I am lucky to live in one of the most beautiful regions of France. There is so much to see here, and endless opportunities for short trips. Last month I spent four days in Nice (two hours from Toulon), and this past week I took two day trips around the region to Aix-en-Provence and to Arles!
Have I mentioned the French are wonderful? Well, they are. The family who looks after the studio for the people from whom I am renting invited me over for Sunday lunch (a French tradition) so that I could meet their 19-year-old granddaughter Astrid, who has spent a significant amount of time interning at a law firm in Little Rock, Arkansas. Astrid is lovely, intelligent and kind, and speaks flawless English! Astrid invited me to come see her in Aix-en-Provence, where she is studying. So, last week Tuesday her friend Olivier (the two of them met volunteering for the Sarkozy campaign), came and picked me up so we could drive to Aix-en-Provence together. Aix-en-Provence is an absolutely beautiful university town. I was only there one day so I cannot wait to go back over vacation in the upcoming weeks to see the city and spend some more time with Astrid. The three of us spent the afternoon hanging out in the park with a mixture of other American exchange students and French students, playing guitar, sipping beverages, and enjoying the sunshine. After, we went to a movie (Diana– excellent by the way) and then enjoyed some great sushi and a walk around the centre ville. It was a great way to spend a Tuesday (Merci beaucoup, Astrid et Olivier)!
This past Sunday, I traveled to Arles with my Fellow American assistants Maria and Chris. We went to see the bullfighting at the Arène d’Arles! Maria and I took a train early Sunday morning and arrived in Arles about two hours later. Usually there is nothing to do on Sundays in France because everything is closed, but because of the bullfighting, there was a huge festival! Maria and I spent an hour exploring while we waited for Chris to arrive, and then the three of us grabbed lunch and made our way to the arena!
Camargue bullfighting began long ago on private farms just for funsies. The oldest written record of a bull game in Arles was in the honor of Louis II, Count of Provence, in 1402. These games run every year in and around the villages of Alres, starting in April and ending in October. Each bull is well known and has it’s own name; some of the most famous are put on posters or made into statues after they die.
“In the bull games it is the bull, not the man, who is the hero, even though some of the razeteurs (men dressed in white who try to grab the ribbon attached between the bull’s horns) are local celebrities. –Arles Tourism Website.”
Thankfully this kind of bullfighting is not the kind where the bulls are killed (in fact, I didn’t realize that sort of thing existed!) Instead, the bullfighters just had to grab a ribbon from the bull’s back. There is an old fashioned medieval ceremony, a moment of silence, and then the fun begins! It is actually a lot harder than it looks because not one person succeeded in retracting the ribbon. It was a really great thing to see and experience (though I am not sure if I agree wholeheartedly with the “tradition” of raising bulls aggressively for the sole purpose of entertainment). Arles is a very beautiful town.
Meet-Ups with Frenchies:
My friend Maria and I both joined couch surfing and came across a language conversation group that meets weekly in Toulon. Two Mondays ago the two of us went for the first time, and met a lot of cool people! In fact, there were a few other assistants there from Germany and Italy! I spoke both French and English during the night. Ironically, the conversation group starts at 18h30. So naturally, Maria and I arrived on time, though most other people did not get there until almost 20h00 (8:00 PM!) One French woman explained, “No one arrives before 8:00; it’s simply too early!” (Oh, the French!)
This past Monday I met up again with Olivier and we went to dinner with his friend Guillaume, who is un généraliste, or general practitioner here in Toulon-I know, I really do not know what is up with me and knowing heaps (okay, two) French doctors (my host brother Jean-Baptiste in Caen is also un généraliste.) It was great just getting to know both of them better and being able to speak in French (thanks for inviting me, guys!)
Yesterday, my BTS students (ages 18-21, and one non-traditional student who is 31) invited me to go to their get-together lunch-in at a Chinese buffet restaurant. Thankfully my co-teacher was also going, so we drove together. There were about 45 students all together (and only 4 of them are female!!) but they are all very nice boys. Afterwards we all went bowling and played pool in La Garde (this place is the biggest bowling alley in all of France!) it was a nice afternoon and I was glad to have been invited and have the chance to get to know my older students a bit better.
Yesterday evening when I got back, I met up with a family friend (my grandparents’ best friend’s son, Jeff, who lives near Aix-en-Provence!) He and my mom grew up together in the same town (Cudahy!), and Jeff is just like me: he studied in France as a college student and wanted to come back- and he found a way to do so! He works here in the Côte d’Azur as a freelance translator and was doing some translations on the port all week, so we met up for an apéro! He has lived here in France for about 20 years and is married to a Sicilian woman with whom he has two kids. He and I discussed France, life, Wisconsin, and tactics for me to stay in France after I’m done with the TAPIF assistantship, Best of all, he invited me to come celebrate Thanksgiving with him and his family at the end of November!
The first two weeks of work went really well; I have great colleagues and motivated students and look forward to teaching everyday. However, I am now enjoying two weeks of vacation- starting with a solo trip to Barcelona next week!