Monday, October 12, 2009

11 September 2009 at 9:00 Montpellier Time

Well, it’s nine o’clock and I feel as if I stopped typing, I would fall asleep and awake at the same time tomorrow. Today, I had no official duties and I spent the day doing mostly what I wanted to do. I spent the early morning and late afternoon in my cafe, sipping some coffee, reading, talking with a friend, and enjoying the sights of Montpellier. I love it. No matter how small the cup of coffee is, it is always worth the 2.30 euros I have to spend on it. You are paying for an experience, a hot liquid message somehow reaching each nook and cranny of your body, relaxing and gently guiding you through a chunk of time in your day. The sights, smells, sounds are all the same. Several times I have sat right across the street on a bench in the small park facing the cafe and the beautiful buildings lurking behind it. The seats are relatively as comfortable and you are only about twenty feet away from the cafe. Basically, nothing distinguishes the two positions other than that one looks into the park and one is actually in the park looking facing the cafe. Yet, the experiences are not representative of the distance or comfort of either situation. I could stay for hours in the cafe. After a short time in the park, I am ready to go. I can’t explain it. The cafe takes a hold of me, rendering me motionless for at least an hour. I read, think, and do whatever one could do planted in a seat. Everyone is curious about the french diet. How do they eat such high fat, high calorie food and stay a very healthy nation. I think I have cracked that one, they walk a lot. However, I find the cafe more perplexing. What are they putting in their coffee? Some secret tranquilizer that immobilizes its’ victims. That makes no sense. A person like me who sits in the cafe far longer than his cup of coffee takes the seat away from the next paying customer. I keep them from making more money off a potential buyer. Yet, they never stare you down for lingering or try to hurry you out the door. Often, you are the one who has to ask for the check, it is not waiting for you. Maybe I like to go to the cafe here in France because I think it is an aspect of french culture. By going to a cafe, I am integrating, getting to know, and becoming part of the french system of life. I enjoy it because it makes me feel more in touch with the society I have felt alienated from since I arrived. Whatever it is, the kind waitresses, the tranquilizer coffee, or me posing as a frenchman, I can’t deny the cafe’s potency. It’s wonderful, an everyday routine adding pleasure and relaxation to my unfamiliar world.

Other than the cafe stops, I spent my day catching up on e-mails and blogs. I had a wonderful opportunity to talk to my mother, it was so nice to hear her voice. It truly made my day. I took Suzanna to a couple of the places she hadn’t seen yet. The aqueducts, the Promenade du Peyrou, the Jardin des Plantes, all looking just as beautifully as the time I first saw them. That’s all i got, Bon Soir!

12 September 2009 at 9:06 Montpellier Time

Today was an excellent day. A large portion of my morning was spent in my cafe and, on my way home, a trip to the grocery store. The afternoon was spent at the beach. Once again, the weather was perfect and the atmosphere was very relaxing. I got home around six this evening for the day’s main event. Qibin and Xiangia had planned an authentic chinese dinner for us. It was magnificent. A five course meal of beef tips, chicken, sausage, tofu, noodles, rices, lotus flower, cucumbers, sausage and tomato soup, some other things I fail to remember, and, for dessert, an orange and rice pudding. The food was excellently cooked in a wonderful chinese sauce. The sauce was a delicious mystery. When asked, Qibin could not translate into french or english the numerous ingredients it took to create such a masterpiece, a combination of spicy and sweet that brought each food item to life. It was enough spice to make you sweat and I had a few tears, but you never felt like you could breathe fire. I can truthfully say my pants felt tighter after the meal. I didn’t think my skin was elastic enough to hold such an expansion. All in all, it was wonderful. We have so many differences in our household. Linguistically, culturally, religiously, yet, good food is a universal language. Over dinner, communication came easier. Words were replaced with smiles, sounds of joyous dining(mmmmm!), and hand and arm gestures (the thumbs up and rub of the stomach). In the moment, we could all relate and come together with ease on common ground. We were joyous consumers, sharing in the connectivity of food. After dinner, as hard as it was, we thought a walk in the park would help to digest the load we had just eaten. It was nice, relaxing. We shared stories of home and identified ways in which our cultures intersect with one another (ex: Yao Ming). It was a lovely evening and it should be a great night’s sleep, I was almost too full to type.

13 September 2009 at 8:57 Montpellier Time

Today was another good day. This afternoon, Suzanna and I went to the Musee Fabre, a Montpellier art museum in the center of town. It was very nice. I still do not have the eyes for modern, abstract art. No matter how hard I try, I can’t see anything more than a couple of splotches of paint here, dabs there, and random swipes all over. I know they are made to convey a message or certain vibe to them, I just can’t put it together. I always come away thinking they have come up with their designs on accident. They picked up a cardboard slab from the floor of their garage, saw some streaks of paint had seeped over from the neighboring paint cans from last month’s kitchen project or a shriveled piece of tin or metal, and there it is, your income and the beginning of countless interpretations made by art gallery visitors such as myself. I know that is not the case. I know, or at least I assume, it is labor intensive, detailed way of work. A way of crafting a piece of art or sending a message through, on the surface, erratic and chaotic elements. It’s just not for me. I preferred the older art. The impressionists and romanticists of the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries. The scene is there for you. I relate to these better. I can see these situations in my own life. The skyline, the landscape, the people, the buildings, can all be transcribed to a feeling or experience I once had that mirrored it. For me, it links the past with the present. The farmer laying in his fields one morning surrounded by his dog and cattle, although in a different context, reflects a similar feeling I would have one lazy sunday morning after breakfast, at the farm. I found most, if not all, of the paintings as worthwhile to have seen and I was pleased with the visit. After the museum and a stop at the cafe, I walked the streets of Montpellier and returned home in time for the chinese dinner, part two. I found out a little more information on the meal, it is called a chinese fondu. The sauce is still a mystery, but I learned how it used. They create the sauce in a large pan, not unlike the large bowl of cheese used in the fondus I am used to, and cook each course item separately in the sauce. First was the meats, second the potatoes and noodles, and last the vegetables. While you are dining, the upcoming course is stewing in the fondu and the course following that is sitting on the table in front of you rare and in water. Once again, the food was great and filling. One thing that struck me as odd though, the music we listened to at dinner, the conversations we would have about common interests in various subjects, and many of the clothes we were wearing were american. Television stars, songs, television shows, actors and actresses, brands of t-shirts, were almost all made in or come from the United States. The conversation would converge on these topics even without me in the lead. Often, what my german and chinese friends found common ground on were american and often subjects I had not seen or heard or could comment on knowledgeably. Each one of us has a unique culture derived from our situations back home. I thought the conversation would be more polarized, involving far different examples revolving around a central genre. We would share our country’s shade of classical music or drama television. However, it was not like this. Many of the things they mentioned come from the U.S. Two things really struck me. First, the ability of our communications and broadcasting systems to reach distances across the globe and several time zones away. I guess, I really never thought of the tv show Heroes having an international, at least not a chinese audience. Second, with such an influence over so many parts of the world, I caught a glimpse of the responsibility of U.S. citizens, government, private sector, entertainment, media, and communications outlets (others as well). That what we do is seen by more than those that inhabit our country. We are here to make an example for all of the world. That is an awesome responsibility and one that can not be misused. We have the opportunity to set the stage in world affairs, under a common cause and by certain principles. I hope we can live up to the awesome responsibility our industry and hard work, in the past and present, has created for us.

14 September 2009 at 9:13 Montpellier

I received my class schedule today and begin school tomorrow. It’s exciting to get back into something I enjoy. I have enjoyed the relative freedom I have had my first couple of weeks in Montpellier. However, I was starting to get restless. I had the same feeling before I left to come to Montpellier. Summer, although wonderful, seems to take a little bit too long sometimes. I wanted, and will get tomorrow, an avenue to channel my energies. Something productive, challenging, and educational that will force me to use my mind in a result oriented setting.  My challenges will be four separate french language courses, a french economic and social class, and a history class. Altogether, it will be sixteen hours per week of classes spoken entirely in french. My schedule is heavy Tuesday through Thursday with only one class on Monday evening and nothing on Friday. I will work Monday and Friday afternoons for three hours at the Office of International Relations. All in all, I love the schedule. It will keep me busy throughout the week yet allow me enough time to study on Monday and Friday. Most importantly, it is nice to finally have a plan. Taking away the uncertainties of what you will do next will undoubtedly help me get more comfortable here. Although somethings are still not fine tuned, I like to be back in the thick of things. After a while, I felt as if I was fomenting on the fringes of life, sitting and watching at my cafe as others pass through their everyday routines while I stood by contemplating thoughts that had no concrete way of being expressed in a current outlet. I will try not to take way from summer too much, I love it. It is a chance to engage yourself in what you are truly passionate about. However, school and other enterprises allow you to express the improvements or diminutions you have either gained or slacked off in obtaining over your break. For this reason, it is nice to plunge my efforts back into something that does not permeate from me, but dictated by others and the course I wish to take with my life. 

15 September 2009 at 7:31 Montpellier Time

Today was the first day of the new semester. If I was a thoroughbred and my semester was the Kentucky Derby, I would have been the horse foaming at the mouth, prancing and dancing in the paddock, my tail raised and my neck arched in attention and excitement. It was back to the old routine I had fallen in love with in Louisville. Up at five for coffee, breakfast, and reading. It all went as planned. This morning was beautiful, the air crisp and cold, slightly overcast skies, and a firm breeze. If the morning cups of coffee didn’t wake me up, the chill this morning definitely would have. The bus was on time and I was early for class. My first class went well. I liked the professor and the subject material seems to be interesting. He spoke in a clear, slow voice, all in french, yet much easier to understand than most Montpellierains. It all went as smoothly as most my hopes had foreseen. However, the successes of the a.m. receded into a whole lot of hype for minimum action this afternoon. My classes this afternoon were cancelled. I guess that doesn’t sound so bad, but the start of the semester is always exciting for me. Needless to say, when the classes you have been waiting to get a first impression of fail to pan out, it is a little disappointing. Stung by the reverses of a productive morning and the hopes of a solid orientation to my new classes, I thought I would devote myself to my correspondences. Everything seemed to stymie from there. Computers, although fantastic when they work for you, are horrid when working against you. I failed three separate times to find the workable internet I needed. Here is where I noticed my reliance not only on workable computers, but also on being able to get from one place to another quickly. At home, I have to walk a good distance to get to school, but it doesn’t take too much time and my car is always ready to go whenever you get back to it. Today, I seemed to do more going there or here to do something than actually doing anything. At home, if one instrument doesn’t work, their is one not too far away or I always have the car as an escape route to give up and go home where you know you can do what you are trying to do. Here, it will take an adjustment and more in-depth knowledge of how to most efficiently get the things you want done, done. My resources are completely different and, although I have used the tram and bus often my first couple of weeks, more pronounced when you have a schedule. I guess it was my learning lesson for the day. I thought it would come in one of my french courses, but, nonetheless, it’s valuable when trying to find a way to succeed in my affairs. The one stand out today was that I was able to talk to my father on the phone. It was not long, only a few minutes, but it was great to hear his voice. Thinking of the conversation with my dad and my mother a week ago, I noticed that when I thought of them or other loved ones, I don’t think of a major event or activity we had attended or done together. The memories I cherish do not include baseball stadiums, vacations, museums, or celebrations. They are the scenes that often get left out of the story you tell to a friend or colleague. For me, they are moments that involve a lot less action and more connection. Early morning coffee with my Mom, the ride to church with Mimi and Papaw, sitting on the porch with Dad and Dee, getting a bite to eat with a close friend. Those moments are often not celebrated and definitely not reported to third persons. To others, they are not as exciting as hearing about deep sea fishing or a Cubs game. Yet, they are the moments I most miss.  I found that odd. I often can’t remember each morning with my mom or session on the porch with my Dad and Dee, however, the legacy they left with me is profound and unforgettable. 

16 September 2009 at 9:21 Montpellier Time

I saw something today I didn’t think was possible, it rained in Montpellier. Over the past twelve days, I have barely seen a cloud in the sky much less a drop of rain. You could tell it doesn’t happen very often as well. The Montpellerains looked miserable. Hands plunged into jean pockets, fingers itching at the eject button on umbrellas, hoods up, and a pace of walking that would have made Michael Johnson look out of shape, all scrambling to get to where they were going as quickly and dryly as possibly. It was a scene of misery, I have never seen as many scowls in my life. The day was unusually cool, starting out in the 50s and probably staying in the 60s for most of the day. I have always loved overcast, cool days and it did not rain enough to ruin it for me. Other than the rain, I had both of my classes today. I was introduced to my other french teacher, Mme Monier, whom I found very likable, understandable, and brought a strong energy to the classroom. My phonetics class seems to be the tough one. We had to watch a television program and answer questions relating to the material we had seen. It was tough trying to find answers to questions and comprehending what the anchors were saying all at the same time. I had a couple mishaps. First, I got on the wrong bus this afternoon and ended up going far out of my way, about twenty minutes outside of town. With my hopes dashed of making it home for lunch, I went out to eat for the first time (really the second, but the first was at a sandwich stand) in Montpellier. I had a brie salad sandwich. I love the sandwiches here, the bread is always fantastic, the insides very fresh and tasty, and, not to mention, it’s very long and filling. It was a stuffed baguette and what a treat. I also proved a theory. Montpellier has tons of bread and dessert choices, most displayed in its respective cafe’s front window or inside a glass-top sandwich and bread stand adjoining a cafe, restaurant, or food hut (These stands I speak of most likely have a name. However, I don’t know what it is so you will have to put up with my very poor explanation). They look so good it is always hard to tear yourself away. Croissants, danishes, pastries, and other sorts of bread stuffed and/or topped with custards, chocolates, jams, fruits, nuts, most of the time with several of these items and more together, all combined to make up one handsome treat. I try to eat healthy and keep my distance. You see them so often, you would think you would get used to them. You just kind of look away, knowing what’s there but trying to keep yourself from acknowledging that they are there. Worst of all, they are cheap, very cheap. Saying that you don’t want to pay the money is never an excuse. Well, being in a restaurant with a very impressive display of these little drops of heaven was too much for me. I had to try one. I knew, if I was ever to stop moving when one of these things were within the range of my voice, I would get one. I did, and they were better than advertised. A thin, long role of bread with nuts and powdered sugar on top and chocolate on the inside. Amazing, absolutely amazing and, not to mention, a great way to knock off the rust of an hour ride on the tramway. It even softened the blow of my next, real mishap, I lost my tramway pass. Although it’s not life or death and there is not much to say other than I got careless for a moment, it’s going to be a hassle having to subject myself to having to get another. I guess I should have thought of that. Other than the food and the mistakes, I got a tremendous amount of work done today. All the homework and errands were done successfully. I don’t know if I am still buzzing off my dessert this afternoon or truly satisfied to have had a hard day of work, but I feel pretty good to back into life again.

17 September 2009 at 7:18 Montpellier Time

Today was my first real day of school. The past two days, my classes have been introductions to the course, the program, and the objectives we hope to achieve. That ended today and course material began. I learned a new verb tense, as if there weren’t enough, and that it is going to be a challenge to grasp new material. When your oral comprehension skills of a particular language are not flawless and your vocabulary is not robust, applying what you learn or know to new words and phrases and understanding the new material being inputted to you is challenging. At times, it is hard to apply concepts to use in english, much less in french. You really have to be patient, reference the new vocabulary, put together the context of its usage, and apply the rules and concepts you know. If you know the language, you are much more familiar with the first two steps. You can focus more attention on applying the concept rather than figuring out the meaning of your subject. Here, in a foreign language, the subject or  element you have to work with is often something you don’t know. You must go through all three steps: define, understand, and apply. It doesn’t help that your teacher speaks french either. I am not great at oral comprehension, I do much better with the written word. It’s a struggle to focus your attention on crafting the meaning of what is spoken to you and then applying it. It will take sometime, but I’m sure I will get used to it. School was about all that happened today, six hours of classes. It’s weird not to have class on Friday, I always have, but to think that this is the start of my weekend is a refreshing thought. All was back to normal in Montpellier. Although it was a little cooler, the skies were clear and sun was shining. All in all, it was a good day. Good night!

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