07 September 2007

Life (so far) in Angers

I don't think I've mentioned it before, but Angers is pronounced "on-ZHAY." Here are some highlights of what has happened:

Centre Ville
The center of town, as it's called, is a really fun area. It's almost all a pedestrian area, with cobblestone streets and no cars. Lots of stores, lots of restaurants, plus the bakeries and butchershops and cheese chops that no French town is complete without. There are also a smattering of churches, a cathedral, some very old houses, a couple fountains and squares, and a castle. The castle is a fortress built into the rock by the Maine (pronounced like "men") river, and it's enormous. I've seen other castles, but this one is way more imposing. It's not some frilly aristocratic mansion with golden statues, it's an enormous stone monster with no windows other than those skinny ones useful for killing people. No doors on three sides of it. I plan to devote an afternoon next week to visiting it, and I'm very excited about that.

Business stuff: bus pass, cell phone, and bank account
The bus pass was surprisingly easy to get. I live about ten minutes away from the university by bus, and the student trimester pass (good for four months) is the most economical way to travel. The bus system is quite extensive, which is important because there are two major universities in town, plus a lot of high schools and elementary schools feeding students into the bus system, in addition to average commuters.
The cell phone was also easy to get, but horrifyingly expensive. Unfortunately, it's important to have. I got a medium-priced phone that takes a pre-pay plan, and 45 Euros worth of minutes (which you pay 35 Euros for, getting 10 free). How many minutes do you think 45 Euros pays for? Nope, fewer... Fewer... Guess again... Nope, you still didn't guess few enough: one hour and twenty minutes. Divide that out and convert the currency, and it costs an arm and a leg per minute. It's not just the prepaid minutes that are expensive: if you get a monthly plan with a contract, that same amount (about $50) gets you two hours of anytime minutes and two hours of nights/weekends. It's ridiculous! So I now have a classy looking emergency phone, that I will use mostly for the sudoku and alarm clock features.
Haven't gotten the bank account yet, since they require, in addition to identification, proof of residence and proof enrollment in the university, and I won't have the latter two until Monday. But, the bank gives you 60 Euros as a "gift" when you open an account, and once I have an account I can apply to the French government for help paying my rent, which they give to 90% of students, even the foreign ones.

The Grocery Store: Super U
Super U is amazing. I like grocery stores in general, and this one is a lot of fun. Choosing yoghurt is an adventure, since they have so many incredible flavors. I currently have fig and white peach yoghurt in my refrigerator. The meat section is interesting, and they even have fun meats like duck and rabbit. Watching the French poke and squeeze cheese to pick one that fits their taste is fun. There's a machine that prints out labels for produce, which is entertaining. I go almost every day.

The campus is, for a university with 12,000 students, minuscule. There are about five main buildings, but the big shock to an American student is the lack of a Quad and therefore the lack of green. There are trees, but the whole place seems very grey and too paved. The oldest building is called the Palace (le Palais, actually), and it does look like a palace. The frilly kind though, not like the Angers castle. The newest building is the maths (plural in Europe) and sciences building. I find it funny because when you're in the lobby, you look up through the ceiling made of shiny glass and blue metal, and you see a stone church that's a few hundred years old. It's rather surreal.

Orientation is, of course, too boring to detail. Choosing classes will be an adventure. Getting my "carte de séjour," which is kind of like a residency card, will be an adventure and a half.

Choosing Classes
Thursday and Friday of orientation (yesterday and today) are taken up by meetings with the heads of departments. UCO is comprised of eleven or so "instituts" which are almost separate enough to be separate schools. Someone who's a student in IMA (math) wouldn't take anything from IPSA (psychology/sociology), IALH (Arts, literature, history, and music, which isn't in the acronym) or IPLV (languages). This makes life especially difficult for exchange students, since most of us want to take classes in more than one institut. To complicate things further, most of us take classes in more than one year, so even within one institut you get conflicts. Want more complication? Great! IMA is the only institut which guarantees that their classes won't switch time or day in the middle of the semester, or even on a weekly basis. So the meetings serve to introduce us to the department as well as to give us the schedules of the classes we want, unless they're in IPLV, which hasn't decided on their schedules yet. So here's what I have so far, from the instituts I will be associated with:
IMA (math): The three courses I would like to take, Linear Algebra, History of Math, and Probability, are all Thursday at 10:30. Woohoo. So therefore I'll take History of Math, and go back a level in Linear Algebra so as to review for a semester and then advance next semester.
IPSA (sociology and psychology): Sociolinguistics may be at the same time as my mandatory French class, in which case I can't take it. It starts in November for some reason. Sociology is at the same time as my Algebra class. Anthropology doesn't conflict with anything, but it's on a weird schedule: three hours on Wednesday morning, almost always every other Wednesday, but sometimes every three.
IPLV (languages): Italian doesn't conflict with anything so far! However, they haven't decided the schedule for the linguistics courses yet, which are at the masters level. IPLV classes start the week of the 17th, but they're trying to get the schedules up Monday.
So it seems like I'll be able to get a normal class load, but not in the most ideal way. I'll hopefully know for sure Monday, when the IPLV schedules are out and once I have the meeting with IALH (humanities and arts).

Mushroom Soup recipe
My mushroom soup recipe has been, I think, finally perfected! The amounts I'll give you here will feed one hungry person or two not-hungry people.
Put about a cup of water in a small pot with chicken bouillon, and whatever spices you like. I use oregano, thyme, cayenne, pepper, cilantro and garlic, and whatever else I feel like adding. Don't overdo it on the pepper. A little goes a long way! [If you want, you can use chicken broth instead of the water and bouillon, but you may want to add more salt] Bring this to a boil, then add a few handfuls (about 2 cups) of frozen mushrooms. If you can't find frozen ones, a drained can of mushrooms would probably be fine.
In a large pot, melt a teaspoon or two of butter. Take it off the heat, and whisk in a heaping tablespoon of flour to make a nice paste. Then whisk in about 2 cups of milk, making sure the paste dissolves well, and bring this to a simmer.
Boil down the mushrooms and spices until there's very little liquid left. This way you won't dillute the milk too much, and you'll bring out all the flavor of the mushrooms. Pour the mushrooms into the hot milk, and stir for a little while. Bon appétit!


Lori said...

do you suppose your mushroom soup recipe would work with vegetable bullion/broth? it sounds like something my mommy would like, if so. ^^ Hope you're enjoying la france!

Kel Miller said...

It definitely would. Essentially, the bouillon gives it a bit of extra flavor and salt. I doubt it would work with soy milk though :) Vegetarian is no problem, but vegan could be difficult.

Lori said...

I'm actually not vegan anymore... long story. Yeah, it wouldn't work with soymilk 'cause when you try to reduce a soymilk cream sauce it just turns into tofu! Anyhow, my mommy and I could just make it with veggie broth now and it would be yummyful.