Reflections on France

On Tuesday I said my goodbyes to Grenoble and came to Winterthur to join Seth. His last day of work is today, and we are going to head to Turkey on Monday, and then back to Vancouver on June 16th.

Even though I am looking forward to both Turkey and going back to Canada, it was extremely difficult to say goodbye to France. Despite all my efforts to NOT put down roots, over the course of 8 months I established some really strong and special ties. For me, no matter where I am in the world, it is the people who make it feel like home. As I was leaving Grenoble on Tuesday, I realized that I was saying goodbye to a home that I won’t soon forget. The following photos and descriptions summarize the incredible memories I have forged over the last 2 months.

In April, I was invited by a friend, Claire, to stay with her family for a few days in a small village outside of Nîmes. I jumped at the chance, and was warmly welcomed into her family, where we spent 4 sunny days BBQing, chatting with the neighbours, suntanning, and reading. I really appreciated how her family made me feel so at home. They took some time to teach me some cooking, as well, and I learned how to make a chocolate fondant (chocolate cake that is warm and runny in the middle) and a blackberry charlotte (a dessert named for it’s shape). Her family had built their house, and had an ingenious, although slightly precarious, method for storing their dry goods – they bolted the lids to the ceiling!
The rest of April and May was spent finishing up work at the high school and fooling around with my roommates. We did lots of hiking, and even planned one epic trip into the mountains for a big weekend of climbing. Sadly, it was aborted at the last moment due to bad weather. However, to make the best of a disappointing situation, we decided to all ‘camp’ in the living room, which was thankfully big enough for all 6 of us. We ate camping food (sardines and bread) and put up a sort of sheet-tent. It was really fun. I really lucked out finding those roommates, because they were creative and always up for adventure. The final art project we did together was a really amazing and huge painting, (2 by 2.5 metres) which was a metro plan, which each roommate designing their own metro line. We named the stops for important moments in our lives, or things we really liked or that had influenced us, and when we had something in common, the metro lines crossed. We all, of course, crossed at 3 rue lesdiguières. I took a picture but seem to have lost it, so will post it later when I get ahold of a copy.

The last 10 days in France were some of the most special. My good friend Sarah invited me to go on a roadtrip with her and her cousin (yet another Claire!) to visit all of her aunts, uncles, and cousins in Normandy and Bretagne, and then to stay for the weekend with her mother in the Bay of Arcachon, near Bordeaux. We spent 9 days traveling around and visiting family, which gave me the chance to see so much of France that was new to me.
Our first stop was Sarah’s uncle in Verneuil. He was a farmer and made his own apple cider and honey. Everything that came from his garden and farm was so delicious, and I think we spent an average of 3 hours eating each meal. We had fresh egg omelettes with chives from the garden, roasted duck, and fresh sausages. If there is a heaven, I am almost sure that it is exactly like that farm. When we weren’t checking out the big tractors, he showed us around the region to see the birthplace of Laval, an important figure in the history of Canada, and some really beautiful chateaus. We had fun picking out the one we would buy if we were multi-millionaires!

Next stop was cousin Armelle and her 2 impish daughters, who live in Corneuil. I was greeted at the door by Maiwan, age 7, and her dog. I said, ‘Bonjour, j’aime ton chienne.’ (hi, i like your dog) She replied directly, ‘Ca n’est pas une chienne. C’est un chien.’ (It’s not a ‘chienne, it’s a chien). I had, actually, meant to say ‘chien’, the masculine version of the word, but I still make lots of pronunciation errors, and had said the feminine version. That started a beautiful relationship between me, the student, and her, the teacher. She thought it was hilarious when I talked, and treated it like her personal duty to correct me every time I made a mistake. Thankfully, both girls were really sweet, and we spent lots of time in the backyard playing games. You can see one of the games in the photo, a brilliant concept where you fish for objects in the whale’s mouth, and if you are too clumsy the whale squirts you with water. However, as fun as the kids were, I think the highlight was the dinner of galettes (crepes made with buckwheat flour) that Armelle made for us, using the crepe machine that her grandmother had used. They were light, crispy, and so delicious.

Next we headed to Bretagne to stay with Sarah’s other cousin Lena, her husband Fred, and her 3 little boys. We stayed there for 3 days and were EXHAUSTED when it was time to go. The boys ranged from 14 months to 7 years, and had so much energy. I was really impressed by the calm, laid-back way the parents ran the household. Lena and Fred worked during the days, so Claire, Sarah, and myself had lots of time to explore the coast of Bretagne. The sun shone on us for 3 days straight, which is apparently a record for rainy Bretagne. The thing that was the most impressive, I think, was our boat trip out to an island literally covered in a kind of bird called Faux Bassan. Apparently they only like to nest in very particular places, and they really liked this rocky island. We hung out there for about an hour, amusing ourselves by watching them come in for a landing, which was not easy seeing as each bird had a space of about 10cm squared. An interesting thing about this bird that I learned is that they catch fish by diving headfirst into the water at a speed of about 110km per hour, to a depth of 40m. Not all babies learn the good angle of entry right away, and after their first 2 years, 70% of the birds have injured a wing and died. Nature can be really cruel.

In this last picture of Bretagne, see if you can see my napping spot.

We finished this wonderful trip by a few days in the Bay of Arcachon, near Bordeaux. We stayed with Sarah’s mom and her boyfriend, who treated us to walks on the sand dunes, swimming, boating, and a day trip to Bordeaux. Again, the weather was great and the food was wonderful. The highlight of this part of the world was an ice cream shop that we visited after dinner every single night we were there, because it had 80 flavours of delicious ice cream to try. I even found the flavor ‘popcorn’, which would have been better without the soggy popcorn pieces that they put in there. In fact, by the end of the trip Sarah found out that she had gained about 2.5 kg, but happily, that knowledge didn’t bother us. It is not every day that you get the chance to taste so many amazing foods!

One of the photos below is of a cool art installation in the centre of Bordeaux. It is a flat surface that they spray water onto every 10 minutes, and in the summer it is really refreshing and fun for the kids, but is also really beautiful because the surface reflects the beautiful, old buildings around it.

It was hard to come back to Grenoble, knowing that it was all coming to an end. And after a week of giggling with Sarah, I realize that I am really going to miss that girl! We do hope to see each other before too long, because she just finished a bike trip from France to Turkey, and has the next one planned from Alaska down the coast to South America. Hopefully we will be able to join her and her boyfriend on at least part of it.

As things come to an end, Seth and I are both starting to get really excited about seeing all our friends, family, and the dog again. We are looking forward to bringing the best of all we have experienced culinary-wise in Europe and have lots of delicious dinner parties back in Canada!

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