Barcelona...and other news from Montpellier

Trip Start Aug 31, 2008
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Trip End May 21, 2009


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Flag of Spain and Canary Islands  , Catalonia,
Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The last couple of weeks have brought many changes. Good ones, too!

I've waited so long to write it's hard to know where to start.

Trip to Barcelona. It was wonderful. Took off early on a Saturday morning with Assiel. Has to be at the train station around 7 in the morning for what would be a 5 hour trip across southern France and into northern Spain. The scenery along the coast was so beautiful. It didn't take long, even while still in France, to see the "Catalunian" influences as we neared the region of northern Spain. I had heard that Catalan is spoken in Barcelona, more in fact than Spanish, but that seemed strange to me. In fact it's true.

As per usual for me in France, this trip too got off to a rocky start. Approaching the Spanish border a group of  "immigration officials" came around each car to check everyone's passports or other proper travel identification. Naturally, I did not worry as I had my passport with me and to my knowledge had not done anything illegal...yet.
But when the officer looked at my passport I could tell he wasn't finding what he was searching for. Finally after flipping through the pages several times he asked me where my stamp was. Great. I should have known. I had forgotten that in fact the man in customs at the airport in Paris had briefly looked at my passport and handed it right back. The whole exchange took about 6 seconds. I thought it strange that he did not stamp it but at the same time, European countries are funny this way and I believe (based on my limited experience thus far) inconsistent. Not wanting to create problems for myself or piss the Frenchie off I gladly took my passport and proceeded through the doors. You will remember that I had also just watched my Romanian/French airplane friend get pulled aside and her luggage disemboweled for all to see. I wanted no part of that hassle.

Anyway, I tried as best I could in toddler French to explain that I too thought it strange that I did not receive a stamp but in fact, as he could plainly see, I did not have it. By that point I was sort of over all this b.s. if you will. He kept insisting about the stamp and I finally said, "O.K., I don't have it. We both agree on that. So now what? What dammit? What do you want me to do?!" Faced with this question, a direct question demanding a direct answer, he finally quit nagging, handed me back my passport and said simply, "Good luck in Spain. I don't know if they will let you in."

You can imagine how pleasant the next hour and a half were waiting for the confrontation with the Spanish immigration men. I don't know if I got lucky, if the Frenchie was full of merde, but I had no trouble. Perhaps it helped that I finally SPOKE THE LANGUAGE! They noticed my Spanish name and didn't ask any questions. They were friendly, more than I can say for their colleague on the French side. I don't know what awaits me during future travel outside of France, however...

Anyway, didn't have much trouble finding the hostel which was centrally located in the city. Did discover, however, upon arrival that I may be getting too old for hostels. The lack of space (3 cubic feet in which to set your enormous backpack down, get dressed, get undressed, prepare for you shower, hang your wet towel to dry, and generally move without having to be lying down in your bed), the utter lack of privacy and most especially of comfort and cleanliness. Not that all hostels fit this description but this one did. The staff and fellow travelers where friendly, however, which makes a huge difference. I'm afraid I may have really put little Assiel out of her comfort zone. She had never stayed in a hostel before. In fact, her recent trip to France was her first experience outside of her country of Kazakhstan. I tried to explain, in toddler French, of course where we would be staying while in Barcelona. She certainly liked the sound of the price and so she eagerly agreed. When she realized that the people we'd be sharing our room with were of the opposite sex she seemed a bit overwhelmed but she took it in stride. In fact the only thing she complained about was the fact that we were sleeping on mattresses from 1952. I agreed. She was a good sport.

We spent part of our time in Barcelona with two French girls who had driven down (one of whom I know from here in Montpellier) and the rest of the time (the better time) just the two of us walking around the city, shopping and visiting the Parque Guell, crafted by the famous architect himself. It is a beautiful place, a hell of a hike to get there from the subway stop, but awesome. Had a great day there. Barcelona is beautiful, much bigger than I imagined and has the wonderful laid-back vibe characteristic of beach side cities. I hope to return as there is a lot we didn't have time to see, in particular the Sagrada Familia Cathedral which is said to be impressive.

The trip was short even though we played hookie and missed a day of school to go. Assiel has since left and I too, have moved!

In order to find another place to live I had joined a website here that connects people looking for roommates and apartments with people who offer both. For a couple of weeks I had no luck. The website is entirely in French which is very intimidating when navigating it while considering which humans to live with! Eventually I worked up the courage to actually send a few emails to a few people I thought looked promising. I believe I sent four. Only one responded. That is where I am living today and I couldn't be happier.

My roommates are two wonderfully interesting people. Mounir is 44, of Algerian origin and has lived in France for over 20 years. He is a university professor in Avignon and teaches human geography. He is working on a post-doctorate, speaks fluent Arabic and French, understands and speaks good English and some Spanish as well. He is divorced and twice a month his 10 year old daughter, Ines, is with us. She is 10 going on 20, very bright and sweet as can be. I have only met her once but I can tell she is a cool kid.

Marie Audette is 31, recently arrived to Montpellier from the north of France and studying Chinese Medicine at a school two blocks from where we live. She is laid-back, smart and very kind. Her parents emigrated to France from Portugal and she is bilingual, of course. She is pleasant and someone who I can tell is very easy to get along with.

The first time I met Mounir I brought a French friend named Olivier along to help me communicate and, just in case, be a bodyguard...you never know. I told him what I knew about Mounir from the website (I had learned a bit about him as people can post a profile about themselves on the site). Olivier thought the location was good and that it sounded promising. We visited with Mounir for well over an hour and when I left I knew in my heart that this was where I would be and beyond that--that it might well be because of this living situation/experience that I end up actually STAYING in  France. Today, one week later, I am convinced of it.

They are both somewhat eccentric and very interesting. Mounir loves to cook, dance and travel. They both love conversation and we live as a family, not as strangers occupying the same space. I feel a collaboration and sharing of duties that I really enjoy. And the best part of all...the FRENCH. Nonstop, never ending, exhausting, brain-exercising, French all day, every day. I am forced to speak and to listen. I am amazed in a week (perhaps it's a product of the entire 5 weeks in France) how much more I am understanding. We have lively debates and daily conversations about our day and I am following more and more. If only my mouth could reproduce what my ears are starting to understand! There are days I feel I am moving backwards, like I have a knot under my tongue that's tied extra tight. Other days, for whatever reason, it flows--riddled with errors and mispronunciations--but it flows.

Learning another language as an adult is a challenge one can not truly appreciated until you experience it for yourself. My respects to anyone who does it. It is humbling, exasperating, exhausting and enlightening. I am discovering that I am here to learn many things, beyond French. This will most likely be the greatest lesson in patience and endurance that I have ever had. Not surprising at all that once again, a journey outside my own country and comfort-zone, has brought me so much more than what I expected and hoped for when I set off. Of course, the unexpected goes both ways...both bad and good things I never dreamed I'd encounter or experience. The fact that it has only just begun excites and terrifies me in the same breath. It has not been an easy 5 weeks. I have been challenged in more ways in 5 weeks in France than perhaps during months of travel in Africa or South America. I also know that in a wink this journey will be over and I must relish and appreciate it while it lasts...the bad times and the good.

I continue to go to class every day. I can't say I am always convinced of the efficacy of the school, their program and its methods, especially after one particular, truly unbelievably shocking encounter with its director, who I am now convinced is medically insane. That knowledge, which came to me in the form of an epiphany one fateful afternoon after class, has actually helped me cope much better with things that baffled and frustrated me before. I resist going into detail as I may become unpleasant, even violent. But suffice it to say that I attend an institution that is run by someone who may very well not be fit to live in society, let alone run a language school for foreigners. 

I will stick with the courses until the end of November (unless perhaps said person discovers this website in which case you should all fear for my safety) and then, in early December I anxiously await a visit from Ryan!!! We will spend 10 days in France between Paris and Montpellier, maybe a bit more, time permitting, and then we will both fly back to the U.S. together. I am coming home for Christmas and New Years! I will return to Montpellier to finish out my time. How I will spend that time I do not know but I will have to find something to do with myself as living here, or anywhere for 5 months without working or studying will be painful. I'm sure I'll come up with something.

A tout a l'huere...
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Comments

ruham
ruham on

Was painted a picture
Want to thank you for helping me have a wonderful hour of reading and reviewing your new entries during your trials and tribulations while learning the culture and language of a country that is dear to our heart because of our mother (grandmother), etc. I can visualize how the women stay thin if there is such a distinct way in which to eat & appreciate your food. Want to see the 'cheese thing' and if you mastered it when you return home.
Wish we could see you and your family during the holidays, will just have to wait and see if it is practical and economical to head that way during the holidays
Will look forward to more escapades and you might want to think about making this into a documentary film - believe me with your writing skills, you are putting a movie in motion in my old warn out brain.
Love you so much and take care! Also enjoyed the pictures. Looking forward to your next episode.

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