Sunday, March 21, 2010

C'est la vie

This week was a week of highs and lows. On Monday I learned that my grandma had passed away, and my sadness coupled with a recent onset of homesickness made for a challenging week. I never missed my family more than when I realized I would have to deal with my sadness alone in Aix. Dealing with grief on your own, when you’re an ocean away from any family or person who really knows what you’re feeling, is tough. My family and I decided that it would be better for me not to go back to the States just for a few days, and although I would have liked to have been with my family, I know that coming home for only a weekend would not be a good thing to do when I’m in the middle of my study abroad experience. I’ve been feeling especially homesick lately, and this week was the worst, but I made it through.

Because I had a lot on my mind and a presentation Tuesday morning, I didn’t sleep Monday night. Despite my lack of energy, though, I managed to pull off a pretty good presentation on a book written in French, about what I’m still not exactly sure. I somehow survived six hours of class on Tuesday before collapsing into bed, and although I wanted to celebrate my Irish roots on St Paddy’s Day, I was sick. So the beginning of the week didn’t go too well.

Thursday things began to get better. I skipped class and slept in, got some work done, and attended a soiree at my school. That was bizarre. Très bizarre. First of all, I paid 6 euros to attend the party, which was billed by the International Association and Bureau of Sports as a “buffet, boisson, et concert.” For six euros, I could partake in the buffet, get a free drink, and dance the night away. Assuming buffet meant the same thing in France as in the US, I skipped dinner that night. Mistake. When we got there, myself and the rest of the Anglophone students were baffled at what the French call a buffet. Because there were 200 students attending and a limited supply of food, we were rationed. We could choose to eat one slice or pizza OR one salad OR one dessert. Not really worth 6 euros, in my opinion. We couldn’t believe it. We were so convinced they were joking that we hung around the food the whole night, waiting for them to tell us that there was, in fact, enough food for everyone, and we could eat a little more. (A lot of the French students were confused too, so I don’t think this was a “French” buffet so much as one with not enough food.) But seriously, I got there early to make sure the food wasn’t gone before I got there, because that’s usually how it works. The people who arrive at 11:30 PM shouldn’t expect to eat as much as the people who are there when the door opens. The firt-come-first-seved concept doesn't seem to apply here, I guess.
After eating my plate of pasta salad (which was good) I explored the soiree. In one classroom of our school building was set up the food tables, in another room a band, and in the courtyard a disco. Oh, and in the hallway, a mini bar. Our ticket included a drink, “soft” or “hard,” of whiskey and coke or vodka and orange. I may not have mentioned that this party was put on by the students, not the administration, and I’m still not sure how they were allowed to sell liquor in the school hallway. I can’t see U of M allowing that. C'est la France, we kept saying. Only in France would the administration allow its students to get drunk in the same space they learn. Nonetheless, it was fun.

Friday was a gorgeous day, probably somewhere around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. (I still haven’t figured out the Celsius-Fahrenheit conversion.) I did some homework and lazed around in the park for a few hours and didn’t do a whole lot else.

Saturday my program took another excursion to Pont-du-Garde, which is the sight of some huge old Roman aqueducts. (You’ve probably seen pictures of it, and didn’t know it’s called Pont-du-Garde.) The day was warm but cloudy, and it was nice to hike around on the trails and look at the bridge, but not too exciting. After that we drove to a museum in Arles and looked at Roman sculptures and the oldest known bust of Julius Caesar. Once again, after Athens this wasn’t that impressive, and our group got impatient when the bus didn’t show up on time. I wouldn’t have minded going back to Aix at this point, since I was tired and bored, but we stopped at an old Abbey and toured through its stone cold (literally) rooms and climbed up to the top of a tower. From the top we got a nice view of the Provencal countryside, which is starting to show the signs of spring. Being so high up I felt a huge relief, and realized how closed in I feel in landlocked towns. I’m definitely a girl who prefers wide open spaces, and the Dixie Chicks song should be my anthem, because being able to see the horizon made me feel a hundred times better about my tumultuous week and homesickness.

Today (Saturday), I felt even better climbing up Mount Saint Victoire, the highest mountain peak close to Aix. With a couple of my other friends, we took the bus to the base of the mountain and hiked up the extremely rocky but not too steep trail all the way to the top. It took almost three hours to hike up, but it was worth it. So I’ve now been to the top of two mountains in France: the Alps and Mt. Saint Victoire.
On the way down the mountain we decided to take a different, smoother route, and ended up on the other side, where we had to wait for the bus for two hours. We sat on the side of the road telling stories and glaring at French people driving by in their Pugeots and Mercedes, before being told by a nice Englishman who lived across the road that we were waiting at the wrong bus stop. So we trekked a little ways down the road to the correct stop and eventually got on the bus, returning to Aix by 6:30 PM. After rising at 8:30 AM and hiking all day, it’s been a very full day, but a beautiful one, and I’m glad that I stayed here this weekend.

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