20 December 2007

Did I Miss Something??

Today was one of those Thursdays where I:
1) got up significantly before the sun
2) snoozed myself another fifteen minutes of shuteye
3) stumbled around the apartment getting ready and eating breakfast
4) barely made it to the bus on time, barely fit into the bus thanks to the hundreds of thousands of junior high kids in there, and barely made it to the university on time
5) hurried downstairs to Linguistique Générale.

All that was normal. But there was no one there. Did I miss something? Not that I can think of.
I must have been at the right classroom. We have class there every week.
I did check the other classroom though (the one where we have Linguistique Comparée), just in case, and it was likewise empty.
The professor's office was empty.
The normal classroom was still empty.
There were no lights on on either floor where class could be.
None of the other students were around.
There was nothing posted on any of the information boards.
It really is Thursday. Yesterday was Wednesday and I didn't miss a day in there.
I did have December 20th written down as one of the dates I had class. I checked my watch and yes, it is December 20th.
There hasn't been a weird one-hour change in time recently. My watch is set correctly for the one last month.
There isn't a strike going on in my university.
The professor does have my e-mail address, so I should have heard about it if class was being cancelled. Plus, it's always posted.

Yet it's a 24-hour course, and I went through my notebook to count how many classes we'd had, and we'd had seven. So there is supposed to be another, and it was supposed to be today. What did I miss?!?

18 December 2007

Birthday Number Two

For some reason I feel more "21" than I did yesterday, which was my calendar birthday. Today was my France birthday.
Again, relaxing and nothing particularly out of the ordinary. I did a lot of thinking, went on an unsuccessful mission looking for ear warmers, went to choir practice (I'm getting a cold so I've turned into a mezzo), and then went to dinner at a crêperie with Becky. I had an excellent galette with ground beef, cheese, onions, and an egg on top.
I am very very excited about winter break, which starts in a few days. It's a good thing that I have very few classes left, because my mind is far away from academics.
I'm sure there's a lot more to say, but my verbosity has obviously gone out for the evening.

Incidentally, the most striking thing about the Golden Compass yesterday was how much that one character looks like Mark Twain. Courtesy of the internet, here are some pictures for you to compare:

17 December 2007

Birthday Number One

Strangely enough, I have two birthdays this year. I was born around 6 p.m. on December 17th, but at that time it was already December 18th in France. So I suppose I can celebrate tomorrow too!

Since I didn't have any classes, I just enjoyed a relaxing day of sleeping in, watching movies, and procrastinating. I never did get around to studying for my Dutch exam, but I didn't do too badly. I know what the mistakes I made were, but I wouldn't have been able to prevent them by studying. They were things I hadn't learned thoroughly enough.

After the exam I met a bunch of friends at the movie theater. I also brought along Sara, who's a German student from another university in my Dutch class. We saw the Golden Compass, which wasn't inspiring. If I hadn't read a lot of warning articles about it before hand, I wouldn't have thought that it was particularly anti-religious. There's a definite anti-government theme to the movie, but I wouldn't read into it more than that. The main problems, however, were with the rhythm of the plot. It didn't seem to me to be structured very well, and I didn't find any of the characters too interesting. Probably would have helped if I had read the book, but seeing the movie didn't give me any desire to. I would definitely not recommend this movie to the under-ten crowd, since it had a lot of violence. Afterwards we went to McDonald's (the only place open) for ice cream and chatting until the bus came.

Overall it was a great day! I don't feel any different though, now that I'm 21.

Christmas Party, in short

In short: everyone (eleven of us in all) came over to my place around 3. We ate, watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas (poor Max!) and the Adams Family Christmas episode from the 60's, exchanged Secret Santa gifts (everyone was happy with what they got), talked a lot, drank hot cocoa and other hot drinks, and then ordered pizza, which was delicious. It was a great day. I got stuck with all the leftovers, so if I'm happy living on chips and cookies I don't need to buy groceries for a month. (I'm not, so there'll still be a steady stream of fruits, vegetables and meat coming into my refrigerator).

It was a costume party, though only a few of us dressed up. Mandy and I were two turtle doves (i.e., winged turtles):

Notice the nearly life-size Christmas tree on the wall. Wrapping paper just doesn't smell the same though...
Strange year, when I celebrate Christmas before my birthday... (check back tonight!)

14 December 2007

Lots of random "news"

How's this for an assignment? For general linguistics, since there won't be an exam, I get to write a dossier. Assignment: "Everything we covered in the class. Your interpretations, observations, reactions. 7-8 pages should do."
Love the specificity. Shouldn't be too difficult though.

I've discovered a great use for those cheap wooden boxes that you get five pounds of clementines in: sock/underwear drawers! My wardrobe just has shelves, but it is becoming steadily more organized. And cheap little wooden cheese boxes are nice for organizing my desk.

I heard "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" in a store today, and I was pretty impressed with the English pronunciation until I heard "With the anzh-lic hosts proclaim." If they had too many syllables (not the problem) I wouldn't mind if one of the other vowels were dropped. "With the 'ngellic hosts" wouldn't bother me, nor would "with the angel'c hosts." You can't drop the stressed vowel. What were they thinking?! At least it wasn't "All I want for Christmas is You."

I'm getting to the stage of learning Dutch that I feel like I have a handful of pieces for the puzzle. I can start trying to put them together, and sometimes the pieces fit.

Judit from Hungary knows the first two verses of Jingle Bells. Most anglophones I know don't know more than the first.

Tomorrow I'm hosting the exchange student Christmas party, so I've been attempting to get ready for that. It's a costume party. I'll post pictures tomorrow!

Thanks to my talent for putting off doing laundry, I have more new socks. Just one more clean shirt though, so I have to go to the laundromat tomorrow. I hate going to the laundromat. (In case you're wondering, to do my bi-weekly large load of laundry, it costs me about $15.)

I bought my train tickets for Paris. Why am I going to Paris? Christmas in Paris and New Year's in London with my parents. They arrive in a week!

Two jokes I've told too often recently:
- How many general contractors does it take to change a lightbulb?
I'll get you an estimate by next Thursday.
- What's the difference between trumpet players and seamstresses?
Seamstresses tuck up frills.

Happy Gaudete weekend!

12 December 2007

First Exam Over! And other news...

Exam past:
My first exam has come and gone. It wasn't that hard. And, just like I have my philosophy for explaining to myself why I don't really study, I have a technique for making myself feel better about mistakes I know I made. Such as that one with the verb suffire: I don't even know how to conjugate that in the present tense. There's no reason for me to know it in the passé simple (a literary past tense) so I don't need to feel bad about not knowing that one. However, it turns out that for the other two possible errors I had (that I noticed), I guessed brilliantly. So overall I think I did fine on the exam.

Exams future:
I got most of my exam schedule.
- Comparative Linguistics: 8 a.m. (grumble) on January 10 at some far away place.
- Translation and English grammar (the grammar one is the exam that I have to take to get the full credit for translation, even though I've never been to one of the classes): 8 a.m. (grumble grumble) on January 15 in the same far away place.
- Introduction to Anthropology: 2:30 p.m. (yeah!) on January 16 in that same random far away place. I don't understand why they didn't schedule all the exams at the actual university.
- Choir: there's not supposed to actually be an exam, but it says I have some sort of assignment for the evaluation. First I've heard of that.
- Translation from English to French: it also says there'll be an assignment, but I know that's code for "We haven't scheduled the exam yet so ask next week."
- Dutch: that one's next Monday. Lovely, having an exam on my birthday...
- General Linguistics: this is the interesting one. You see, the course is open to people in both the translation and the teaching French as a foreign language master degrees. They have to choose one course out of about four options. Most of them go to all of those classes, and then sign up for the exam they think they'll do best on, and therefore get that credit. Apparently I'm the only one signed up for the General Linguistics exam, which means that they can't really have an exam for me. So tomorrow I need to ask (beg?) my professor to do a paper instead on an exam, which would be easier on the system.

The good news is, I only really have to study for Linguistics and Anthropology.

And more news!! I got a nice form letter (it sounds like a form letter) from Air France apologizing for inconveniencing me, and with it was a gift certificate type thing for 60 Euros, which is a bit more than what I spent on the hotel. So I feel reimbursed. Not quite as nice as being given normal money that I could spend anywhere, but it'll do.

So to all my poor American friends with their exams actually before Christmas break, good luck to you.

I should be studying, but instead I'm blogging.

I have my first exam in three hours, and that's a problem. Not because it'll be difficult: it's my French as a Second Language exam so I'm not expecting it to be hard in the slightest.
It's a problem because I'm fighting with myself over my exam philosophy. See, the logical part of my brain thinks that I should be studying for the exam. The rest of my brain thinks it doesn't matter.
Besides, procrastination is fun.

My philosophy on exams is as follows: exams are tests that are used to demonstrate how much you have learned. That's in the past tense. They're not meant to show how much you reminded yourself of at two in the morning the night before the test. Therefore, if you study too much, in a way it's like cheating, because you're demonstrating knowledge that you haven't really internalized. Doing practice problems in math is acceptable studying, skimming through notes is okay studying, but quizzing yourself and rereading lots of things is, in my procrastinator's brain, unfair. Studying for foreign language exams, in my opinion, is wrong. If I get a B on an exam (which has been known to happen once in a while) then I know that I acquired a B-level of knowledge from the course. If I were to get a C, I would be disappointed in myself for not learning as much as I should have. It's about learning, not about memorizing.

But I'm in France, and they grade harder here, and what would be my usual A-work at home might get me a C here. And I do not get C's. So I should be studying, right? Even if it's just French for Foreigners?

So I decided to study. So far, I have pulled out my notes and decided which pages I should reread. That's step one, and maybe I'll actually read them once I'm done watching the Abduction of Figaro and playing Scrabble. And if I don't get around to it, it doesn't bother me too much.

09 December 2007

Deux Châteaux et Deux Caves

Saturday I went on a trip organized for exchange students to two castles and two wine places. Those are called caves. They chartered a bus for us and we went to Chenonceau and Azay-le-Rideau. We had to leave at 6:45 (translation: got up before ten on a Saturday) and the weather wasn't great (translation: cold and rainy all day), but the castles were beautiful. I don't like wine, but it came with goat cheese. Here are some of my pictures, with rather wordy commentary :)

This is a line of trees by one of the outbuildings at Chenonceau. This type of tree is very common at French castles. As far as I can tell, they cut off all the branches and foliage and get it to grow as knobbly as possible. I think they're nice for the funniness factor, though I don't find them really attractive.

This is a view of one of the turrets (now the gift shop) and Catherine de Medici's garden. Why did Catherine de Medici have a garden there, you ask? Interesting answer. The castles most famous owner and resident was Diane de Poitiers, Henri II's mistress. She was about twice his age, and there are lots of adjectives that I will not use to describe her. She wanted a nice home, so Henri "encouraged" Chenonceau's owner to put the castle up for auction. Lucky for the king, no one else wanted to bid against him. So Diane de Poitiers had her own castle, and complete with incredible gardens. Catherine de Medici, Henri's wife, was not very happy about this. When her husband died, she kicked Diane out and did her best to change all the improvements Diane had made. She redid the whole garden. [Unfortunately, after I took this picture the screen on my camera decided to stop working. It just shows up grey, but the camera functions perfectly well. So after this picture, you can see how good my point-and-shoot skills are, since all I could do was aim as well as possible and guess for zoom.]

This is the chapel. As you can tell, the people who run this place decorated for the holidays. That was Welcoming Factor Number One. Welcoming Factor Number Two was the fact that they still heat the place with fireplaces, so there were crackling fires in most rooms. This was especially nice in view of the horrible weather outside.

Here's me and one of the Christmas trees. How festive. It's in the gallery, which is one of Diane's additions to the castle. She had the brilliant idea to construct an arched bridge over the river to connect the castle to the other side, and build this neat windowed gallery across. In later pictures, you'll be able to see how the castle stretches from bank to bank.

This is a picture of one of the four rooms of the kitchen, which was my favorite part of the castle. Welcoming Factor Number Three was that they didn't rope everything off and turn it into a museum. It felt like exploring a real, working castle. You could go up to things and look at them from an inch away, if you wanted. There was a very impressive collection of pots, a neat display of meat cleavers, and even baskets of oranges and peppers to make it look like a kitchen. It's really impossible to put into words how amazing this kitchen was.

Here's a view of the front of the castle and the turret gift shop.

Here's Diane de Poitiers' garden, which I think is much prettier than her lover's wife's attempt.

This is the side of the castle, which gives a good view of the gallery stretching across the river.

This is the castle again, partially obscured by me.

This is the other side of the castle. I'm very impressed with how well the picture's composed considering that I couldn't tell for sure how I was aiming. There's a little drawbridge, which makes me happy. I like drawbridges.

Here's the labyrinthe, which despite the name isn't really a maze. If you go to a castle in France as see on some English sign that there's a maze, don't get excited. It's basically artfully arranged hedges that make it take longer to walk to the gazebo. Thanks to the Renaissance ideal of symmetry, the openings in the perfectly trimmed concentric circles of hedges are even equidistant. Plus, they're waist-height, so if you "get lost" you can see the rest of the "maze" anyway.

I definitely want to go back to Chenonceau, since there's a lot more to see that we didn't have time to explore. Our next stop was a cave somewhere nearby. I don't know where it is, and I also don't remember the name. It's not a production cave, their business is aging wines. I wasn't particularly intrigued. Then there was a tasting, but I don't like wine. The cheese was good though.
Most of us ate our picnic lunches in the bus, since it had started to rain pretty hard. Some ventured into the deluge to buy food, and came back very wet.

After a "scenic" drive which I slept through, we arrived at Azay-le-Rideau. This was one of the first Renaissance castles in France, and they went overboard with symmetry. Here's a picture of what I will call the front, which is what you see first. The keep is open, which is another sign of Renaissance architecture because it no longer had to double as a fortress.

Here's a picture of the inside of the keep. Admire the symmetry. Ooooh.

We had a tour guide, who in general I really liked. She did, however, have two speech quirks that bothered me: the first is that she asked questions in a manner that made me think she wanted an answer, and then didn't want an answer. The second is that she likes to accentuate important words by separating their syllables, like the "I-tal-ian staircase" and all those "ta-pest-ries." It was a good tour though, because she pointed out the important things without going into details about things no one cared about. One interesting thing she told us was the reason why beds were put on six-inch high platforms: the floors used to be tile rather than the hardwood they are now, and the extra height would isolate the bed better from the cold.

Here is a picture of some incredibly well-preserved tapestries. Most tapestries are very faded, and it's difficult to tell what the original colors, and even sometimes the original designs, were. These were probably never hung for very long in direct sunlight, and may not have been hung for long at all. Even the piece that had been cut out to allow for a door was preserved (trimming tapestries to fit the wall was a common practice, but all too often the pieces were thrown away). It's been rewoven and it's difficult to tell where the cut was made.

Here's a room on the ground floor of Azay.

These two pictures show the "back" of the castle, which looks pretty front-like as well. It's also incredibly symmetrical.

Here's me blocking part of the castle. I put my umbrella down just long enough for Becky to take the picture. It was raining a lot at this point, which made the walk around the grounds rather muddy and squishy feeling.

Back to the (dry) bus for another bit of driving, and then we arrived at the second cave. This one actually produces wine, so the tour was much more interesting. I learned a lot, and now I feel like I have a better appreciation of wine, even though I still don't like it. For example, I learned:
- 20% of the oak barrels are replaced each year, and each bottle of wine has a fifth of its wine from each barrel generation to keep a uniform taste.
- Their wine is basically just like champagne except that it's from the Loire Valley instead of Champagne. There's a special name for it, but I forgot.
- The "small" pressing machine only holds one ton of grapes.
- The pressing machines rotate the grapes so that they don't get squashed too much in one place, which gets too much of the skin-taste in the juice.
- The way they get the sediment out of the wine is really clever. The bottles of double-fermented (bubbly) wine go through a week-long process of spinning to settle all the sediment and yeast into the cap (which at this point is like a bottle cap). Then the bottles are loaded into a machine which exposes the cap to -25° chemicals, which freeze the yeast into the cap. Then a machine pops the cap off, and adds either more alcohol or extra sweet juice, depending on the taste the particular buyer wants.
- The labeling process is the most complicated part, as far as machines go.
Here's a picture of some of their barrels. Each weighs about 250 kilograms when full, and they're priced thusly: if you can carry one away you can have it for free.

There was another tasting, and again I didn't like the wine (not surprising) but loved the cheese. They had a really good chèvre, plus dried ham and some sort of meat spread on bread. It wasn't paté, but it was somewhat reminiscent of paté.

Peaceful bus trip home, and again I managed to sleep a bit. After the morning's ride in a seat with absolutely no leg room, I sat by very-tall-English-boy Michael, who was by the middle door in a seat with an extra six inches of space. Heaven.

So ends my Saturday castles and wine tour.

08 December 2007

Gladys Miller: 1919-2007

I wrote this a few years ago while visiting my Grandma, and thought I would share it as a bit of a tribute. She died about twenty minutes ago. It was peaceful.

The Tallest in the Room
I sat on the pale green carpet as they talked, lost in my own thoughts. Five minutes earlier, as they came in, my aunt and uncles had seemed shocked, saying thing like, “I hardly even recognized you!” and “Well, you’ve grown a bit since I saw you last.” I looked absentmindedly at my mom, who sat beside me, as I thought about this.
I finally had joined the ranks of most of the Miller family, now standing nearly six feet tall. Grandma Brown had been at least six feet two inches, and most of my family is about as tall as her. A few Miller women are “short” at around five feet eight inches, but they are a minority.
I looked around at those gathered in the room: my mom and dad, my grandma, my dad’s brother Ray, sister Sue, and brother-in-law Leroy. Then I leaned over to my mom and whispered, “You’re the shortest one here.” I occasionally tease my mom about being short, since I can see over the top of her head when she is wearing shoes and I am barefoot. She teases me about having big feet, even though one of mine is the same size as hers.
“Am I?” she responded, frowning a bit. “Aren’t I taller than Aunt Sue?” Mom is about half a foot shorter than me: you can tell she married into the family.
“No, she’s only a bit shorter than me.” I whispered back. We both looked at my aunt and then a thought struck me. “Grandma,” I said, shocked that I hadn’t noticed. “You’re taller than Grandma.” My grandma is under five feet tall, though she was taller before shrinking in old age.
“Oh, you’re right,” my mom said, and she smiled a bit as she returned to listening to the discussion: a spirited comparison of produce prices in various grocery stores, in Missoula, Seattle, and Chicago.
It is very peculiar, how a person’s height does not always match his or her stature. I am tall, but I feel average around other people, and I don’t find it difficult to blend into a group. My grandmother is short, but her personality is strong, and she has a commanding nature. She and her family in England had a very hard life. Her father had been a prisoner of war in Germany for three years during World War I: he and the other English P.O.W.s escaped only a few days before the armistice was signed. Grandma was only ten years old when the Depression hit England. Her family suffered a lot; she had to leave school right before her fourteenth birthday to work as a scullery maid. She has always been incredibly smart, but her parents could not afford to send her to school, despite the scholarship she was offered, since they needed her to earn money for the family. When the Second World War started, Grandma became a Land Army Girl, running the farms men had left when they went to war, so that the country’s food supply would not slow. She then left her home country behind to move to a small town in rural Montana with her new husband, an American GI, and their small son, my dad. It was imperative that Grandma develop a strong personality to survive; she left her family to move into a town where everybody knew everybody else (there were about a dozen residents, so it wasn’t hard), few understood her thick accent, and she had to learn to live with American customs as well as a new family. Grandma faced more challenges than most people in our generations can even imagine.
So I know why my mom and I had not originally noticed that she was taller than another in the room. Because in a way, she is not. Over a foot shorter than most of us, my grandma was the tallest in the room.

07 December 2007

A Mini-Adventure and a Recipe

In between the university and home I see two domes, each from two different angles. They're pretty domes, and I've always wondered what they are. Today Becky and I had lunch at my place (recipe below!) and then walked to the domes to see what they were.
Here's the first:

Turns out that it is (I think) a Benedictine monastery. The gates were locked so we couldn't go explore, but the sign said there's a Gregorian chant mass Sundays at 9:30, so I'm planning to go.

Here's the second:

This one is a church, which was closed for the afternoon. It's in a really nice neighborhood: old-fashioned but modern.

In between the two there was a third dome, which was rather unattractive and green, more of the observatory style than the church style. It was very walled in though, and we couldn't get a decent view. Thus ends the mini-adventure.

Egg drop soup
Put a quart/liter of chicken broth on the stove. [If you use canned broth, try to get a brand that uses as few western-style vegetables (carrots, celery, etc.) as possible. If you can find a broth that only has chicken and water as the ingredients, that'll work best.] Add a liberal amount of powdered ginger (about a tablespoon) and a bit of cayenne, if you like that. If you have chives, put some in. Important: use soy sauce, not salt, to get an appropriate flavor.
Meanwhile, mix a few tablespoons of cornstarch with cold water.
When the broth comes to a boil, slowly add the cornstarch mixture. Give it a stir and stop adding when it's as thick as you like.
Let this simmer while you beat three eggs.
Stir the broth continually in one direction, and as you stir slowly pour in the beaten eggs. If you stir in multiple directions the egg will get broken up more and it won't be as pretty.
Let the egg cook for a minute or so, then serve and enjoy!

04 December 2007

In case you were wondering...

... it is possible to eat two pounds of clementines in two days.

... my Grandma is still hanging in there. She's very peaceful and happy, and has been amazing everyone with her attitude towards death.

... the past few days it's been about 55-60° out and gorgeous. Today I could even go out without a coat.

... in French there's no difference between "less than" and "fewer than" so the checkout aisle's grammar is always correct.

... putting the alarm clock on the other side of the room doesn't help much with the snooze button addiction. But is it really necessary to get up at a reasonable hour if you don't have class until the evening? (Yes, it is)

... Route A to the supermarket is eleven steps closer than Route B.

... the French are familiar with the Adams family theme. Verdi, in fact, stole the melody for part of his Requiem, which prompted the bass and tenor sections to sing "Libera me (snap, snap). Libera me (snap snap)."

... that was only funny the first few times.

... chocolate mousse mixed with yoghurt is delicious.

... one of the other sopranos in the UCO choir was a Rotary Youth Exchange student in Macomb the year I went to Russia. Which means that we were at Grand Rapids at the same time. Quelle coïncidence, n'est-ce pas?

... I have tragically lost five electronic chia pets so far this semester. That's worse than usual. You only have to feed them every three days, and somehow I forget.

... I despise doing laundry at the laundromat.

... crêpes with cinnamon sugar inside are delicious.

03 December 2007

A Good Recipe and some Random Comments

Open a can of artichoke bottoms (it would be way too much work to use fresh, but if you're in the mood for spending three hours instead of two minutes, go for it).
Arrange them on a microwave safe plate, concave up.
Put a slice of brie about 2cm x 2cm x 1cm in the center of each artichoke bottom. More if you want.
Microwave them for about 3 minutes, or until the cheese is good and melty and the artichokes are hot.

Random comments:
• When making hot chocolate, even if the metal handles of the pot don't look hot, it's quite possible that they might be. So if you pick up the pot in your bare hands, it's quite possible that you'll get a nice shiny blister on each of the four fingers that was in direct contact with the pot.

• It is possible to fry an egg inside a crêpe. However, it tastes gross so I do not recommend it.

• Snooze buttons are for occasional use. They are not meant to be used to sleep an extra forty-five minutes, punctuated every five minutes by beeping.

• It's December!! Can you believe it?? I most certainly cannot.

02 December 2007

Psychoanalyse me, if you want:

I remember the dream I had last night fairly well, and what's interesting is that I also remember that I'd had the dream before. I only remember one section of the dream vividly, and through it I remember a short section of the previous dream vividly.
I'm walking around downtown Angers. I'm on a shopping trip with Kristen this time (note: Kristen's currently in America) though last time I was shopping with Becky (who actually does live in Angers for the moment). We wind up walking past Place Ralliment, which is where the bus stops are, among other things. On the next corner, where in reality there's a men's clothing store, we see a preppy type clothing store that is a bit reminiscent of J. Crew. However, we both know for sure that although there's that name in the window, it's really a Gap inside. (There's no Gap in Angers) I want to go in, because I always want to go look at Gap. However, when we get in we discover that, although we know it should be a Gap inside, it's really a Carrefour, which is the enormous Super Wal-Mart type store. That's odd. However, perhaps they do still have what I wanted to buy at Gap: a yoga mat. (This is actually on my shopping list, since stretching while wearing socks on a hardwood floor is very slippery. But Gap doesn't sell those.) In the first dream, Becky and I were just exploring this clothing store that was supposed to be hiding a Gap but was really hiding a mega-mart, and in the second I knew that you had to walk through the shampoo isles and around the cheese section and past the huge displays of boys' clothing to get to the exercise stuff. And voilà, there it was. But in yesterday's dream we got slightly distracted by the beach and the grassy hill. We played in the sand for a while, then rolled down the hill to help get the sand off our clothes. Then I looked for a yoga mat, and didn't find one. I did, however, find my weights: "my" as in "the ones I have in my room at home." I didn't think it would be fair for me to have to pay for my own weights, so we left without buying anything. Then I woke up.
So we can conclude that: yes, I really am looking for a yoga mat. I miss Gap. I see Gap as being the store where you can get anything you need (and for me, this tends to be true). I want to go to a beach. I miss my weights.
Feel free to read into this as much as you like!

In other news, my parents have safely arrived in Montana. (If you're wondering what that sound was, it was my huge sigh of relief.) I was really worried about them driving fast on snowy mountain roads in a semi-distracted state of mind, given my Grandma's health, but they made it. If you're the praying type, pray for my Grandma, that she won't be in pain and that she'll be able to feel the love we all have for her. It's really hard for me that I'm so far away, because there's really no one I can talk to that understands the whole spectrum of emotion I'm feeling, since no one knows my Grandma. I love France, but I wish I was 5000 miles away (I calculated the distance online) in Missoula right now.

Final piece of news is incredibly joyful for me, though depressing for my wallet. It's clementine season!! My Euros will now start to disappear more quickly, but boy will I have enough vitamin C :)

Happy December!

29 November 2007

A Whole Lot of Random Things, plus a Challenge

• New favorite Dutch verb: tennissen, to play tennis. Ik tennis: I play tennis.

• Brave Moment of the Day: I killed a spider! Only minor hyperventilating, no tears. Sure, it was about a millimeter long, but this was a big deal.

• Newest decorations in my apartment: A Christmas tree made of wrapping paper, and postcards from Italy.

• Best cooking "invention": Putting powdered ginger in yoghurt!! I especially like it in fig yoghurt, but it's great in mango, apricot, kiwi, and strawberry as well.

• Hairstyle of the week: It's not intentional, but I've been wearing barrettes a lot. So today I did French braids (no idea how to say that in French) to shake things up.

• Thing I noticed about my French abilities: Today I noticed that I no longer notice when people are talking to me in French. They're just talking. And I'm just understanding. No difference from how my thinking feels when I'm hearing English.

• Current sadness: My Grandma's health is seriously deteriorating, and I'm really worried about her. It's to the point where my parents are ready to drop everything and drive to Montana, and it's hard to be far away at a time like this. They don't think she'll live much longer.

• Amusing memory that came to mind: Macs have a wireless card called "AirPort." When I was in Russia, I was checking to see if the Moscow airport had wireless, and upon finding that it didn't, I turned off my signal. When Alex saw me click "Turn AirPort off" he asked it that was a good idea, since we were still inside and were waiting for a flight. Heehee.

• Linguistic idea of the week: I had an idea. And I'm working on realizing it. It's a humongous challenge. The idea is this: when you whisper, you devoice voiced consonants. So if you whisper "buy" it'll sound like "pie." Here are the graphemes that correspond best to the consonant transformations (i.e. here are the letters that'll get my point across):

B --> P [buy-->pie]
D --> T [do-->too]
Z --> S [eyes-->ice]
J --> CH [gyp-->chip]
ZH --> SH [seizure-->see? sure]
V --> F [very-->fairy]

So my idea was this: is it possible to write a sentence (and once I manage that, a poem) that makes sense in one way when you speak it normally, and makes sense in a completely different way if you whisper it? And if you whisper it to someone, will they hear the voiced or the unvoiced counterpart?
I began by listing as many word pairs as I could think of. (I couldn't think of very many.) And I tried to put together a pair of sentences. (The first doesn't really make much sense.) And here they are, for your whispering enjoyment. In theory, if you whisper the first, you could hear the second.

The side of a very great good gauze, me bane.
The sight of a fairy crate could cause me pain.

I call it Whisper Poetry. If you find this interesting and want to try it (or even if you don't but it burrows into the back of your mind and you find yourself whispering random words to see if they work) tell me any word pairs you come up with. I especially appreciate pairs of verbs. And if you can come up with a pair of sentences, both of which make good sense, you win a prize. I'm not even joking about you winning a prize.
[To get you started, here is the short list I have of voiced words that have an unvoiced mate: goad/goat, buzz, do, aid, den, deem, vision, how's, Ben, been, state, buy, news, down, node, nod, raid, bend, ball, eyes, girl, gyp, jig, bane, band, bug, ride, dog, zoo, use, said, dime, good, gum, down, side/sighed, bard, kid, get, made/maid, bag, game, very, grade/great, gauze, doe, does/doze, wand, bored/board, add, big, Jap, wend, dry, bill, ghoul, grow, lead/led, door]

• Song I've been listening to a lot: And So it Goes by Billy Joel. I sing along with the harmony.

• Average snooze alarm time this week: thirty minutes. It's been rainy and dark in the morning, which isn't a great motivator for moving.

• Movies I bought very cheaply and have watched in French on my new DVD player: Sister Act, Bowfinger, Daredevil. Great movies, and great dubbing.

• Failed experiment: It's possible to make vanilla syrup. It's possible to make mint syrup. It is not possible to make cinnamon syrup. The cinnamon sinks to the bottom and it's too uneven to pour. Luckily, I put some vanilla in there too so the thin top layer pours and tastes good.

• Current soup recipe: mushrooms, peas, a tomato, a bouillon cube, some leftover Thanksgiving chicken, lots of cayenne, and dumplings. Yum.

26 November 2007

French __________

• French cut beans: haricots verts
Yep, just green beans.
• French door: porte-fenêtre
Window door. Makes sense.
• French dressing: sauce salade
Salad sauce. Makes sense. It's also absolutely nothing like that gloopy orange stuff. French dressing is usually a mustard-based vinaigrette.
• French fries: les frites
"Frieds," short for fried potatoes. In America they evolved skinnier than they are in France though.
• French toast: pain perdu
Lost bread? OK.
• Pardon my French!: Pardonnez-moi l'expression!
Forgive the expression. Also makes sense.
• French kiss: un patin
That also means "skate," so I'm curious about where this came from.
• French bread: baguette
A loaf. French bread found in America isn't completely like real French bread though.

In conclusion, most things we call French aren't really French.

25 November 2007

Saw a Movie, Bought Some Movies, Invented a Movie

Saw a Movie:
Yesterday I went to see a movie with my friend Tobi (Tobias), who's an exchange student from Germany. We saw a French comedy (i.e. a drama that makes you laugh sometimes) called "Faut que ça danse." An approximate translation, taking into account the creative grammar, would be "It's Gotta Be Dancey." I enjoyed the movie, though I honestly wouldn't be able to explain why. French movies are like that. I didn't have any trouble with the French, which was wonderful.
After the movie we walked over to the carnival that's currently taking place in a parking lot on the other side of the Maine river (it's pronounced like the word "men"). It was pretty similar to an American carnival in terms of overpriced rides and overpriced games, with the usual overpriced unhealthy snacks. We did get a snack, but didn't spend any more money. Then we headed back to centre ville.

Bought Some Movies:
We walked around for a while, since I needed to buy socks and neither of us wanted to go do homework. And then it happened.
- It was in the store FNAC, which is supremely dangerous.
- FNAC sells books, CDs, DVDs, and electronic things.
- I enjoy buying all of those.
One of their promotion items for the Christmas season is a portable DVD player, for under a hundred Euros. Meaning: a region 2 DVD player, complete with screen so I could use it both with and without a TV, for under a hundred Euros. Meaning: I would be able to watch French DVDs. Meaning: I would be able to borrow French DVDs from the library (or buy them at the used DVD store) and be able to watch them. Meaning: I know what I'm getting myself for my birthday this year. And yes, it's practical.
So, having made this decision (but I also decided to do some internet research and shopping around before buying) we headed over to Planète Saturne to see how much their portable DVD players are. I could save a Euro by buying one there. And then it happened.
- Planète Saturne has a DVD section.
- Part of that section is cheap DVDs, costing as little as three Euros.
- Most of the good movies in the cheap section cost five Euros.
- Five Euros is a good price for a DVD.
- I bought three.
Yes, I realize that I don't actually have a region 2 DVD player yet. But I've decided that I will, and now I have fun movies to watch on it. When I get it.

Invented a Movie:
I had another "take-home test" type thing for Dutch, which is due tomorrow. It has to be an invitation of some sort, which has useful information like who, what for, where, when to go to the where, how to get to the where, and so on. I did a conversation, which I will share with you here. I don't think there are any horrible grammatical errors. So you can get sort of an idea of my level of Dutch proficiency. It's a conversation between myself and Becky (first person to come to mind), where I propose that we go to the movies for my birthday.
op zestien december 2007
Kel: Hoi, Becky!
Becky: Goedemiddag, Kel!
Kel: Hoe gaat het met je?
Becky: Goed, en met jou?
Kel: Uitstekend! Ik ben morgen jarig!
Becky: Gefeliciteerd! Hoe oud ben je? Éenentwintig?
Kel: Ja, éénentwintig. En ik wil een feestje geven. Ik wil naar de bioscoop, en misschien een ÿsje gaan eten.
Becky: Een ÿsje? In december?
Kel: Ja, ik houd van ÿs! Zal je kommen?
Becky: Natuurlÿk! Hoe laat?
Kel: Om acht uur? Ik moet om zes uur een examen doen.
Becky: Prima. Welke bioscoop?
Kel: Gaumont.
Becky: Waar is dat?
Kel: Boulevard Foch. Ben je te voet of met de bus?
Becky: Met de bus.
Kel: Oké. Jÿ moet lÿn twee nemen, en jÿ moet uitstappen in het centrum, bushalte Foch. Je ga rechtdoor, twee of drie kruispunten. Jÿ ziet de bioscoop aan jouw rechterhand.
Becky: Goed! Acht uur. Tot morgen!
Kel: Dag, Becky!

December 16, 2007
Kel: Hey, Becky!
Becky: Hello, Kel!
Kel: How's it going?
Becky: Good, how about you?
Kel: Excellent! Tomorrow's my birthday!
Becky: Congrats! How old will you be? Twenty-one?
Kel: Yeah, twenty-one. And I want to have a party. I want to go to a movie, and then maybe get an ice cream.
Becky: Ice cream? In december?
Kel: Yeah, I love ice cream! Will you come?
Becky: Of course! What time?
Kel: At eight? I have an exam at six.
Becky: Great. Which movie theater?
Kel: Gaumont.
Becky: Where is that?
Kel: Boulevard Foch. Are you walking or taking the bus?
Becky: The bus.
Kel: OK. You take line two, and get off in the center at the Foch stop. Go straight, two or three streets. You'll see the cinema on your right.
Becky: Good! Eight o'clock. See you tomorrow!
Kel: Bye, Becky!

Ta-da! In real life, the conversation will go something like this:
Kel: Wanna go to a movie and then get ice cream on my birthday?
Becky, Mandy, Tobi, Jenny, whoever else is around: Sure.

But that isn't a hundred words.

23 November 2007


I'm in France legally again!
"What? Reading between the lines, Kel, does that mean that for a time you were in France illegally?" you say?
Yes, in fact it does.
There's this pesky little thing called a Carte de séjour, which is kind of like a residency card. A student visa lets you stay in the country for about two months, during which you have to ask for your carte de séjour so that you can finish off the year. Easy as pie, right? It would be, except for all of the documents you have to collect. One of which was a bank statement showing that you have enough to pay for rent and food for the year (430 Euros a month). Peachy. Because by the time I had gotten my account open (which took a couple weeks) and set up international transfer service with my American bank (which took a week) and transferred my money (which took a couple of days) and waited to get a bank statement (which took a week or so) there weren't any appointments left until today at 10 a.m. I suppose that when they said "It's better to wait until you have all of your documents to make an appointment, since then you don't have to worry about them refusing you your stay because of an incomplete file" what they meant was "Make an appointment now, because once you have your documents together there won't be any left."
Anyway, en bref I was in France illegally for ten days. And today during my appointment (all documents in hand, of course) I was told, "You realize that I'm supposed to refuse you your stay, and make you go back home and get a new visa, right?" Luckily, he understood that I did have a reason (however stupid on my part) and didn't. I now have my carte de séjour, and therefore am once again in France legally. Huge sigh of relief.

In other news: once you've had your turkey (or rotisserie chicken) you're likely to have lots of bones, and leftover white meat that's not tasty. What to do? Make chicken stock, of course. Once you've made your chicken broth, make some dumplings:
One egg
1/4 cup milk
a pinch of salt
about a cup of flour
Beat the egg and the milk together. Add the salt. Mix in the flour until the dough gets pretty doughy. It will not be doughy enough to knead, but it'll be thick. Drop little scoops into your boiling chicken broth (they'll about double in size, so keep them small). Add some of the leftover yucky white meat (it won't be so dry and tasteless if it's in taste-full liquid) and whatver vegetables you're in the mood for. When the dumplings float, they're done. Yum.

22 November 2007

Le jour d’action de grâce (The Day of the Act of Grace)

Happy Thanksgiving!
I've already celebrated, as a matter of fact. Yesterday, Becky, Mandy and Kate came over to my place for a potluck Thanksgiving dinner, as traditional as we could make it. Our menu was:
- “turkey” (a rotisserie chicken named Charlie, from the grocery store)
- stuffing and gravy, courtesy of Becky’s mom
- a can of cranberries and cornbread, courtesy of Mandy’s mom
- mashed potatoes (the French instant kind) and a Beaujolais Nouveau, which Kate brought
- zucchini with tomatoes, because I’m not a fan of carbs
- juice for those of us (i.e. me) who don’t like wine
- apple pastries for dessert, as a substitute for pie

It smelled and tasted and felt like Thanksgiving. I even imposed my family’s tradition, by making everyone say five things they were thankful for. My list is:
1 and 2) For my friends and family
3) That I’m in good choirs
4) That people speak French here (and therefore that I get to speak French)
5) For good herbal tea

Here’s a picture my self-timer took of us. Kate is the one in pink, Mandy is the blonde one, Becky is the one mostly hidden behind me.

Yesterday I also got to experience first hand the French equivalent of the Secretary of State place, where people go for IDs and Driver’s Licenses and other official things. I suppose I picked the right time (11:30 on a Wednesday morning) because I only had to wait for about ten minutes. I was there to buy a 55 Euro official fiscal stamp for my residency card application, but I’ll tell the whole story of that adventure/fiasco on Friday. (Suspense building?)

And here's the Onion's heartwarming report on American Thanksgiving traditions (sorry about the mandatory commercial):

Americans Enjoying Thanksgiving Tradition Of Sitting Around At Airport

Have a great holiday!

19 November 2007

Peculiars 'n Finishes

- Friday we had a "practice exam" for translation (French to English). It was interesting for a number of reasons. Essentially, they organize these practice exams so that students can have a chance to see how well they perform in real examination conditions, with the same time constraint and materials they're allowed in the real exam. It's useful, because this way you get a chance to see how badly you'll fail before you actually do so. In most cases, the final exam is the only grade you receive in the course, so I'm looking forward to (dreading?) seeing how I did. This is the class I think I have the best chance of actually doing well in.

- We started working on Christmas music Friday for the Maîtrise. I actually know about half of it already (O Magnum Mysterium by de Victoria, which I know the top three parts of, O Come O Come Emmanuel in Latin arranged by a Hungarian, Lo! How a Rose E'er Blooming in German, Noël Nouvelet in the original French, and others). Fun stuff.

- Saturday I went shopping, since I had two things to look for: gloves that are more airtight than my previous pair, and some sort of throw blanket. You know those cheap woven gloves you can get at the supermarket for a dollar? One size fits all, from five years old to adult. I love them. But apparently they don't like being put through the dryer. So I replaced them with some leather gloves I got at one of the cheapo stores. Considering that they cost ten Euros (an eighth of what nice gloves in the department store cost) I think they're perfect. However, the thumbs are too long. I don't know what is wrong with French people's thumbs: Becky and I tried on just about every pair of gloves Les Galleries Lafayettes (think Macy's or Sak's) had, and every pair except one or two had really weird thumbs. Most forced the thumb to be way too close to the other fingers and not be as opposable as it should, and those that allowed the thumb freedom to move had about an inch of extra space at the tip. Some pairs were even tight at the top of the thumb, but baggy at the base. We were tempted to ask French women for permission to examine their hands, but resisted.
I also got a throw blanket, since my apartment gets cold at random times of day and I wanted something less bulky than a comforter to wrap myself in to watch movies. It's a useful thing to have.

- Sunday after Mass (with Mandy from Chicagoland and Jenny from Germany) and burgers (with Mandy and Jenny, plus Becky from Chicagoland and Michael from England) I wrote a letter to Air France, trying to sound both authoritative and polite. I did my best to use the formal French letter style, and therefore get them to respect me, but I didn't check too carefully for typos, figuring that my foreigner name combined with polite but not quite perfect French would make them think, "Hey, we don't want to have foreigners on our bad side... let's send her a check for 55 Euros pronto." Here's my letter, in case you're interested:
Karen Miller
[phone number]
[e-mail address]

le 16 novembre, 2007 [Yes, I backdated it slightly]
Madame, Monsieur,
Le 12 novembre mon vol AF3177 de Milan à Nantes a été annulé. Le prochain vol était AF3179 à 17h20. Ce vol était en retard, et quand je suis arrivée à la gare SNCF à Nantes (par navette), il n’y avait plus de trains pour Angers. Donc j’ai dû trouver un hôtel pour la nuit, et je suis retournée à Angers le matin du 13 vers 7h30. Je suis restée à l’Hôtel de Bourgogne, et la chambre a coûté 55 Euros 85 centimes. Je voudrais être remboursée pour ces frais.
Ci-joints, la facture de l’hôtel, ma carte d’embarquement, et une copie de ma réservation No. Z5Q2GW.
Je vous prie d’agréer, Madame, Monsieur, l’expression de mes salutations distinguées.
[I signed it here]
Karen Miller

Ta-da! I hate the French letter-writing style.

- Monday I apologized very politely to my translation (English-French) professor. Yes, I had been planning to miss her class anyway, but since my flight got cancelled I had an excuse and therefore decided to explain, "I'm really sorry, but I was in Milan for the weekend, and my flight got cancelled, and I couldn't get back on Monday." She said, "It doesn't matter, don't worry about it." And the weird thing is that she honestly didn't seem to care. Most French professors just assume that they'll usually have students cutting their class.

- Today I also went to a store that sells Fossil watches (it took me three weeks to find one) to have my watch fixed. It had lost one of the little bars that holds it to the strap. After years of always wearing a watch (with the tan line to prove it) going a couple weeks without was very difficult. I felt so much less motivated than usual, not having the time close at hand.

- This evening I took advantage of two new acquisitions (a glass bottle from the apple juice I got last week and some leftover pineapple juice from the drinks I brought to choir practice on Friday (Lyre from China, Judit from Hungary and I had volunteered to provide snacks for the break last week)) and made Russian Tea. There's absolutely nothing Russian about it, but it's good stuff. I wasn't sure of the exact proportions, but what I made came out tasty so here's the recipe:
Very hot tea (I used a combination of decaf vanilla chai and ginger tea, but you should probably use black tea unless you're allergic to caffeine and have to go non-traditional) with a dash of cinnamon mixed in
Pineapple juice
Orange juice
Pour tea into your bottle or pitcher until it looks about a third full. Then pour in the pineapple juice until it looks about two thirds full, and fill it the rest of the way with the orange juice. Close and shake the bottle, or if you're using a pitcher stir the mixture. Drink it while it's hot! Be careful, this stuff can be addictive.

- In general, this week is daunting, because I have several BIG things to do. But I won't spoil the suspense, you'll hear about things after they happen :)

15 November 2007

Buongiorno, Italia!!

I went to Italia!! Ho studiato un poco di italiano my freshman year of high scuola, but mi ricorto only a few parole e useful phrases. However, capisco molto bene when people parlano lento enough. Sorry for the delay in my blog, these past few days have been very busy, and I knew I'd need to set aside a whole afternoon to do justice to my week-end. However, I'll condense it as much as possible so it won't take as long to read as everything took to happen!

- Getting up at seven for traveling is a lot easier than getting up at three.
- I took the train to Nantes, took a taxi to the airport (if I had taken the shuttle I would have arrived 45 minutes before my flight, and I was worried about that), and was creeped out by the lack of lines. No line at the information desk when I asked where desk U was, no line at U, no line at security... it was seriously unnerving. I had absolutely no confidence, not having a crowd to follow. I had three security people all to myself. One of them took my coat off in a gentlemanly manner and folded it for me.
- The flight to Milan was fine except for extraordinarily terrifying turbulence over the Alps. (p.s. I saw the Alps!!)
- I took the train from the airport in Milan to the center, where I met Stefan. [Sidenote: Stefan also goes to Truman. He's a Romance Languages major, and he and I had a few classes together last year. He's studying abroad this year in Milan, so when I found out that Air France had a cheap flight I asked him if he'd like to play tour guide. It was so much fun to travel with Stefan: we never lacked for conversation the whole weekend.]
-On the way towards his dorm, we stopped in a church dedicated to... St. Lawrence, one of my patrons! I was excited. He's a really cool saint. General Italian churches have much simpler architecture than French ones, and they use more colorful stones and bricks. Whereas French churches were just decorated with frescos and stained glass, Italian ones are fundamentally colorful as well.

- We went to my hostel to drop off my bag, and stopped at a café where I had Italian hot chocolate for the first time. I've now had three distinct types of hot chocolate:
1) "European" hot chocolate in Russia, which is essentially melted dark chocolate and is virtually undrinkable. It's very thick and very strong, and is best eaten with a spoon. It's served with a glass of bubbly water to cut the sweetness/bitterness.
2) French/American hot chocolate, which is liquidy, comes in varying levels of sweetness, and can be drunk.
3) Italian hot chocolate, which they make with frothed milk and which has the same consistency of warm pudding. It looks, tastes, and feels like warm pudding. It's easiest to eat it with a spoon, and it's good.
- We then walked over to the Duomo, which is Milan's cathedral. Despite the name, there isn't a prominent dome, which was surprising when I got my first view:

It's a truly amazing sight. Not what I expected, since I know that duomo means dome. It's incredibly ornamented, and incredibly big. Incredibly [insert adjective here] in general.
- We walked around Milan a bit more, then went grocery shopping to get ingredients to make fajitas with Stefan's friends Lucy and Stephanie. They're both really nice, and we had a great time chatting. However, when making fajitas, ignore the instructions if they say to put the vegetables in last.
- The only unfortunate thing about Friday was that I realized something annoying: there must have been some powdered laundry detergent left in the machine I used to do my laundry, because I'm allergic to all of my clothes. Luckily the undershirts I packed seemed to be from another load, but my legs are itchy.

- This time, getting up at seven was decidedly Not Fun. Everyone in my dorm at the hostel was sleeping, so I had to tiptoe around getting ready, trying not to wake anyone up. I got the bathroom to myself, which was nice. There was a bidet, but I've heard explanations ranging from "You use it to clean... well... private places" to "Actually, I've found it's very handy for washing mud off shoes." In addition to the regular toilet, there was also a squat toilet, which was even more confusing. This is the 21st century, after all. The hostel was really nice though, and if I remembered what it's called I would recommend it.
- After picking up a pastry for breakfast and reserving a hotel for me for the other two nights of my stay, Stefan and I headed off to... Verona! Yes, as in Romeo and Juliet. The view from the train was beautiful: Verona's even closer to the Alps than Milan is, so there were frequent "Ahh" moments. However, unlike a train ride in France, there were no random castles to be seen. In the Loire valley, there are castles seemingly everywhere.
- Verona is absolutely charming. There's a neat wall around the center, there are beautiful towers and steeples, and the buildings somehow feel both historic and modern.

- The first thing you notice when walking into Verona is the arena. I've never seen the Colosseum, but this arena is certainly Colossal. If you've ever seen illustrations or pictures of an arena and wondered if they're really like that, I can tell you that yes, they are.

- While walking around the arena, I spotted a solar clock on a building wall! It was pretty, easy to read, and completely accurate if not extremely specific.

- We had to pay to go inside the arena, but it was worth it. The view from the top is amazing: you can see the mountains, neighboring towns, the river, the hills, all of Verona. Here are some pictures of the arena and the view from the top, a self-portrait of me and Stefan, and a picture of me at the arena.

- No arena would be complete without a guy dressed as a Roman soldier. And no photo of a tourist area in Italy would be complete without at least one Asian tourist.

- We went to lunch at a little restaurant that had an inexpensive looking menu, and I got tortellini. The filling tasted just like tortellini filling I'd had before, but the pasta was obviously a lot fresher than you would be able to get in the States. Stereotypical Italian Meal #1.
- After lunch, we wandered around completely aimlessly. We figured that we'd be able to find all of the touristy places without trying, and we did. We also came across pretty little courtyards, a few markets, a few churches with tombs outside, a section of a street that had been excavated to show the Roman road and fountain below, and interesting statues and monuments.

- We also managed to wander to Verona's major tourist attraction, "Juliet's House." Obviously it's not, but it's still neat. There's a little balcony (supposedly the balcony), and a statue of Juliet in the courtyard. According to tradition, if you rub Juliet's right breast you'll come back to Verona one day. I suppose I won't be going back...

- The walls outside Juliet's courtyard are part of another Verona tradition: they're covered with names and hearts that people have written there, and love notes stuck on with chewing gum. Gross and annoying in a way, but also charming.

- Near the excavated bit of road we got gelato, which was delicious. The place didn't serve it nearly as soft as gelato is supposed to be. But honestly, I prefer my ice cream pretty hard so that it doesn't melt too quickly, so this was ideal.
- Next the the river we found the basilica, which I had admired from the top of the arena. It isn't anything like French basilicas I've been to: it isn't white, isn't on a hill, doesn't have a dome, and costs money to enter.

- We walked over to the river, which of course provides a wonderful view. From there we walked towards the castle-like buildings we'd been able to see from the arena, and then back to the center where we window-shopped.

- We took the train back to Milan, and ate dinner at Stefan's university restaurant. My ticket was kind of pricey at nine euros, but they neglected to take it so I got two meals out of it.
- After dinner we went to a movie (my suggestion: I like seeing movies, I like seeing movies in foreign languages, and I understand enough Italian that I wouldn't be completely lost). We saw the Bourne Ultimatum, which fits my ideal of a dumb action movie. I'm sure the plot is very complex, but there are lots of explosions and car chases that don't seem to be necessary. Like in Russia, the seats were assigned, and the theater was sold out. The line to get in was a mass of people who didn't seem to be moving at all, which was really annoying. They could have designed the system a lot better.
- Italy runs a lot later than France, so I can understand why Stefan and his friends are frustrated with their 1:30 a.m. curfew. I got back around one, and the streets were packed. Our 10:30 movie was one of the early showings.
- My "hotel" (guest rooms in one of the university's dorms) was really nice. Private bathroom, a thermostat, a TV... a bit pricey, but safer and more relaxing than the hostel, which was full anyway.

- We got a late start, which was nice. We took the metro to the Duomo, to climb to the top. The climb is long and tiring, but the view if worth the effort. (I'm positive that the view is less impressive if you pay extra to take the elevator) The church is even more intricate than I had imagined. From the ground you can tell that the top is covered in statues, but there are even statues within pillars and hidden in nooks that would be impossible to see from the ground. The weather was clear enough that we could see the mountains. Across the street, we could see a rooftop café on top of Milan's Marshall Field's type department store.

- We ate lunch at a café that had pizza, my Stereotypical Italian Meal #2. The crust was thin and very floury. I got a "terra e mare" pizza, which had mushrooms, dry beef (thin slices, nothing like jerky) and shrimps. It was delicious, though I couldn't really taste the shrimp.
- We walked through the Galleria, which is the mall where THE designer stores are. As in, not a Gucci franchise per se, but the Gucci store. On the other side of the Galleria is la Scala, which is the most famous opera house in the world. Their tickets cost an arm and a leg, and were sold out, so no I didn't go to an opera. The museum, however, costs only a finger and wasn't sold out, so Stefan and I went. I'm sort of a classical music freak. If you can imagine the reaction of a 1950s girl to a portrait of Elvis, you can imagine what I did when I saw one of Rossini. The opera house itself is very pretty and rich-looking, although I prefer the shape of American opera houses. European opera houses were built so that the people in the boxes could watch each other, and I have the strange opinion that you should be able to see the stage. In the museum, there was a special exhibition on Maria Callas, who is one of the most famous sopranos of all time. She was known for being incredibly expressive, both in her singing and in her acting. There were several of her costumes on display, which were impressively intricate. The museum has portraits of lots of Italian composers, posters from world premieres that happened at la Scala, and all sorts of other memorabilia. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw the original score of Verdi's Requiem Mass, which I'm singing with the UCO Vocal Ensemble this year. His notes were legible, but his handwriting was atrocious. "Dies Irae" looked more like "Gwf Inœ." I wish the museum allowed photos...
-Next we walked to the castle, which to me looked like a brick monastery because of the style of its arches and courtyards. Where French castles tend to go for height, this one covered a huge amount of ground without being immensely tall. There was somewhat of a moat though!

- After going back to the dorm to check e-mail, we went over to an enormous park. There were several playgrounds inside, as well as ponds, statues, a little waterfall, a very large natural history museum, and several other large palace-like buildings. Stefan and I sat and chatted while watching kids play on the playground until a really annoying rose-seller inspired us to leave. Around the center of Milan there are lots of African/Indian immigrants who try to sell bracelets, roses, and other little things to tourists. Usually they'll go away once you say no, but this one wouldn't. After he had spent about four minutes trying to get us to buy a rose and refusing to leave, we just got up and left.
- We went to the university restaurant again, which is really quite good. Europe does cafeteria food well :) Then we went back to Stefan's dorm (accompanied by Nicole, another exchange student) and watched "The Science of Sleep," which is an indie film about half in French and half in English.

- Checking out of my room was somewhat of a challenge, since the receptionist on duty didn't speak any English. I understood everything he was saying, but I just don't speak enough Italian to be able to respond well. Apparently there was a phone call made in my room a bit after midnight on the day I checked in (i.e., the night before I was there) and I had to pay ten cents for it, and that it wasn't logical but the computer system did everything automatically and that's how it was. Silly.
- We started off the morning at St. Ambrose's basilica. He's the patron saint of Milan, and his church is appropriately impressive. The courtyard is really big, and has various pieces of carved stones set into the wall in a Chicago Tribune building style (if you haven't gone to the Trib building in Chicago, you should). The inside is bright and old-feeling, which I like. Several of the chapels around the outside are particularly lovely, and the altar is incredibly shiny. It's covered in precious metals and jewels. One side, in gold, chronicles Jesus' life, and the other side, in silver, chronicles the parallel events in Ambrose's. Behind the altar you can see St. Ambrose himself, in the decomposing flesh. In the picture here, he's the one in white. There are two other martyrs in there with him, but I don't remember who they are. They look good for being dead 1,510 years though! St. Ambrose's brother and sister are also saints, and their bodies are in chapels along the side. Quite a family!
The courtyard:

The altar, and you can see part of the mosaiced dome:


His sister:

His brother:

- We window-shopped a bit more and then went to the rooftop café we'd seen from the Duomo. It’s a very designer department store, and it really does remind me of Marshall Field’s. There was even a gourmet food section on the top floor. I don’t know who would pay two hundred euros for a small bottle of balsamic vinegar, no matter how good it is. We had decided to eat at the little café, since the breakfast menu isn't too unreasonable, and I needed to eat something before my 2:30 flight. Got that? 2:30 flight? OK. Just after we had sat down and I had taken these pictures...

...my phone rang, with a call from an unknown number. It was Air France, informing me that my flight had been cancelled. “Cancelled?!? Are you serious?” “Yes, I'm sorry, Madame. Our next flight is at 5:20.” “Don't you have anything earlier? I'm a student and I have class tonight.” “Only through Paris- can you be at the airport in less than an hour?” “No, that’s impossible… OK, 5:20 it is then.” “Thank you. Goodbye, Madame, and I apologize.” Lovely.
- After a breakfast/lunch of Italian cold meats (which would have been Stereotypical Italian Meal #3 if they had had melon) Stefan and I thus headed back to his dorm rather than to the train station. I e-mailed my professor to let her know that I'd be missing class, and we hung out for a couple extra hours before I needed to head off towards the airport.
- The bus from the train station to the airport got there 25 minutes before my boarding time. I got my boarding pass 18 minutes before. I found security and got in line ten minutes before. I got to the gate two minutes before. A big sigh of relief and thirty minutes later, they bussed us over to the plane. I spent the time chatting with a really nice French couple. They have a son and grandchildren who live in Virginia, and he is a Rotarian (district governor last year) and heavily involved in youth exchange! It's a small world. They're really nice people.
- The plane first flew to some city I'd never heard of, where we all had to get off, go into the airport, and go through security again. FYI: dry stick deodorant is apparently a liquid in France, so pack it with your travel-sized shampoo. Once the security person had finished going through my bag and telling me to pack my deodorant with liquids, the rest of the group had disappeared. I was told to take the escalator up one floor and walk down the hallway to the gate. I did so, and literally felt my heart contract as I saw a plane pulling away. Let's call this "Bad Feeling Number One" for later reference. Luckily, my plane was at the next gate, and they were waiting for me and the other two people held up at security. This flight was running a bit behind as well, but an hour later we finally arrived in Nantes. I took the shuttle to the train station, went to the ticket window, and was told that there were no more trains to Angers. That was so much worse than Bad Feeling Number One. Number Two was about eight times worse, and it took me a moment to force back the need to cry. I was able to be relatively calm as I asked for the earliest train the next day, and where I could find an inexpensive hotel. Despite a wonderful start in Milan, the day hadn't been one of my best, and this was the poison-filled icing on the stale cake. The hotel I found was nice and pretty cheap, but that shouldn't matter since I'm going to make Air France reimburse me. I got all the way to my door before I burst into tears, and I had a good, long, cleansing cry. After I felt better, I turned on the TV and had a great time watching France's versions of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "Ten Years Younger."

I took a 7:30 train back to Angers, and it felt so good to be finally at home. I had about two hours before class, so I showered and ate and unpacked and got a chance to feel calmer.

- In French yesterday my group gave our exposé on religion in France. It's a very taboo subject, and people try to avoid the topic when possible. Some of the statistics I found for my section of the presentation (statistics and other illustrations of the state of religion in France now) were particularly interesting. The general point I made was that there is a big difference between "croyant" (believer) and "pratiquant" (practicing) and between "foi" (faith) and "religion." There are lots of people who believe in God but never go to church, and there are people who participate in religious activities as a simple part of culture without believing in it.
- I ran into Becky after class, and invited her over for dinner. I had misestimated when making soup for lunch, with the result that I had twice as much as I had intended to make. I've been adding olives to my vegetable soup, and they're a nice addition.

Today in Linguistics we had a guest lecturer who is a French linguist who's been working with businesses in Quebec for the past few decades. She did an overview of the history of Quebec, and explained where some of the major linguistic changes began to occur. I think she'll go into more detail tomorrow when she talks to my other linguistics class, so if people express interest by commenting I'll tell you more about what makes québécois a different language.