Saturday we went on an adventure! Tobias (Germany), Becky (near Chicago), Kate (Kansas) and I went to Saumur (um... France). Saumur is a little city about half an hour away from Angers by train. It's big enough to have a castle and some museums, but it's not nearly as big or bustling as Angers. And, in fact, neither "big" nor "bustling" is one of the first adjectives that would come to mind to describe Angers.
Travel tip: if you're only going to see two pages worth of your guide book in a day, take pictures on your digital camera and leave the book at home. I've found it very handy to have the information with me without having the bulky book.
Saumur is really known for just three things: wine, mushrooms, and horses. It is still a big vineyard region, it has a mushroom museum and hosts a mushroom festival every year, and it's home to the national horsemanship school, which was in fact the official cavalry training camp under Louis XV. We arrived around one, figured out which direction to walk, and were pretty much instantly impressed with how cute Saumur is. It, like Angers, is on the Loire river, which helps to make the town very photogenic.
We walked through the downtown area, where everything was closed for lunch, and hiked up the hill to the castle. The view was incredible; we couldn't have had a day with better weather: the sky was blue, it was chilly but sunny, just perfect. The castle is closed for renovation, but the exterior was interesting. It's a much newer castle than Angers', and looks like it's straight out of a fairy tale. Here are pictures of the view of Saumur from the top of the hill, some pictures of the castle, and the obligatory self-portrait in front of a landmark (facing into the sun, as usual).
Saumur does have two downsides though. First is that the mushroom museum is outside of the center, and only can be reached by bus, which we didn't have time to do. Second is a bench in one of the squares, which I didn't notice until I had slammed my shin into the corner of it very hard. I bumped into that bench hard enough to break the skin through my jeans and get a fairly bad cut, as well as a bruise the size of my palm and a very impressive bump. Now, two days later, it still hurts a bit to walk and hurts a lot whenever anything touches my leg. So I'm reminded of Saumur often :)
We ate a very late lunch in a little café that had very cheap lunch menus. It's a great feeling to have a leisurely, warm lunch in a charming French town with congenial people on a cool Fall day.
I figured out that, if I ever become a translator, I'll translate fiction. My Monday class translates only news articles, and it's impossible for me to enjoy figuring out French phrases for sentences like "The ranks of the working poor are swelling as more families slip into poverty, health benefits are lost and low-wage employees bear the brunt of many corporate cutbacks." It's so depressing! However, Tuesday translations give me interesting French passages that end up in English prose like, "Attached to one of the cement pillars of the entrance gate, two plaques of different shapes sparkled in the bright morning sunlight. The larger of the two, in copper, had the name André Pellerin engraved on it; the other, enameled, placed just under the first, said 'Beware of Dog,' without any particular relation between the two specified."
I went on amazon.fr to find two books I wanted to buy as "textbooks" (French professors tend to not assign textbooks, though they often recommend books to read) and I ended up buying six fun books as well. An unhealthy ratio of impulse purchases to intended purchases, but I don't care when books are involved!
• La notion de culture dans les sciences sociales (The Notion of Culture in the Social Sciences) by Denys Cuche, recommended for my Anthropology class. It's a thin book, but it has small print. Luckily the chapters and sections are short, so I should be able to make my way through it. I figure it'll help reinforce what we do in class, and give me a good vocabulary base before the written exam.
• L'aventure des mots français venus d'ailleurs (The Adventures of French Words that come from Elsewhere) by Henriette Walter. French is "a creole that lasted" and this book essentially covers the history of the language. Plus, it's supposed to be fun to read.
• Le château de Hurle (Howl's Moving Castle) by Diana Wynne Jones. I love the book in English, and I look forward to reading it in French. I've already read the "sequel" in French. I actually intended to buy this book, though it wasn't part of my Amazon "mission" at first.
• Bizarre ! Bizarre ! (Someone Like You) by Roald Dahl. This is one of the better collections of Roald Dahl's very bizarre short stories. They're not for kids. They're wonderful.
• L'homme au parapluie et autres nouvelles (The Umbrella Man and other Stories) by Roald Dahl. This shorter collection is also bizarre, but less macabre.
• Ella l'ensorcelée (Ella Enchanted) by Gail Carson Levine. This is one of my favorite Cinderella adaptations, and I was thrilled to find a translation.
• Le mot juste (The Right Word) and Le français est un jeu (French is a Game) by Pierre Jaskarzec. Both are short books whose goal is to help French people avoid common vocabulary and grammar mistakes, and to improve their French in general. With entertaining quizzes, you learn the difference between pairs of words like harde/horde and nominer/nommer and learn tricks to remember irregular conjugations. I think these books will be useful, and they were only two Euros each.
In conclusion, I love books and any place where they can be bought is dangerous. But satisfying.
While procrastinating on YouTube I had the idea to search for Animaniacs, a cartoon I enjoyed when I was little. I found a treasure trove of "Good Idea, Bad Idea" clips (Good idea: throwing a penny into a fountain to make a wish. Bad idea: throwing your sister Penny into the fountain to make a wish), Buttons and Mindy episodes (remember the one where Mindy loses her lollipop?), and the wonderful educational songs like "The Ballad of Magellan." Here is a video compilation of some of the best songs. Enjoy, and I encourage you to look for more clips, because they're entertaining and (often) educational too.