December 22, 2010

Le Marché de Noël de Lille

Although I am home for Christmas this year, I still wanted a French Christmas experience. FBF and I decided to go on a date to the Marché de Noël. While this is definitely not something you can find in America, I’m not sure how authentically French this experience is for a variety of reasons.

The first reason being that while I was in Amsterdam, my friends and I went to “Winterland,” which was basically like a Dutch Marché de Noël. I have also seen Marchés de Noël in Belgium, but while this is basically an extension of France, I feel like it counts less in ruining the Frenchness of the whole experience.

Amsterdam's Winterland

The second one being that FBF hasn’t been to the Marché de Noël, in Lille or otherwise, since he was like 8. And even then, he told me that they didn’t really do the Marché like we did, meaning they didn’t look at all the booths, eat all the food, and experience the attractions. This leads me to believe that he'd actually never been before, as what else is there to do at the Marché de Noël except these things?

Le Marché de Noël de Lille

There were all kinds of booths, from Santa Hats and ornaments to metal robot sculptures and puzzle games (none of which FBF and I could figure out, including the ones intended for 8 year olds), but I saved my money for all things edible.

We sampled all sorts of bad for you delicious Christmas foods. I had a gauffre, which is like a Belgian waffle, except that they originate from le nord. Then FBF and I shared 13 croustillons, which are basically like fried doughnut holes but better and come from the Netherlands. To help us swallow all this fried food down, we partook in another French Christmas tradition, vin chaud.

Le Vin Chaud.

Vin chaud is not my favorite drink on the planet, and if it wasn’t part of the Christmas theme, I don’t think I would ever drink it. However, there is something magical about having a hot glass of spiced wine in your gloved hands while walking around admiring the general holiday splendor that lets you know it really is Christmas time.

To finish off this feeding frenzy, FBF and I headed over to the booth called Soupe à la Ferme (Soup from the Farm). I had an amazing cup of zucchini soup, complete with melted cheese on top and some sort of herb bread. FBF had carrot soup, which while I was not a fan, he enjoyed immensely.

After stuffing our faces, we thought it would be ever so romantic for us to ride le grand roue (the giant Ferris wheel). We were told from La Soeur that the view from the top is beautiful, but extremely cold. We dressed accordingly.

Le Grand Roue

So we pay, get weird token things, and wait in line for a couple of minutes before it’s our turn. The man takes our tokens, and let’s us choose one of four little carriages. Now this is unlike any Ferris wheel seating area I have ever seen. Instead of being for two people, it could hold 6 adults, and instead of facing forward, it was a circle with a pole in the middle holding it up to the wheel.

Because this was supposed to be a romantic date, FBF and I sat on the same side, of course. This was a mistake. As soon as we were sky-bound, the carriage started leaning dangerously due to our combined weight on just one side. This was doubly dangerous as there was not really any protective fencing, and it would not have been hard to tumble out. To make matters worse, there was no safety restraint of any kind. We were not buckled in.

FBF and I, while enjoying the view, were not enjoying a romantic, quite moment alone in the sky, because j'avais peur (I was scared). Instead of holding on to my boyfriend, I had my arms wrapped around the middle pole, trying desperately not to fall off.

On about our third turn around the wheel, I realized that something this sketchy could only happen in France. We weren’t even required to sign release forms in order to ride on this obvious death trap.

While I greatly enjoyed the Marché de Noël overall, I’m not so sure I’ll be riding le grand roue next Christmas.

December 17, 2010

La Prison de Loos

On our drives in to school, Vincent always points out when we pass by a prison. There are two on our way to school, and he always tells me whether it’s the new prison or the old one. The first time this happened, it led to a conversation about prison conditions, such as overcrowding and other problems similar between France's and California's prison system.

Since then, I’ve been wondering why he continues to point them out to me, but today I finally learned something new.

When we passed by the “old” prison Vincent notified me comme d’habitude (as usual).

The old prison.
(photo from wikipedia)

“Oui, c’est beau avec toute la neige,” (yeah it’s pretty with all the snow) I commented back.

“Est-ce que tu sais que c’est un ancien monastaire?” (Did you know it’s an old monastery?) he asked me.

“Ah bon? Je ne savais pas.” (Oh really? I had no idea).

“Oui. Pendant la revolution on a mis les moines dehors, et maintenant c’est un prison.” (Yeah, during the revolution we kicked out all the monks, and now it’s used as a prison).

The prison back when it was an abbey during it's glory days (circa 1790).

There are no prisons in California that were built for anything but to be a prison. France is so full of history and sometimes I wonder if the French even realize it. Even if you commit a crime and have to go to jail, you get to live in a beautiful historical building. Even when you are removed from society for doing a terrible (or not so terrible) deed, you continue to be a part of it. You get to live in an old monastery.

December 14, 2010

Traverser La Rue

This weekend I took full advantage of my three-day weekends for the first time and went to Amsterdam to meet up with a friend of mine from California. It was my third time in Amsterdam, and we did typical Amsterdam-y activities.

Since I hadn’t seen this friend since she came and visited me last year, I decided that we should go to a restaurant for a nice-ish dinner on our second and final night in the city together. She (and her two friends) agreed.

We found a rather charming sit down restaurant + bar. While perusing the menu, I decided to try some Dutch beer. Everybody ordered a drink, and after discussing with the blonde Dutch bar tender slash waitress, I chose a blonde beer.

Without much delay the Dutch returned with three beverages: a water, a coke, and a beer that was not mine. She turned to me after distributing the drinks and said, “I’ll be back with your beer. It’s on the otherside.”

A little bit confused by her Dutch English, I watched her go back behind the bar. This was a normal bar, with the liquor on one side, and seats for people to sit in while drinking the liquor on the other. As I couldn’t really imagine why they would have stored the beer on the side with the seats, I thought I misunderstood her.

The restaurant.

Being curious as to where my beer would be coming from, I followed her with my eyes as she got out from behind the bar. She followed the length of the bar, heading towards the front of the building, but instead of turning towards the rest of the restaurant, she walked right out the front door.

She walked across the street and entered the building directly en face (in front) of the restaurant, disappearing within. Three minutes later, out she came, with a beer in hand.

I thanked her, and went to grab my first sip of Dutch beer. It was delicious. The only down side was after putting my beer back on the table, I realized my hand was definitely wet from the beer that had spilled on its long journey from across the street.

My beer!
Although I felt guilty at first making her go out (unknowingly)
in the freezing cold, it was delicious enough to merit such drastic measures.

December 9, 2010

Quatre-vingt dix

FBF and I got up before the sun rose in order to go to school or work, respectively. It was one of the days where our schedules matched (because for some reason going to University in France does not give you a consistent time table), so he was giving me a ride to the train station.

We took the autoroute (freeway) and I was mindlessly looking out the window. Within a couple of minutes, we were presented with the panneau de limitation de vitesse (speed limit sign). And while the sign held two numbers (chiffres), a nine and a zero, instead of thinking “ninety” as I do most of the time when presented with digits, I thought “quatre-vingt dix.”

Thinking in French without even trying ever so early in the morning has left me with one conclusion: clearly they were right in driver's ed, and driving while intoxicated is the same as driving with fatigue. Since everybody knows you speak a foreign language better while drunk.

December 6, 2010

Les Slows

I am a hopeless romantic. One of the things I want out of a relationship is for my boyfriend to, out of the blue, take me in his arms and slow dance (un slow). I’m realistic about it, too. I’m not expecting him to whip-out the waltz. I’m not expecting him to have a string quartet hidden somewhere in the bushes. All I want is for him to sway in a circle while holding me. And if he wants to hum a little tune, all the better!
Up till now, I’ve never had a problem of making this a reality in my relationships, but FBF hates dancing.
My obsession with dancing is apparently très americaine of me. FBF claims that French girls don’t care if their boyfriends dance with them. At first I found this really hard to believe. Who wouldn’t want their boyfriend to hold them close? Who doesn’t want to recreate movie moments?

I want to danser un slow with Prince Phillip.

Teaching in a lycée (high school) this year has afforded me a new light on the situation. In every class I’ve met so far, there is always one girl who raises her hand, and while giggling, asks me if we really do have a prom in America.
The first time I got asked this question, I laughed. Why wouldn’t it be true? I explained that yes, American movies/TV shows were telling the truth, and that in fact we have three dances a year. I then asked them if they have any dances.
The answer? No. None at all!
It seems that while we are culturally taught to expect dancing from our significant others as early as middle school (I was 12 at my first dance!), the French are never taught to expect that kind of romance.
I’ve been working on FBF’s hatred for dancing. Can it really be so terrible to hold me in his arms and turn in a circle?
He’s been improving on this point. Instead of being like “oh je suis français et je deteste le dancing,” he lets me dance with him without complaint.
It would seem that American boys have the upper hand as far as dancing is concerned. My dad always says, “the quickest way to a girl’s heart is to twirl her,” but I think it should be modified to specify American girls.

December 5, 2010

La Gastronomie Française

Whenever I meet a new class they ask me lots of questions. Because they all have a similar level of English, I am presented with the same questions quite frequently. A common one is, “do you like French food?”

Since French gastronomy is now on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list, I’ve been wondering if I really do like French food.

I love French cheese. I love French bread. I love French wine. I love French home made salad dressing. I love French pastries.

Raclette! Delicious French cheese that you melt onto potatoes (and cold meats).

Tarte au citron! My favorite French pastry! It's lemon flavored.

My most recent bottle of Bordeaux. It was delicious, and only 3 euros!

I also love how much time the French spend on a meal. They really enjoy their food and take the time to savor every bite. This, too, is one of the reasons French gastronomy made it onto the intangible heritage list. It’s not only their dishes, but also how they eat them that makes them exceptional.

But as far as enjoying every meal that French people have made me, it’s definitely a no. Living chez FBF has given me ample opportunity to taste the dishes the French make, and I haven’t been impressed. This might have to do with being vegetarian, because most French meals are heavily meat based. However, if all French food was delicious one would think they’d have good side dishes as well as main courses.

So when I’m cooking, I take certain aspects of French gastronomy and add them to my own creations. I almost always include some French cheese, whether in the meal itself or eating it separately, drink some French wine (or Belgian beer), and I definitely take more time to enjoy my meal than I did before.
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