Monday, October 12, 2009

26 September 2009

I had my first full, real week of classes this week. Tuesday through Thursday, my schedule is grueling. Most of my classes are two or two and a half hours long and I have three a day. I leave each class fairly exhausted. With the different language, I have to really stay alert the entire period. There is no oppurtunity to allow my mind to wonder if I want to know what is going on. However, I can tell my courses are improving my language skills already. I can comprehend and contribute much better to conversations with native speakers, people I thought spoke a different language than french a week ago. Seeing the benefits of attending class for this short, beginner’s phase, I am very enthusiastic about the improvement I will have after a month or a semester. Other than the work, I find many aspects of the class very amusing. I attend classes with other exchange students, no locals. I believe we are good students or else we would not have had the oppurtunity of studying abroad. In our own language, we have the capabilities of toppling all the loftiest subject material the academic world can throw at us. However, in a different language, we have trouble forming the simplest ideas into writing or speech. Our minds encompass far greater knowledge than what we are able to actually get out.  We could speak knowledgeably on the writings of Cicero in our native language, but we are confined to the types of clothes we like to wear or the meals we like to prepare in french. These incapabilities, mixed with confusion over what the professor tells us to do, makes a very enjoyable scene upon reflection. At the time, it is not funny. It can be exasperating, frustrating, and nearly impossible to surmount such difficulties. Our language classes are broken up into two sections, grammar and oral comprehension, which encompasses listening and speaking. We had an exercise last Thursday in which we had to describe to a classmate something we knew how to do and they didn’t. Our broken french left all explanations nearly incomprehensible. A chinese girl explained the traditional way of creating a dumpling, supposedly a must know in chinese culture. I have many chinese people in my class. One or two of the other chinese girls found her explanation at odds with the traditional chinese way of creating dumplings. This led to a thirty minute conversation about the proper way to prepare a dumpling. One of the girls just would not let it go. She insisted on correcting the fallacies spoken by our instructor. It was comical. Not knowing myself the truth of the matter, I sat back, twiddled my thumbs and chuckled at the intense discourse. I don’t see how my professor does it sometimes, but he is very good with us. He has to be a very patient man. Such confusion is common when we enter a subject other than verb tenses. We are uncertain about many of our exercises and instructions, so we do our best with what we are certain of, which is usually something a little different than what the professor had in mind. We all make a good effort and, despite our difficulties and blunders, I think, after repetition, we make a dint in the subject assigned to us. It is not pretty, but I think it is effective. At least for me, I can see the fruits of our labors. I am excited for the future possibilities such hard work will bring.

27 September 2009

The weekend went extremely well. Friday night, I went to dinner and a movie with Suzanna. It was a wonderful evening. We went to Subway for dinner and saw Inglorious Bastards. When looking for a place to eat, I was surprised when Suzanna chose Subway. I have always loved Subway. I love it so much, I had to have it as my last lunch in the United States. I couldn’t believe it when she told me she shared my passion for this wonderful place. Like me, she would go to Subway often with friends back home. It was splendid sinking my teeth back into my familiar tuna club, nothing can compare to it. The movie was wonderful and in english. It was a typical Tarantino film, so if you are fan of Pulp Fiction, I would suggest seeing the film. We walked around the city center after the film. It was my first time in the city late at night. The place really comes alive. It is jam-packed with the old and the young, all walking with friends or enjoying a few drinks and a snack at one of the many cafes or bars. The french love their frites, also known as french fries. It was a wonderful setting and a very pleasant evening, made better by the immaculate weather we have here in Montpellier, especially at night. 

We have a tradition in our household. Each Saturday night, we come together and share a meal. One member assumes the burdens of cooking, the others enjoy the food and clean up after the meal is over. This week, it was my turn to cook. Last Saturday, I very hesitantly claimed my role. I had never cooked for others, only myself. The most I have done to prepare a formal meal are the very simple tasks my mother would give me when we would have relatives or friends over for dinner. She was always there though, ready to take over if I started down the wrong path. Needless to say, I was on pins and needles. I like my cooking and feel I do a fairly good job. However, I am not a picky eater and felt as though my standards might not be as high as more experienced chefs. I was extremely nervous. First of all, I didn’t want to be that guy who sends a friend to the hospital because he serves a dish not much better than poison. Secondly, I didn’t want to embarrass myself and be the only member of the household who can’t cook. All week, my mind churned thinking of the different foods I would be capable of making. Saturday afternoon, I settled on my course, shrimp and fish with fruits, cheeses, lentil salad, nuts, and white wine. I played it conservatively, trying to keep my friends out of the hospital and make something at least I knew I enjoyed. I make fish often at home and I had confidence in my abilities. The shrimp were a different story. I had only seen those made. They seemed easy enough, why not give it a go. As Saturday evening approached ever closer, these were my thoughts and my plans of action. Thankfully, Suzanna was nice enough to acquiesce to my request and stay in the kitchen while I cooked to prevent any catastrophies. I was extremely nervous, yet, excited about the opportunity to please the palates of my friends with my own creation. I fried the fish with butter, salt, lemon, and a spanish spice I had found at the grocery store. For the shrimp, I boiled them in water with tomatoes (Suzanna’s idea, I can’t take credit) and salt. The cooking was very simple and amounted to more slicing and arranging than actual cooking. I won’t lie, in mere aesthetics, the meal was beautiful. There were so many different colors, at least I knew what was spread out on the table would be pleasing to the eye. Then came the moment when we took our first bites and I would see the product of my labor. Thankfully, we all loved it. Each shrimp and each slice of fish was eaten, all the fruit, nuts, and wine were consumed (Fruit selection that I prepared: dates(my favorite food), kiwi, bananas, peaches, and oranges), and only a small portion of the lentil salad and plate of cheese was left. I was successful. I can’t explain how proud I was of myself. I know it seems so minor, but it is and was a big deal to me. I wanted to call my Mom and Dee, report my triumph and share the feeling of a successful chef, the feeling they must have each time I eat their cooking. It is funny, now that I know I can do it, I can’t wait to cook again. 

Two aspects of my life have changed over the past week,I have given up public transportation and I finally joined a gym. I walk everywhere know. The walks to school and the city center(work) take only twenty minutes. I found public transportation to be horribly unpleasant. It is so crowded and everyone seems to be in the worst mood. I try, like most, to stay away from places that bring my mood down a couple notches. I think my decision to ban myself from the tram and bus stop will make me much happier. I can’t explain how happy I was to get back in the gym Friday afternoon. It is a beautiful place, rather expensive but worth every penny. Lifting had become an everyday activity for me in the United States. Without it, I was not a happy camper. I already feel better, more active, alert, and in control. With the gym, successful dinner, challenging week of school, movie, and lack of public transportation, I had my best weekend and really feel settled in a life I will enjoy.

29 September 2009 at 7:56 Montpellier Time

I feel so fortunate to have a happy home in my new country. Despite it’s problems and defects, it is a pleasure to come home each night. With so many differences under one roof, so many different ways of doing things, it amazes me that everything runs so smoothly. I was lucky to be placed with roommates who are tidy, respectful, and responsible. It makes what I am here to do much easier to do. I find this amusing. For the first few weeks, I would look for any and all opportunities to be away from it, to be out, engaged in something. Now that I have school, work, and the gym to go to, my time is limited. I actually have something to do, which makes me appreciate and relish the moments when I have nothing. I find my two favorite times of the day to be at home, before and after my daily activities. First, I love to watch the sunrise with a cup of coffee each morning. In my opinion, there is no better way to prepare yourself for the day than seating yourself outside on a crisp morning, watching nature’s free film. Second, not surprisingly, I love to repeat the act for nature’s closing performance before a night’s rest. About the time I finish dinner and fill my first cup of coffee, dusk is upon Montpellier and, each night, is nice enough to soften the wears and tears of a long day. Everything seems to go by so quickly, going here and there, doing this or doing that. I won’t complain about it, I love it. I think to devote your time to something other than what pleases you works in reverse at times. It makes familiarity and sedation much more pleasing. Relaxation and leisure is no longer seen as what deprives me from being active in my world. In the end, at least for me, I love the work because it satisfies my ambitions, talents, and interests, but it sweetens the time where I do not have responsibilities, when I can kick back and relax at home with my friends and my thoughts. However, it is not work alone. When you live with others, your world depends, in some aspects, on them. They often dictate the effort you must make. With the home I have here, we have found a simple formula. Take care of what is yours and the other roommates will reciprocate. So far, we have stayed loyal to this creed. We do what we need to do and we do it promptly. I think at times, in a defective apartment, it may seem to be all but a wasted effort. They place us in a place that is sub-par, why should we keep up with it. That’s simple, we must live in it. We might as well make it as nice as our abilities can make it. We could be in much worse situations than what we are in now. I think that effort pays off each day. Perhaps we haven’t gone as far as eliminating all the household problems, such as the small leak in our kitchen, but we do enough to make it comfortable and sanitary. It gives us what we need, a place to relax, a place to enjoy the sun rise and set each day. 

6 October 2009 at 8:26 Montpellier

I am afraid I have neglected my blog for far too long. I became absorbed in my new schedule and routine, I lost my emphasis on transcribing my experiences in familiar words. I have had concerns and disappointments, misfortunes and failures, successes and  improvements. I have met so many new people. Their backgrounds span the globe, touching each continent, all with a separate story and way to be related to. This weekend was rather calm. A few of Suzanna’s friends from Germany came down to see her late last week and stayed through the weekend. They were all very nice. We went to the beach Saturday and had dinner together Friday and Saturday night. Since my successful dinner last Saturday, I have been dying to cook again. I had my chance this weekend. Once again, I prepared fish. I thought, why change what you have had success with, why diversify and run the risk of losing the trust I built last weekend? I didn’t think I was ready. I need time to grow, to study the skills of my roommates. Suzanna calls me her protege, which, without a doubt, accurately describes our relationship. She supplies me with not only friendship, but a veteran of Europe. She knows the language and the culture, she knows what it is to be european. She helps to bridge the gaps between books and reality. She introduces me to the things that differentiate our cultures, aiding me in aspects I fail to comprehend and emphasizing a total immersion in the features of our new home. When she cooks, I keep an eye on her tactics. When I cook, I always ask for suggestions and corrections.I supply what I can. All I have to offer is friendship, the self-satisfaction of seeing me grow under her shadow and guidance, and my best attempt at colorful and intelligent conversation. It seems, so far, to be enough. What fuels the friendship, in my opinion, arises from the inevitability of  our situation. We both want to see and experience something new, the quest provides a rallying point. Our curiosities are our bind. We meet such interests everywhere we turn. We don’t even have to leave the house, a conversation with our roommates is a course in international relations. I often find what I do away from school makes a much greater impact on me than the lessons I learn in class. You learn to use the language, the features of distant cultures and its impact on the character of an individual, the skills needed to relate to others with far different points-of-view. It can be frustrating and embarrassing, but it always keeps me coming back for more. 

Today, the sixth of October, is no ordinary day. In my home, I believe the day will be celebrated as a holiday for years to come. It started out no different than any other day. Late in the afternoon, two arrivals would bring sheer joy to our household. I arrived at five o’clock (not the arrival I was talking about) to find my roommates impatiently, yet cheerfully, waiting for me at the kitchen table. The customary bonjour and ca va were left unsaid, a greeting of a different kind was in store for me. The first words out of their mouths were, “nous avons l’internet (we have the internet).” Yes, it has finally arrived after weeks of waiting. We were all so happy. There was an energy and excitement in the air rare to any other day other than Christmas. We were also visited by the apartment complex’s mechanic who fixed my shower drain and a couple other problems we had had over the past few weeks. It was pandemonium. It would have been great if only one of these sublime events occurred, the fact that both occurred on the same day and left out house fully functional is, in my opinion, an act of God. I must leave tonight to go back to Louisville for my sister’s wedding. I know this brief taste of Kentucky will embitter my return. However, I already feel better. Coming back to an orderly house is much more reassuring than the continued dilemma of our once seemingly endless list of domestic issues. I can’t wait to experience our new conveniences. 

1 comment:

  1. I should have known you'd scope out the Montpellier Subway! Now if you can find a good brand of Ranch dressing you'll be good to go.