Maison + Malade =

 Homesick. OK. I give up trying to pretend like I can learn in 3 months what a French woman knows after 20 years. The idea struck me on the heels of an incapaciting stomach bug, exasperated by my endless to-do list. I had taken on so much that by the end of October, the time of our trip to Normandy, my body decided to shut down. I don’t blame it. If anyone, I point my finger at my parents and anyone else who encouraged my insanity to forsake family, familiarity, and the following:

1) Mon Kitchenaid me manque. Once by myself, once with my sister, chocolate chip cookies were made with this weird vanilla flavored baking soda powder stuff. Last week was a lovely apple tart from a recipe from Cooking Light which everyone still found a bit lourd (heavy.) Anyone that knows me can attest that I am neither Paula Dean nor a Farenheit to Celcius processor nor a cups to grams calculator.

2) Le système éducatif des États-Unis  me manque: Last weekend I stayed in the first arrondissement of Paris with my host family who helped me conquer Musee d’Orsay and a hilarious A Midsummer’s Night Dream (set in the 70s). That preceded Tuesday’s La Toussaint, the national holiday of strewing chrysanthemums about the cemeteries. To quote my grammar teacher, never give French families that flower and never faire le pont (skip that Monday of classes between the weekend and the Tuesday…) What happened to my lighter, American load of classes with logical breaks?

Ma soeur et moi devant l'Arc de Triomphe.

3) Le soleil me manque : It might be 60/65ish regularly here but I would appreciate seeing Mont St. Michel, St. Malo, Loches, or Chenenceau without the rain. The center of France in the middle of autumn is one big puddle.

Pinch me! (The visit to Chenenceau was surreal.)

4) TUTF me manque: I was beginning to wonder if French people run track at all when I finally discovered a little soccer field ringed with synthetic red tartan! A bus ride from my house, the entrance required jumping over this chain link fence (my spandex and therefore myself getting snagged mid-straddle a meter above a staircase. Fantastic). Reunited after two long months, the track and I passed a few moments of silence in the fading sun before my deathly 600s. Every sprint workout tears at each muscle down to my heart, alone without my TUTFers. (╙╠╣╜= I’m feeling it.)

After spending a night on the actual Mont St. Michel, I awoke early to run amid the blues and pinks of dawn.

5,6,7,8) Mom et Dad et Jon et Mitt me manquent. Nuff said.

Taytay: Found this WWII American troops' board which reminds me that I beat my French brother the other day. You've less than 2 months to try and get better ;P

Deserted Island

Every day of class is kindergarten déjà vu. The same fifteen faces and desks arc about a teacher who gladly receives our regurgitated phrases. Apparently this past week, she had had enough of our parroting and therefore requested we choose new careers. Girl-who-leads-people-through-forests has a convenient French counterpart: un guide dans la nature. With mid-life crises done, a traumatic scenario was presented for us defend our life-callings. We ( in real life, a friend on my left, a Spanish friend on my right, a handful of Asian compatriots, a nun, a Mexican, a quartet of Americans from the South) were hypothetically placed in a hot air balloon. Between the sun and the surf, loss of énergie, and descent into shark infested water, a hot argument would ensue.

If half removed their dead weight, the others could float safely to the deserted island. Turns out that liking animals is a guaranteed ticket to theoretical survival. Our class nun thought to be a nurse in a handicapped children’s hospital, which is also as indispensible as a carpenter, baker, and film-directress. The last would create some one hit wonder that would make us all gazillionaires. And then we could forget that we’d voted off the illustrator that wanted to draw us food to remove hunger pangs, the art restorationist, and the singer that attempted to steal my role of charming wild animals. We laughed so hard because he would not sing to save his life. But when he finally agreed, the teacher threatened to leave if the song wasn’t in French. And so, well, the half of the story ended there.

Eventually, I did make it to a forsaken state. My tummy copping a fit after a month precipitated an eerie reckoning of my NBN, or Non-Belonging-Ness. Bits of individuality and expressivity get lost in translation. If language is the base of culture, I am swimming upstream with paddles foreign from their very primordial goop. In English, we paint with our words. Our words paint us. Then you look at your heap of words and say—my heap of words looks different than yours, it is my heap. In French, everyone organizes their heaps in similar il/logical patterns but with different substances. To quote the most clarifying phrase of this week, from my professor’s mouth, “The charm of English is in its syntax,” (finger wag), “the charm of French is in its lexique.”

I.E. Memorize a new vocabulary or risk being eaten alive in French.

For my two remaining months, I am withdrawing from English land and her Facebook siren as some language cafés and a pretty sweet church are underworks. These developments struck me after devouring half a bag of Hershey’s chocolates, in France, don’t judge. I also discovered a jar of peanut butter happiness in my house. Maybe I am facing the same hurdle of foreigners back in my bubble. Why didn’t I go out of my way to meet a Korean girl whose eyes never leave the sidewalk? Or during high school,  greet the Hispanic guy in 7th period study hall? Because nothing is more humbling and rewarding than when my sister, after having cocked her head, raised her eyebrow and corrected my grammar, gives me a smile of comprehension. Because no one is an island unto themselves.

A rabbit in my room. More like the guest room of a friend in whose house we pulled a sleepover arranged by our parents because they're besties. I swear it's like I'm in third grade all over again. Expect more/better pictures after next weekend in Normandy!

Il y a : Villandry and So On

Il y a une certaine way of living in France. You keep your hands on the table during meals (no monkey business under the table, pour des petits et des grands)! You keep your showers short, your lights off just until it is so dark that your eyes hurt from squinting beside the window, and your conversations forever long. Waste not, want not.

Because, while my family didn’t calculate water and electricity costs, it turns out that gas costs a small fortune here. At that same moment, I was calculating how to escape the fourth level of French at my Institute. Maybe I have the vocabulary of a four year-old. Maybe I can pretend like I understand conversations flying at the same rate as the TGV. Maybe I can walk about the open-air market completely safe in Tours and get a few compliments about my accent or lack thereof (presque–almost).

But the subjunctif and every other formal grammaire point escape me. My plea for mercy was answered with: non, ne t’inqietes pas, Cassandra! Tu es dans le bon niveau! Well , easy for my prof to say, she is the one that makes my French essays bleed with corrections! This was truly insult to injury as my pride has taken blows at my new gym where I couldn’t express how to sign up (s’inscrire) or where to change (le vestiaire). Then there was my bout at the shoe store with my dear French sister… I liken these experiences to baby pandas born in captivity–no idea how messed up they are until exposed to mountain lions.

In my case, dinner. Each night at the table is one of gastronomic ecstasy and linguistic terror. We partake of such as delicious pork with peas and a tray of cheese and then topple over after desert. In recounting places like the gardens of Villandry and Chatonnière, I butcher my meat and mots and eventually resort to charades in between lots of ll y a’ s (there is), the forbidden phrase back at the Institute. But il y a lots of trees and il y a veggie gardens that put my front lawn to shame AND il y a ten more weeks to learn different ways of il y a-ing! (Then I sigh in a very French way and get back to my cake 🙂

Villandry (Regard-deh! Look!) In the back are the geometric veggie gardens!

Completely different at Chatonniere with her English garden, free flowing as seen in the back.

Eating right off the vine at Chatonniere (because the very classy nephew of the very wealthy proprietaire said we could.)