Mama Mia!!

Well, it’s officially the third week of classes? You can always tell when it’s the third week. You know why? Because everyone and their brother is sick. Sniffling, sneezing, runny nose, sinuses clogged, coughing, and everyone basically just slowly dying. It has been a week or so of Kleenexes, vitamin C, fruits and veggies, lots of water, hand washing, and hopefully increased sleeping (but we all know college kids don’t do that!). I thankfully have not come down with anything, although I can feel it creeping up and I’m not sure how much longer I can keep it at bay. The comforting thing is that nothing worse than the normal cold is on the loose. I’m quite thankful for that one.

As for what I have done over the past week, CEA and SKEMA have kept my nights quite busy. This is the first untouched evening I have had since last Thursday night. Since then, Friday was a dinner night, Saturday was a day trip to the Italian Riviera, Sunday was a tour of the local Picasso Museum and a hike to a lighthouse, Monday was an introduction to wine and cheese tasting, and Tuesday night was another dinner/21st birthday celebration and the “Buddy Party” with SKEMA.

Our Friday dinner night, we had about 15 total in attendance. We had wine, bread, and cheese (like good French exchange students), a main course of pasta with 4 cheese sauce and pan seared chicken, and a dessert of fresh crepes with strawberry jam and Nutella. Dinner was delicious and the company was good. The dinner was hosted at my apartment and the cooking was done by myself and my apartment-mate, Tonya. I provided pasta and cheese sauce, Tonya prepared the chicken and opened the wine, and I made the crepes. I have thus far made 5 batches of crepes, from 3 recipes. Also, if I wasn’t a master at making pasta before coming to France, I sure am now. I should start keeping tabs on how much pasta I eat, because I wouldn’t be surprised if I eat my weight in it by the time I return to the States. As far as other kitchen experiences go, I have tried my hand at homemade hummus, created several different pasta sauces, and have nearly reached mastery of crepes as well. My comfort in the kitchen is expanding daily and I am really enjoying getting ideas of what to cook from the other girls.

Saturday was a full, full day: full, as in a long itinerary, and full as in well-stuffed stomachs. We began our day with a visit to the Italian city of San Remo. On Saturday (and I hear Thursday) mornings, the town has an open-air market with everything from leather and ipod cases to homemade pasta and imported fruits. Upon arrival, we found our bearings and then were released for 2 hours to shop and experience the market on our own. The prices at the market were low and the selection was incredible. My first discovery was a table with a vast array of scarves of all sizes and colors – for 2 euros each. Well, being the absolutely frugal and logic-minded shopper that I am, I only bought four. After a few minutes, I passed a lady selling leather belts. She had 3 different width bands of every color, texture, and design you could imagine, and none of them had buckles attached. The display above the bands showed ~10 different buckle styles (round, square, oblong, reversible, etc), each available in 3 different colors. I thought that was the coolest thing ever, but I walked on by to think about it. After spending about 10 seconds, in thought, I turned around and walked back, and essentially “built” my own belt. I chose my band (regular width, caramel-brown color) and my buckle (square, matted silver) and stood awkwardly as she wrapped the band around me to get my measurements and then cut and attached the buckle right there. The price was good and the belt is exactly what I want, and real leather! It smells lovely… But anyway, I walked on, ended up purchasing a lovely camel-colored leather purse for another lovelier low price, found an awesome grey plaid pair of cotton shorts with an ORANGE stripe in them for 3 euro, and went with my friends to get gelato. Mmm gelato… lemon, strawberry, and raspberry were my flavors, although we tested each other’s flavor choices (probably not the wisest plan since we all seem to be sick…) and then met back up with the group for lunch. For Italy, lunch was included. We went to this little mom-and-pop Italian restaurant where, naturally, there was bread, olive oil, and fresh parmesean, and then lunch was served in the form of waves of 6 different types of homemade pasta cooked 6 different ways. (Yes, now is an appropriate time to groan audibly- I did.) We were all absolutely stuffed after the pasta and perfectly content when our coordinators and guide started coming around taking orders for desserts. There were three options, and with two friends, we each chose one so we could split them all. Our choices- tiramisu, crème caramel, and panna cotta were each very tasty. My personal favorite was the tiramisu… and I finished off 2 other servings, sacrificing myself for friends who just couldn’t finish theirs on their own (the travesty!).  Afterwards, we were served our choice of hot tea, hot coffee, or cappuccino. Now, I’m not fond of coffee, but hey, I’m in Italy, so cappuccino it was! That too exceeded expectations. So, we meandered back to our bus and headed for Dolceacqua. In this small town, we toured an old city, saw an impressionist painting my Monet, and toured a beautiful, old church. For our final destination, we stopped in Menton, the first French city past the Italian border for a quick 30 minute respite to explore, have a short tour, and say goodbye to our sweet guide. Aside from it being neigh on impossible to find a public bathroom, this stop was largely uneventful. We finally got home just in time for dinner and sullenly ate our store-bought pasta, much ashamed by its lack of taste compared to our lunch of just a few hours earlier.

On Sunday, we toured the Antibes Picasso Museum. Did you know that Picasso was a player and incredibly self-confident? Well, you do now. Picasso’s paintings remain the most expensive for sale by any well-known painter. The reason the little museum in Antibes is able to afford to keep all of the pieces is that Picasso himself donated them to the museum in the hopes of it one day becoming a Picasso museum. Well, he got his wish. It was a very cute museum with a collection of paintings done near the end of his life, and several photos of him painting in the museum and pictured with 2 of his “women.” After the walk-through, a small group of us walked down the coast and up a hill to the nearby lighthouse, where we picnicked, talked, and took pictures of the stunning view. I could see my apartment from there!!

On Monday night, I learned to taste wine by looking, smelling, and then actually tasting it. We tried a rosé, two reds, and a very sweet white. Kristen, our coordinator, also explained what could be found on the bottle’s label, and what the differences in the regions in France were. In conjunction with the red wines, we also sampled about eight different types of cheeses. I discovered a dislike for Roquefort and Compté, a love for Camembert, and nothing short of enjoyment for all the other types present. In fact, after the tasting, we ended up coming home with leftovers of at least four or five of those eight types.

Tuesday night was the “Buddy Party” thrown by the SKEMA Intercultural Society. Beforehand, we had about 30 exchange students from SKEMA present for Mexican night in our apartment. Many people brought food and wine, and we had a good meal, capped off by celebrating one of the student’s 21st birthdays. They even made him a cake. The Buddy Party was at the local bar, the Hop Store, after dinner. Here, everyone who wanted a French “buddy” had filled out a form telling preferred gender, interests, and hobbies. When we got there, we received a number and then mingled until we found our matching number. Going in, I was nervous about it for the fact that I am not huge into drinking and every French person seems to be. Additionally, I’m just not that outgoing and a whole night of forced awkward socializing was beginning to seem decidedly unpleasant. Well, I went and hung out with friends for a while until I got up the courage to actually go look for my buddy. I actually found her quite quickly since she was actively looking for me and was dismayed to hear from her that she “had been expecting a boy.” Apparently, I was somehow listed as a male on the list and so she was expecting an American boy to get to know. Well, despite that awkward beginning, we talked for a few minutes and then she went with her friend to smoke. I headed back to my friend group, explained my situation, and expanded on my realization that she was not exactly the type of person with whom I generally became friends or hung out. I even made the comment that I wouldn’t really be hurt if she didn’t come back. Well, guess what. She didn’t come back. I can’t say I’m too disappointed. Yes, I would like to become friends with a native French student, but I just knew that she and I wouldn’t really get along. I enjoyed the rest of my evening dancing with a few of my friends and said hi to many more before heading home. One thing’s for sure – I will have plenty of memories and stories to share as a result of this semester abroad, and good or…interesting, I’ll take them all!

Other than those evenings, I had my first theater quiz, which I thankfully had no issue with, came to realize that Dynamics is going to take a lot of work, am actively considering joining the climbing team, and am in the midst of making my travel plans into actual realities. This weekend, I and two of my friends will be spending the weekend in Lyon, and Spring Break, my mommy will be coming to accompany me to Paris, Normandy, and London! I’m excited! So, after my lovely novella, I wish you all I good day and I thank you for hanging on to the end. I’ll try not to be so long-winded in the future. Check my facebook for pictures!! I’m calling it a night.

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