Friday, July 31, 2015

Secours Populaire Francais

Volunteering has been one of the best things I got to do here. I really love the people I work with, and this was where I got a glimpse into French life. Here are some of the crew (Lauren, Malika, Babette, Mireille, Noira, Vincent, Jackie, and me).

Mireille, the director is in the center in the beige dress. Jackie, the one next to me, has my same last name! Well, at least it was the same in the 1500's (Carriere).

The back room where we sort the clothes and toys and other donations.

The store front.


It's easy to be overlooked when you're a language learner in a foreign country. Encounters with new people go something like this:

The 3 obligatory kisses on the cheeks
Each person states their name, and that they're pleased to meet the other.
They ask where I'm from, and when I say California, I am given celebrity status. Especially when I say I live near SF. They usually mention that they know it through some TV series.

Then the conversation continues amongst the friends, and the once incredibly cool Californian is quickly forgotten as normal life resumes.

I don’t mind. In fact, I loved it when I first got here because I could be an invisible observer. But it didn’t take long to realize I didn’t have any French friends. The people at Secours Populaire (where I volunteer) are very nice, but even after a few weeks working there, I still felt like an outsider. They all chat up a storm while we’re working, and I didn’t join in much because the language was so fast, and a lot of times they would talk about events I hadn’t been part of, or people I didn’t know. Now that I’ve been there a little over a month, things are mostly different, and most times I’m right in on the conversation. I’m still not one of them, but I am able to laugh and joke and have fun and feel normal. I feel like I belong, and I love it.

But there was one person who saw me from the start, during the stages when I was still invisible to everyone else. Meet Simone.

She is 87 years old. She’s from the Paris region, and moved here about 10 years ago with her husband. He has since passed away, and in order to keep from being lonely, she volunteers at SP three mornings per week. She was an accountant by profession, and loves numbers, so she works as the cashier in our store. From the first time I was asked to help her, she saw me. She never acted like things were any different between me and anyone else despite my less than fluid language skills.

I would help her out at the front desk, just to make sure she didn’t get confused or forget things. When we didn’t have any customers, she would just talk with me, and ask me questions, and feed me the words I struggled with. She’s a wealth of knowledge for the things she’s passionate about: energies and astrology, and such. She taught me how to test the foods we were selling to see if they have good or bad energies for the body. She showed me where to stand, and where not to stand to receive the most good energy from the earth. She taught me not to cross my arms while I’m standing, and shared with me the little wooden pendulum her husband made. I’m not about to get out and get my own pendulum, but I ate it up. I loved that she was sharing what she loved with me, and that she saw me. 

During the past weeks, we’ve met up a few times on the park benches in the city center after volunteering. I head there to eat my lunch before going to the library, and when I’m about finished she arrives and sits and rests on her walk home. We chat. It often is very similar to the previous conversations because she forgets she’s already asked me what I’m researching in the library, or how long I’ll be here. But I don’t mind. It helps me say it better the second time. And without fail, somewhere during the conversation, she takes my hand and looks me in the eye, and says “We can look each other in the eye. I’m so glad we met.” We had to say goodbye today. My last day is Monday, and she won’t be there. I am so glad we met, too Simone. Thank you for seeing me.

It's A Quiet Village

The first minute of this song plays in my head just about every morning on my way to "work." I literally had a woman pop her head out of her window while opening her shutters, exactly like this. And it's not just the baker, but everyone walks around with their morning baguette. On bikes, in a purse, under an arm with the morning paper. I often see the same people in the same spot on my little route. Yesterday I ran into the man who gives me a ride to church on Sundays. I think he'd been yelling my name for quite some time, but it took me a minute to recognize "Carrier" in French! It's so small, I've run into people I know a few times! Here are some more pics of my quiet village. 


I wish I'd discovered the view from this park during my first month while it was green. But it's still beautiful. Every day I walk from home, which is a little higher than this hill, all the way to the far edge of downtown. It takes about 35 minutes, and I really enjoy it.

 I do have to hug the walls on some of the bends, fearing for my life. It would be nice to have sidewalks.

Downtown (Centre Ville)

The mediatheque. Apparently since they have a lot more than books, they don't call it a biblioteque. I work here a lot in the afternoons, especially on hot days since it has air conditioning! 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Conversation and Courses

Today Matthias and some friends from Nimes had a scuba diving class just outside Montpellier, so we all piled in the car and tagged along for some beach time. That was twice in one week for me! (I went on Thursday with my friends from the Secours Populaire, where I volunteer). The ocean of course was great, although it was really windy, which made spending time on the sand pretty miserable. I had fun swimming and taking pictures of the baby, but we only stayed a couple hours. The highlight of the day was actually a potluck BBQ they had at the dive school after their dive. I kept telling Holly that this is what I came to France for! It was so fun to be a part of their culture. I feel that people think barbecuing is a truly American experience, but we’ve got nothing on them. I loved that something as informal as a BBQ is still a reflection of French eating.

They started off by setting out drinks and aperitifs. The drinks were mostly wine and other alcoholic drinks, but they also had orange juice, water and syro, which is a concentrated fruit/sugar syrup that you add to water. I actually like some of the fruitier ones with the sparkling mineral water, but I put so little in that it’s similar to drinking water with lemon or essential oils. The aperitifs were just chips and nuts.

They brought out salads next, and then the meat started coming of the grill. That’s when the volume suddenly doubled. Oh, and I must mention that for some reason there wasn’t any bread at the start of the meal, and you would have thought we’d forgotten the grill or something. There was a lot of panicking. But someone went and bought two bags of fresh baguettes, and all was well. There were a few kabobs of chicken and steak, and some of duck heart, which was surprisingly very delicious. I was worried about the texture, but it just seemed like regular meat, except with that rich duck flavor. The main meat was sausage. I think there were at least 4 different types, and it just kept coming. They even had one that was stuffed with roquefort cheese. It was ok, but that’s one of the stronger cheeses, and I couldn’t eat very much of it. The absolute best part was the next round when they brought out the cheeses. They had put them on the grill after the meat, and melted them. Wow. Melted Camembert. It was divine. It’s also a fairly strong cheese, but not as much as Roquefort, and I loved it. I ate two pieces of bread and cheese, and now I’m a bloated mess, but it was worth it! The cheese course also included fruit and an apple tart. One dessert. As in one tart for about 20 people. They cut it into little slices, and I’m sure not everyone had one because cheese and fruit are also dessert. And you don’t eat everything, like at an American BBQ. I absolutely love eating in courses. I fell in love with it in Spain, and always want to eat that way, but then when I get home I just return to my American ways and throw everything on my plate at once.  

Another big difference is that this whole process of eating lasts about 3 hours. At home it seems to take forever to get all the food together, everyone is starving waiting for the meat to finish grilling, kids are crying, etc. When it’s finally done everyone piles massive amounts of food on giant plates, and inhales it all in about 10 minutes. And then you do that all over again for dessert. Other than the occasional green salad, and healthy meat, most of the food is junk. Eating in courses means that you can pick at things while the meat grills, so everyone is happy. The food is almost all good for you, and you just enjoy conversation along with every course individually on your little plate, and before you know it 3 hours have gone by. Who’s up for a French BBQ this summer? ;)

 The Camambert. Amazing.
 This looks huge, but it's a little appetizer plate. That's the duck heart. 
 Note Holly's sandals, almost completely buried. With he wind that happened in minutes. 
 Baby footprints. So so cute. He didn't love his first beach experience, but we had fun with him. 

Getting Gypped

Sunday July 5, 2015
This week was going really well, until Tuesday when I got ROBBED! This is the 7th country I’ve lived in, and that was the first time I’ve ever had anything stolen. Holly wanted to collect some rocks at the river, so we were just making a quick stop on the way home from the grocery store. Right before we parked we saw this guy biff it on his scooter, so Holly popped her head out of the window and asked if he was ok. He said he was, but he gave us the heebeegeebees so we sat in the car and watched until he drove away.  We were just going to be at the river for a few minutes, within sight of our car, so we had just stashed our purses under the seats (so stupid--I never do that...the one time!!!!). There are some steps down to the river, and we were just below them when that same guy came back! He pulled up on his scooter and started saying terrible things that he wanted to do to us, so obviously we didn’t want to go anywhere near him, and he had parked himself right between the top of the stairs and our car. All I could think about was getting away, so we walked over to the next flight of stairs to get back up on the road and in sight of more people. As we were going up, I could hear him break the window of the car. The fact that he was hanging around our car because he wanted to steal from us hadn’t even crossed my mind, or the fact that he was probably a gypsy. He grabbed all our stuff, and took off on his scooter right in front of us, and in broad daylight, as we were running towards him yelling and trying to flag down another car. We ran and screamed and yelled, but there was nothing we could do! It was so beyond frustrating. He took my phone and wallet. Luckily my passport was at home. Jerk. Anyway, we went to the police and reported it, but I don’t think they’ll even do anything about it. It’s like no one really cares... We flagged down one of those mini euro vans, right after and told him we’d just been robbed, and to go after the guy to go after the scooter, but he didn’t seem to care. We stopped at a neighbor’s house who had been watering his garden and asked if he saw which way the gut on a scooter went. He said he may or may not have seen him. It was so weird! Everyone was just so indifferent. But, at least we were safe.

I think one of the most annoying things about it is that I came with such few belongings, and I needed all of them! It’s a bummer to be out a few hundred dollars, but I can get over that. I just want my things! If I were at home I would replace everything he took within a couple days, and it wouldn’t be a big deal. But here I can’t do that. I had spent a lot of time finding that particular purse because it holds a lot and is really light and the strap doesn’t dig into my shoulder. And he took my good phone--my Samsung, but also my little pre-pay France phone, so I have no way to communicate, no alarm clock, no time piece. I went into Nimes yesterday and felt so helpless. My train was an hour late and I had nothing to read (I usually just read books on my Nook app). I wanted to go the museum of fine arts, and I had taken a pic of the map on my laptop with my camera, but it just didn’t suffice. I asked two French people where it was, and they both gave me wrong directions. They love to be helpful, and give directions, but don’t always know where the place is. So I had to walk to the other side of downtown to the tourism office to get a map, and then I didn’t have enough time to go.

Sat July 11, 2015
A purse came in at my 2nd-hand store, that was a pretty good replica of the one I had. They gave it to me for free. And then yesterday on my walk home from the grocery store I found a discarded pre-paid phone in the street, really similar to the French one I had. I don’t know if I can find a battery for it, but it made me feel watched over, nonetheless. :)