what is supposed to be the best preserved of all the roman temples, even though they’re not sure which god it was dedicated to.  These two hour lunch breaks are very frustrating.  I really can’t get over how annoying it is that basically the entire country shuts down for about two hours every day for lunch.  Haven’t they heard of rotating lunch shifts?  And we had to get back to the bus before the temple would open again.  Oh well.  So we went and looked at the cathedral, which was also closed for lunch.  It was supposedly badly damaged during the wars of religion; Nimes had apparently been a Protestant stronghold.  Nimes by the way is also where denim originates, so you can thank them for your blue jeans.

                So we headed back to the bus.  We split up because the girls needed to go the bathroom, and I wanted to go look at the spring again.  I thought it was so cool that the spring that caused the ancients to settle here originally and the Romans to build a city here, still worked.  The Celts who lived here originally worshiped the spring.  So I figured if there is ever going to be a working wishing well, this is it.  Since springs are where old Druids would give gifts or offerings to the gods is where the tradition of dropping pennies in wells comes from.  So I pulled out two centimes and made two wishes, and no I won’t tell you what I wished for.

                After that I wandered over to the temple adjacent to the spring, it was an old Roman temple to Dianna.  It was pretty much in ruins but there was no one else there at that time so it was very peaceful and serene.  I wandered through the ancient stones and plants that were now growing like a garden in between and around the rocks.  Dodging the bees that seemed to be starting a hive on the top of a tunnel leading towards the back, I found a hole in a fence and went around to the back and sort of above the temple.  I stood there for a moment and just took in where I was.  I could smell the wild mint and basil growing around me.  I could smell and see nature reclaiming what rightfully belonged to it.  The slow and steady advance of the inevitable versus mankind’s monuments to eternity.

                I would have loved to sit there for a while and just meditate and ponder, but I was late for the bus now, so I headed back to the bus and we all headed off to Pont du Gard.  After up and around the old Roman bridge/ aqueduct to get some good views of it, I went down to the waterfront to see what kind of views were available from there.  There I met a girl from Wisconsin named Lindsey and her friend Josh from Indiana.  For some reason we decided it would be fun to jump in the river.  Let’s hear it for spontaneity!  I wouldn’t feel the water first, because I knew it was going to be freezing and then wouldn’t want to get in.  So we jumped in and swam around for a bit.  It was FREEZING, but we went numb after a minute or two so it didn’t matter.  We waved at the people passing us in canoes, who all thought we were crazy, but it was so great.  It’s moments like this that remind you that you’re alive.
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