As you may surmise from the title, I was pretty busy this weekend. On Friday, all the assistants in the region in the second degré went to Montpellier for orientation. Friday morning, la SNCF also decided to have some problems due to the fact it was on strike Thursday. Duh dah da uh. So we arrived about an hour late to orientation, but so did most people, if not even later so they hadn’t actually started before we got there. At the station, everyone kept switching between two trains destined for Montpellier, but all passengers eventually ended up on the train we assistants had tickets for, which worked nicely because assigned seats didn’t matter anymore so we all sat together. I have never been on a train which moved slower, but it was great for sight-seeing. Orientation itself really wasn’t that useful. No OFII official as it said there might be in the guidebooks and the people leading the orientation weren’t as knowledgeable as I feel they should be as this program isn’t new. It’s at least 7 years old. The most useful part was that second year assistants took the initiative to answer some of our questions. It was also nice to get to know some of the other assistants in the region. Also, free lunch. Not a bad deal. The most fun for me was after the orientation. The French assistant at Gettysburg last year went to school in Montpellier so I asked him what I should do there in my free time (second French assistant friend at Gettysburg I’ve mentioned, I know. We had awesome language assistants). He in turn asked two of his friends there if they wanted to meet up with me. I met them in the Place de la Comédie and they showed me around Montpellier. It was great! They were really awesome and I very much enjoyed my time with them.
I’ll admit I was a little nervous meeting up with two people I knew nothing about, but after all, isn’t that what traveling is about? Meeting new people and learning from them? I really hope I’ll get to see them again! Plus, I definitely need more time in Montpellier. It was a lovely city with a great vibe.
On Saturday, I went to the market in Uzès with Briana, another American assistant (of the blog Next Stop: Nîmes), and her landlady/ host mom, Marie, as well as Marie’s friend, an elementary school teacher who works with another of the assistants. I definitely want to go back to Uzès for the market with a bit more time to look around. Uzès seemed really cute, a little European fairy tale town complete with royalty.
Thought French royalty was dead? Well, do you kind of sort of see the flag behind the roof with the coat of arms on it? That means the duke is in. Yes, this little town of Uzès still has a duke who still lives in the duchy occasionally.
Also, want to buy a castle? Well, this is your lucky day because in Uzès, you can do that. If you have 2,190,000€ to spare that is. And sorry, you can’t marry the duke and live rich and happily ever after. He’s taken. And if you’re assistant age, he’s probably about as old as your father anyways. So keep dreaming. The source of the Eure River is in Uzès and it is this water which flowed to Nîmes via the Pont du Gard. In Uzès, we stopped at a little café for hot chocolate and to eat the fougasse that Marie’s friend Hélène bought for us. Fougasse is a specialty of the Provence region and in particular Aigues Mortes I believe. It’s a doughy bread which either comes sweet or salty. In Uzès, we tried the sweet variety. It was covered in sugar and flavored with fleur d’oranger (which according to Camille, combined with beer, it’s the secret ingredient to the best crêpes). I liked it, but it hasn’t been my favorite culinary discovery. Marie bought Briana and I the salty version the next day. It was super sweet of Hélène and Marie to take us to Uzès and have us try both types of fougasse. Since I forgot to take a picture of the fougasse, here’s a photo courtesy of the interwebs. On the way back to Nîmes, we took a scenic route to stop and look at the Gardon River and for Marie and Hélène to show us what “la garrigue” is. Apparently, it’s the type of flora that you find in the south of France, low bushes, short trees, and other somewhat dry-looking vegetation. Which doesn’t sound nice, but it actually has its charm. Coming from New England, I can’t say I prefer it to our forests (pine trees remain my favorite tree), but then again, it’s just different. I do miss the beautiful fall colors in Connecticut. Honestly, I think it’s even more beautiful than flowers in the spring. While we’re on the subject of fall, I also miss pumpkin flavored everything (you want a pumpkin in France, you either have to special order it or search really hard), apple cider (sans alcool), and apple cider doughnuts. No Apple Harvest Festival for me. However, I did find a replacement for the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.
To Avignon, to the Fête de la Rose d’Or to party it up 14th century style! For those who know me, you’ll know I’m a sucker for all that is related to medieval and Renaissance history. And swords. I love fencing and I’d love to learn historical fencing. I had one lesson with the German longsword and it was great. I sort of regret not having participated more with the historical section of the club at Gettysburg, but the president is more in charge or the sport fencing side and I do love foil. There were many differences between this faire and a typical Renn faire in the United States. For one, this was a faire mainly for enthusiasts. It was like a re-enactment for them, sort of like the Civil War reenactments you see at Gettysburg. The faire on Saturday was only open to the reenactors. The different companies of medievalists slept over the night before. Sunday, when we went, was open to the public. Like in the USA, there were tournaments and the like, but unlike in the USA, the schedule was very lax. It wasn’t as commercial as in the states. There weren’t half as many vendors, but those that were there sold bread made using medieval recipes or herbs that were believed to cure people in medieval times. Historical accuracy was clearly important. Entry was only 5€. In the states, Renaissance faires are run by actors. There is casting and they are paid to interact with the guests. They may not necessarily be experts on the period or be terribly concerned about historical accuracy. You have your king, your queen, your knights, your tavern wenches, Shakespeare, Marlowe, and so on. Some people interacted with the guests at this faire, but that was of their own volition. They also sold weapons for reenactments and armor and other clothing. You could go to the different tents and some companies would talk to you about the process of making chain mail or forging the weapons or calligraphy. Some would do demonstrations. I got to hold a sword : ) I also got to talk to some pretty cute reenactors about the process to make chain mail and about which weapons were medieval and which dated from the renaissance and why. In French. I can talk about medieval technical stuff in French? Success. Ok ok, I did have to do some pantomime because I do not know the names of all the different weapons in French, but still. And I learned some new vocab. Yay!