another week gone by

well, i went back to marseille today. let me tell you, it was 100x easier this time around than the first time. for one thing, i knew where the bus station was, and walked there instead of taking another bus with a ‘forgetful’ busdriver. also knew that you can hop on nearly any bus and it will be leaving for marseille within about 5 minutes. also knew that when you get off in marseille, it doesn’t drop you off at the bus station, it drops you off randomly in front of an arc-de-triomphe-like arc-de-triomphe in downtown marseille (not the original parisian one, but looks about the same. or, probably does, as i’ve never seen the one in paris. yet).

anyways, beautiful day in the south of france, accompanied by some good girlfriends (and sebby, poor sebby with all the girls), and a shopping district. marseille=not nearly as expensive and pretentious as aix-en-provence. robyn’s credit card=bad idea. euro/cad exchange rate=depressing. regardless, a good day and just a few new purchases.

i am being europeanized. i have gladiator sandals, tights, long, loose shirts, and require an espresso at least once-a-day. also, in the change room today, (‘cabines,’ in french – which are frequently the type with curtains rather than doors), the curtain was definitely not sufficient to cover the span of the doorway. i gave up trying to make it work and settled for probably flashing a couple people. haven’t quite gotten to the point of not caring about whether my bra is blatantly showing through my shirt or due to a lack of shirt material, but hey, who knows. anything is possible!

kidding guys!

arriving home was just as effortless as getting down there, and caitlin and i walked to the corner store to get dinner supplies and wine (of course!). we decided on breakfast for dinner. YAY! my favourite! except i’m pretty sure bacon doesn’t exist in france (which, by the way, means i won’t be staying here forever despite the fact that they do have sparkling water in the vending machines). we settled for prosciutto (not a bad tradeoff), and got the rest of the required items. the common kitchen, however, is unfortunately not equipped with a toaster. catherine has concocted a device made out of a clothes-hanger which sits on the stove element and allows you to place one or two slices of bread on it which actually, and surprisingly, toast quite nicely. dinner was therefore delicious, and made me feel even a little bit more settled in.

a few of us have booked tickets to see the play “music hall” in marseille next saturday night, starring none other than fanny ardant! should be stellar. 13 euro! amazing.

now i’m off to share some goodies from the patisserie with the girls. millefeuille, pavé du roy(? it’s chocolate and almond. therefore it does not matter what it’s called), and tarte au citron.

OH i almost forgot. there’s a rumour going around here that they may close my university for two or possibly three weeks due to the manifestation of two cases of swine flu. yes, folks, you heard me. the worst part is that i heard another rumour that fish flu is hot on swine’s heels, and the pharmaceutical companies are rapidly trying to make sure there is enough vaccination available for this next bout of global pandemonium. always so altruistic and thinking only of the well-being of the world’s citizens (and foreign exchange students). i’ve already stopped eating fish, despite the fact that i haven’t even tried real provençal bouillabaisse yet… sigh. if this messes up my christmas holidays i’m going to probably take out my frustration in ways i’ll likely regret later. but i won’t worry about that before anything even happens….

alright, off to eat some sugary treats! ciao!


sounds in aix

this morning, i was transported.

i don’t know where to, though, because in any other situation, hearing the sounds i heard this morning, i would be transported to a small provençal town in france, standing in the middle of a bustling sunday morning market. since that’s exactly where i was, it’s entirely possible that i was transported instead to another plane of existence.

aside from the usual “je voudrais un café, s’il vous plait,” and the buzz of transactions of people buying fruits and meats and olives and cheeses and honeys from the vendors, a man entered the market square whilst caitlin and i were enjoying our café and brioche, rolling a travel-size upright piano, and began to play lively jazz and ragtime to the immense enjoyment of all.

am i convincing you to visit me yet?

my haul this morning consisted of herbes de provence (a mélange of provençal herbs), a new kind of olive, prosciutto, artichoke caviar, more figs (oh heaven they’re so good) and lavender honey.

did i mention that the rain has disappeared from the forecast for the rest of the week?

as i reluctantly left the market (the bag was quite heavy), more sounds filled the air. church bells, windows opening, the trickle of water streaming from one of the many fountains, songbirds, the clink-clink of servers clearing espresso cups from tables, the rustling of the newspaper from a couple who were enjoying the sunshine streaming through the plane trees on the cours mirabeau with their respective café au laits… i took the long way home and enjoyed the warmth of the sun. on my way, a french man in a car stopped to ask me directions somewhere, which i happily gave him and proceeded to feel very pleased with myself.

after long weeks and difficult classes, frustrating administrative systems and dearly missing people from home, i think the sunday market may save me. i won’t even think about what i will do when the weather turns cool and the vendors pack it in for the season… until then, i will be there.

the alarming similarities between an avocado and a lawyer

avocat(e): nm/f; barrister (brit), lawyer
avocat: nm; avocado (pear)
collins french dictionary and grammar, essential edition (in colour!)

both an avocado and a lawyer have thick, green skins. they each have mushy interiors and a hard centre. they work well as a spread on toast or as a tasty addition to a salad. it can also be said that when choosing either an avocado or a lawyer, they must not be too soft at the beginning or else they will not keep.

for your enjoyment, i have also compiled a list of the more interesting yogurt flavours one can find at a local french supermarket:

– pineapple
– prune
– plum
– fig
– grapefruit
– lemon
– muesli
– coconut
– rhubarb

also, in the ‘foreign foods’ aisle, you will find these foreign delicacies:

– nacho chips and salsa
– peanut butter
– pancake mix and real maple syrup (at outrageous prices!)
– soja sauce
– fluff

um… the end.

and then the rain started…

well… i guess you could say that the shit hit the fan this week (pardon my french?)

first bad news item: it started raining in aix-en-provence. what? the city with 300 days of sunshine a year?? i suppose it was bound to happen, but what about all of us foreign-sugar-students?!? depressing, that’s what it means.

second bad news item: my classes started. yes, yes, i know what you’re thinking: “but, isn’t that why you’re there? for school?” in theory, yes. but, also in theory, i should be able to understand a professor talking about, i don’t know, let’s pick comparative law, after having taken eleven years of french. i don’t typically consider myself of the ‘stupid’ type, but i felt pretty dumb in my classes. i know it will get better, i know it will take time. maybe i needed this humbling… surrender to the language barrier!!! sigh.

third bad news item: because the french consulate in toronto gave me only a 3month visa – which i was told will allow me to get a temporary residency permit upon arrival good for one year – i now have to basically re-apply for a visa. i’m still getting the residency permit, but it’s just as much work as applying for the visa. i was not a happy camper. the poor guy at the carte de séjour office… he spoke french, mandarin, and just a little english, and i was not about to try and speak french (or mandarin, for that matter) while i was ranting and raving about having already done all the paperwork once.

the french invented bureaucracy. they have since spent their time tweaking it to make it as terrible, long, convoluted and confusing as possible for those who were not born and raised on the system. ie: me. they have taken this mantra for doing things the unnecessarily hard way and applied it to their matriculation system. example: i don’t have to actually register for any of my courses until october, so i can try out any course that fits in my schedule to see if it’s something i want to take. good idea, maybe. except! they have no idea how many students will be attending any given lecture, and so they arbitrarily assign rooms (read: the day before it starts, which is usually the same time you find out when the class actually takes place), and often end up with a room that is far too small to accommodate all the students. i missed one class because of this (as if i’m going to stand for two hours! and yes i would like to get a coffee) and had one start 30minutes late while the prof found another room. make sense to you? me neither.

i never thought i’d hear myself say this, but i miss brock. i miss registering a month in advance, making a nice schedule for myself having known beforehand what the classes are going to entail (instead of just knowing course titles), i miss funny profs who teach in english (hamilton!), assigned rooms, and an administration system that is (comparatively) efficient, with staff who actually do know answers to questions outside their typical realm of work, and i miss (gasp!) and webCT!

last night myself and some friends went out on a much needed night on the town. it wasn’t a late or crazy night but it was pretty epic nonetheless. three favourite caitlin quotes from the evening (and make sure to read them with an aussie accent):

“that was the dodgiest thing i’ve ever done” – caitlin, after we got out of the car of two random french men with whom her, claire and i hitched a ride into town. ask me again why we bought 4inch heels? it was actually hilarious though and not too sketchy… erm… probably up for debate though.

“sorry, i don’t do losers!!” – caitlin, to some random french guys who thought it appropriate (really?) to shout things at us.

“there are frites in this kebab! frites!!” – caitlin, after taking a bite of benji’s kebab sandwich, sometime around 1am. she then proceeded to growl at me when i tried to have a taste of this so-called kebab.

anyways, it’s another rainy day in aix and i did absolutely nothing today. i still have my pyjama pants on. maybe i shouldn’t be admitting to that? i put lots of photos up on flickr recently. here are a few from last night’s festivities:

le marché!!

lunch today:
fresh whole wheat bread + fromage u’pecurinu au lait de brebis + caviar de tomates + jambon cru avril 2008 + picholine fenouil olives

le marché=heaven?



dad look how many different kinds of pepper there are!!!

spice section
jambon cru avril 2008 – prosciutto aged for a year and a half.
les poisson les poissons…
claire, sampling some melon!
and you can taste nearly everything!! did someone say breakfast?

when in france

here are a few more friendly tips for when you are in france or a french-speaking place. what i mean to say is that WHEN you come visit me, remember these few things:

– a pastis is a very aix-ois apéritif. if you do not like licorice or sambuca, do not order it. if, however, you do like those things, aix-en-provence may just be your version of heaven.
– bouillabaise is a very aix-ois (and provençal) food. it is fish stew. fyi.
– 5 o’clock is happy hour. mandatory. fill the patios, order some drinks. no food allowed, just happy hour.
– by 8 it is now acceptable to be eating.
– if you want to ask what’s in your food, particularly if you want to know if there are any preservatives in what you’re ordering or purchasing, the proper term is “conservatif”, rather than “préservatif” which means something else entirely. as my friend josh joked when we learned this in class tonight, “there are condoms in my strawberry jam??” we laughed so hard we nearly cried. probably funnier if you were there.
– anything administrative takes… forever. think of the most frustrating back-and-forth, paperwork-filling, line-up-waiting, id-showing, money-costing thing you’ve ever had to do, and know that that is both efficient, streamlined, and easy compared with here. also, add in a language barrier. one small example: classes start on monday, but i don’t know when, or where, or what classes.
– speaking french becomes much easier when one has had a drink (or two). (dear grandma: i don’t know this from experience, only hearsay!) or possibly it just seems like it’s easier but really you still suck and you just don’t care as much. likely the latter. but we’ll pretend for now that it’s the former.

as i learn new things in preparation for being your best tour guide ever, i will continue to educate you in the ways of the aixois french.


early fall in aix en provence

well it’s been a few days now. a few more days of settling in. a few more days of observations about france and french culture, and a few more new friends.

i now have a little family here. we’re pretty cool i think. there’s caitlin and monica from australia, claire from michigan, and ben(aka benji or benjamina) from london. that’s the family. then josh joins us from time to time, he’s from australia. and then there’s freddy and carianna from quebec and ottawa, sebastian (sebby) from england, and adrianna from…. somewhere that speaks spanish. i forget at the moment. problem: when we are together we always speak english. other than that though it’s awesome. we’ve been making dinner together (just the first four plus me) every night and just pitch in for what the groceries cost. it’s been super fun. and we’re all in political science too so we’ll have a lot of classes together which is really great.

have i mentioned that they sell sparkling water in the vending machines for the same price as everything else? evian – 1 euro. san pellegrino – 1 euro. coke – 1 euro. have i mentioned that i’m never leaving?

have i also mentioned that there are palm trees in the school courtyard?

i think it’s impossible to get lost here. every day i find myself down a new street (alley? sidewalk? they’re not very wide that’s for sure) and i still manage to end up at some square that i recognize and from there can find another street vaguely in the direction i want and, eventually, i’m where i meant to go. along the way i’ve probably found three new restaurants i’d like to at least get a coffee at and five new shops i should browse at some point.

there are fountains…EVERYWHERE. it’s gorgeous. i find a new one every day. all the streets are cobblestone. cars park…anywhere. smart cars park horizontally. i’ve seen one fender-bender occur, numerous nearly occur, and every vehicle i’ve seen is full of scratches and dents. bumpers live up to their name here? on the bus sometimes i have to not look down out the window because we are that close to other immovable objects.

yes, everything here in town is largely expensive. no, it’s not all worth it.
yes, i do feel like buying an entire new wardrobe. no, don’t worry (dad), i won’t.
yes, i have already purchased a pair of shoes (sandals). no comment.
BUT there IS this fanTAStic market, tuesdays thursdays and sundays (actually it’s every day but way bigger on those days) and it’s like a north american flea market or independent market except a hundred times better. me and the fam are going to walk through it tomorrow morning. there’s everything from lavender honey, soaps, and flowers, to spices, to fresh seafood, to fresh fruits, to clothing, to jewelry, to home supplies…

the hôtel de ville is not a hotel. don’t try to book a room there, or you’ll be sleeping in the mayor’s office. it IS, however, a really, really beautiful building in a really, really beautiful square that is filled with patio tables from various cafes and restaurants.

also, un petit word of advice: when attending a “bienvenue à france” seminar and asking your professor whether the french eat cheese as a dessert like we do at some restaurants in canada, be sure to pronounce it “deh-ss-ehr” (dessert) rather than “day-zehr” (désert) lest the prof and the class laugh at you and make a joke about eating cheese in the desert. this is especially important when one finds oneself curiously (and inexplicably) in the more advanced-french portion of the international student body.

bienvenue à france?

a weekend in marseille

where do i begin telling you about my weekend in marseille? i know: how about ‘getting there’. that is really where the adventure started. and i’ll try and keep this brief (those of you who know me are letting out a collective guffaw).

so my two really good friends, julia and david, from sweden, whom i met when i lived in hawaii, flew into marseille on thursday to see me. they’d booked a hotel in marseille so we planned on taking the bus/train/whatever back and forth to hang out with each other. it’s only about a 30min trip. for the weekend, i was going down to stay with them, as they had room on their pullout couch for me. i didn’t know how to get to marseille, so i packed my bags and headed down to the bus stop to ask the bus driver to drop me off at the train/bus station. “je dois arrêter à la gare routière, mais je ne sais pas l’arrête,” i said. translation: i need to stop at the train station but i don’t know which stop to get off at. her response (i’ll spare the translations. just be advised that anytime i’m quoting a conversation with a french person it always took place in french. yay me!): “ah no problem, it’s not very far. i will show you.” excellent! exactly what i was hoping for.

no. as we passed what i vaguely thought was the train station, she didn’t say anything. i figured she knew best so i remained seated. and continued to remain seated. i started to think something was wrong, and then i knew something was wrong, when we had gone to the other side of town, she was beginning to get her things together, we stopped at the hospital and she turned the bus off. then she looked at me and said, “oh, sorry, i forgot.” YOU FORGOT?! i nearly started crying. or cursing at her. i was confused. she forgot? i was sitting there in clear view of her rearview mirror the entire trip. i started to mumble and wonder aloud in english what i was going to do, and she looked like she was starting to maybe feel bad. or want me off the bus. so she pointed me in the direction of another bus stop which would take me to la gare routier. 30 meters from the stop i see the bus come and go and then stop at a red light. well you can bet i ran, and made her open the door for me. i made it to the bus station, which was not really what i wanted as i wanted the train station. confused again. information booths closed 5 minutes ago (grrr buslady!!!). ask another bus driver: “to marseille?” “no, there.” run again. make it on a bus to marseille, which is slower than the train, but at that point i just want to be there eating dinner with julia and david. there was more confusion when i arrived but suffice it to say that i made it safe and sound and you can bet i know where both the bus and train stations are in aix and marseille and won’t have any trouble next time.

julia and david

after that the weekend went off without a hitch (i even made it back without too much trouble!). although, i shouldn’t forget to note that when we got up to their hotel room the first thing i said was, “oh, you mean the ONLY bed in the room is a pullout couch?” yes, it’s what you are thinking. the three of us shared a pullout couch for two nights. hilarious.

i fit on there too.

we ate dinner that night at a spanish tapas restaurant. of course julia and david – who don’t speak a word of french and were so happy to have me there to translate menus etc. – picked probably the only restaurant in marseille that doesn’t have menus in french but rather spanish. awesome. so we picked something and ate and caught up and it was absolutely fantastic. i haven’t seen them in two and a half years and it felt like not a day had passed. it was so easy, so normal, and so comfortable to be with them. loved it. after dinner (which was on a huge patio outside), we proceeded to the next patio area which was an outdoor russian/french bar (this time all in french, though they had an excellent selection of vodkas) and got a beer and continued the catch-up. eventually we walked back to the hotel for the first night of sleeping like sardines.

the square where many of the restaurants, including our spanish tapas one, are.

in the morning david went and got fresh, warm baquettes from the bakery around the corner, and we ate them with brie and jam. do this if you’re ever anywhere in france. trust me.

we then decided to hike up to the cathédral notre dame de la garde, a ginormous cathedral on the hill overlooking all of marseille. it was quite the trek but really neat, and the cathedral was spectacular. so was the view. and on the way home, david witnessed a man break into a jewelry shop in BROAD DAYLIGHT!!! (bear in mind that in france between the hours of 1 and 3 many shops close). he heard a window break, and looked over to see this man with a bunch of loot in his hand who tried to look un-suspicious when he saw that david was watching. we sort of stood there for a minute, pretending to be interested in the patisserie on the corner, and decided to just keep walking. the man disappeared. crazy right?!? and kind of hilarious! anyways… for dinner we splurged a bit and went to a nice restaurant and had real provençal/french fare (fish soup, salade niçoise, salmon, duck, steak, chocolate fondante, and bottle of bordeaux). we found a pub afterwards, and eventually watched a movie in the hotel before falling asleep.

our final destination, right at the top there.
us, looking nothing like tourists.random french man in his window.the long journey…

today we went to the château d’if – yes, it’s what you’re thinking (or maybe not at all). the famous prison-island a star feature of alexander dumas’ famous novel, “the count of monte cristo.” it was pretty cool. the ferry ride offered some nice photo ops and we had fun wandering around the old castle. it was a gorgeous sunday afternoon on the mediterranean and half the sailboats from the harbour were out on the water. it was so beautiful. back at le vieux port we got some crèpes with a side of horrible service (no tip for you), and after that it was time for me to head back to the train station.

château d’if sur l’îsle d’if, as seen from the cathédral notre dame de la garde

tomorrow i have my first day of orientation! i’m excited and also slightly dreading it. for one, i hate orientation anything. as you have maybe guessed, i’d much rather just figure everything out on my own even when i’ve learned the lesson countless times that this often leads to unnecessary stress and frustration. i was very happy, however, to have had rémy with me on friday to help me open a french bank account, get started on getting my residency permit, and stop at a large superstore-type place where i was able to pick up some necessities like clothes hangers and a stovetop espresso maker.

so there you have it. come visit me and i assure you we’ll have as much fun. i’m in the process of adding photos here and on flickr. stay tuned! i will continue to keep you posted. don’t worry, i promise they won’t all be this long…

p.s. apparently i should be getting used to the aroma of b.o…. eau de french boy”?