Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Medley Rhétos

This is the little piece I did in the Cabaret:

I'm not entirely sure who filmed it, but I'm so glad they did!  Look for me in the first section!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Enfin, le Printemps!

The first sunburn of the season can only mean one thing: that you took advantage of the lovely sunny weather to go lounge around in the park. 

I met up with a couple of AFS friends this afternoon (Miriam from Bolivia and Louis from Columbia) in Liège and we walked to the botanical gardins to profiter du soleil. We lay down in the flowers and took off our shoes and the two latinos sang songs in Spanish while I napped a little.  It was really a shame I hadn't brought my camera because everything was really so nice.

This spring so far has been a lot nicer than what I think of spring so far in Maine-- no mud season!  I can't necessarily tell if it's been a typical spring in Belgium, since all I've obtained from Belgians is that the weather here is n'importe quoi (anything and everything), but in order to keep my bright outlook on the country I'll say it is.  And since we finally had daylight savings time this weekend, it's light enough out when I walk to the bus in the mornings that I've been able to appreciate the flowers that are starting to pop up.  My host family has a big yellow bush in their yard that makes me think of my English teacher from the states-- forsythias blooming yet in Orono?

I just hope that the weather lasts through my two-week Easter vacation!  Sun makes everything so much nicer!

À la prochaine!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

It's been another week since I last posted.  Every time I sign in to write anything, I see all the updates from the other exchange student blogs I "followed" before I left and feel bad for not writing as often as they do.  But I haven't written in my journal all month, so you should all feel lucky.

I missed doing the musical this fall back in the states, although the preparations for the Cabaret have been pretty similar.  This would be what we called "Hell Week" back home, late nights of tech rehearsals, run-throughs, and last minute learning of the choreography.  Even though I only have one small group of people to worry about and there are no props or scene changes for anybody to get yelled at for not taking care of, I feel a lot more stressed by the Cabaret.  Mostly because it's all on me if someone messes up the blocking or choreography.  Fortunately rehearsals have been going pretty well (we did well enough Wednesday evening that we didn't have to come back Thursday... only the groups that needed a lot of help) and even if things don't go entirely smoothly, I think we'll look good.  The show goes up today, tomorrow, and Sunday afternoon, and even though there are no classes Monday, I have to go in and help clean up.  In other words, no sleep for me this weekend.  My host family might make fun of me a little for being tired (my host dad claims to have been able to stay up for days when he was my age, and finds it funny every time I want to go to bed early), but at least I'll know I've earned it :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How to impress a Belgian

First off, let it be known that this is not difficult.  Especially if you are foreign and have a "cute little accent,"  Belgians will probably think everything you do is cool.  Even if it's really lame.  I suppose this also works in the opposite direction when Americans meet foreigners, but it's weird for me to be the foreigner and not the one admiring them.

1.  Speak English.  Somehow they forget that me speaking English is like them speaking French and is actually not a talent, but every time I say something in English they admire my accent.  Which is pretty fun, because I didn't think anyone liked American accents.

3.  Sing.  Going along with the last one, people here are so impressed when I know the lyrics to English songs.  It does help that Belgians listen to a lot of American music so that they don't hear my attempts at French lyrics.  But if you and a Belgian are singing along to the same English song and you keep going while they fade into indiscernible mumblings, chances are they will turn to you with their mouth open and ask how you know those words.  Even when I say "I mean it's English..." they shake their heads and say "still."

3.  Learn to French braid your hair.  I assume that in the States we call French braids as we do because they are too tricky and fancy for us and so they must be French.  Likewise for the Beglians (and French?); they call them "tresse africaine" because they're too tricky and foreign for Belgium.  I wonder what they're called in Africa...   At any rate, every time I french braid my hair somebody asks me if I've been to the hairdresser, even if it's a sloppy one.  They always want to know how I learned to do it and I have to pull out the slightly-embarrassing story of how I wanted to one-up my sister, who could french braid her dolls' hair, and so learned to do it myself.  And then to try to make them feel better I tell them that it's not super-hard (literally, they say "super" all the time here), it's just that your arms get tired and then you generally give up.  Which is basically true.

4.  Learn to shuffle cards.  The other day at lunch, a girl I don't know came up to me and asked if I could show her how I shuffle cards.  I did it for her, then turned back to my own card game to find that she was not the only one impressed.  Whenever I shuffle cards they call me "belle gosse" (or beau gosse for the guys, basically what they call a really cool/goodlooking/talented person), or, even better, "Las Vegas."  We're unfortunately never playing anything as cool as poker, so I can't whip out my shades and fancy vocabulary (not that I know it in French), but I still have fun with my Vegas nickname.

That's all I can think of for the moment.  Next time anyone gets really wowed over my doing something simple I'll add on/make a part two.  À la prochaine!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

So, who forgot I was doing the Cabaret?  Me, that's for one.  It's been a while since the auditions in February, so I hadn't thought a lot about it recently.  However, posters have been going up recently advertising the Cabaret at the end of next week, which has been helping me remember.  Additionally, since apparently we have evening rehearsals next week and won't have any time to study, all the teachers (or at least for the rhétos) have been asked not to give any tests that week.

In theory, this is a good idea, but none of the teachers like to lose any time, so they've just pushed everything up one week.  I have two tests in Math, one in English, French, Chemistry, Physics, and Geography.  I realize that my grades here don't actually count, so I could technically just blow everything off, but having not yet done my senior year I still feel obliged to work a little, especially for classes like Physics and Geography, for which I haven't already learned the material.  (And it sure rubs it in when the two boys from Rotary in my class, who have already finished their South American schools, make no effort to even look like they're paying attention.)

I have had a little time to study this weekend, though.  My little brother Constantin was at his grandmother's house, so I didn't have the constant requests to play toy soldiers or the Lego Pirates video game.  We had an AFS Liège activity yesterday morning: a visit to the Palais de Justice and the Palais des Princes Évèques (the seat of the regional government).  Even with going out to eat and to a movie with the other students, I got home by around five and was able to relax for the evening.  Plus, I had finally finished my photos from Camargue, so even with a new batch to go through, I felt like I had at least accomplished one thing.

I hope all is well in the rest of the world; Belgium has been nice and quiet this week (a good way to get back into my school schedule).

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Photos of France!

Going on the trip with a knowledge that I had a limited 2 GB of memory card space and no chance to back it up for 5 whole days, I tried to limit my photos.  I really did.  I somehow managed to end up with several hundred, which I now have to wade through in one giant fell swoop.  Each photo takes just a couple clicks to rotate and maybe adjust some lighting, but the task is sooo daunting.  I'm still not finished but have selected some of my favorites to post here.


des Arènes

Jardin de la fontaine

Tour de Magne


Fontaine de Vaucluse

Our hostel's goat

Yes, that is a mountain of salt

Me at the Mediterranean!

Stes Maries de la Mer


Monday, March 5, 2012

J'adore la France

One of the many perks of being an exchange student is that your class choices don't have to be based on your future plans.  You can decide to follow a certain geography option, for example, because of the yearly class trip and the fact that it's average day at school is shorter than some other classes.

I did have some more legitimate reasons for choosing said option, like the fact that it included a lot of science, which I enjoy, but at the moment, I'm more focused on the trip.

The 21 students in my geography class left last Sunday evening in a massive 75+ person, double-decker bus.  It was a bit extravagant, but when time came to sleep and we were able to stretch our legs across the aisle, we were all glad.  Our driver, Manu (which everyone pronounced "Mahnooooooo"), made the 13-hour trek across Belgium, Luxembourg, and France to the city of Nîmes ("la Rome française"), where he left us to explore the city while he drove to our hostel to sleep.

Southern France was even better than I expected, reminding me of Spain, France, and the Western United States all at the same time.  We visited the Arènes, the Roman-style amphitheater in the middle of town, and heard all about the gladiators and bullfighters that passed through over the years.  We had a few hours for lunch before visiting the Maison Carré (literally "square house"), a museum, a famous garden, and hiking past the Tour de Magne (the Roman viewpoint for Nîmes) back to our hostel.  Even though we were exhausted, we found the energy to stay up to take pictures of the hostels many animals including the typical dogs but also ducks and goats.
          (For my family... the line "was that a goat?" is, unfortunately, much less amusing in French.)

Our second day was a trip to a town called Rustrel, famous for its Colorado Provinçal.  Basically, the same phenomena that caused the red rocks in Colorado and Utah occurred on a smaller scale in southern France, giving us some fun rock formations and lots of color.  Of course, being a geography trip, we spent a lot of our hike stopping for "Topo," or short lessons about the landscapes.  For anyone curious, the red rock is made of oxidized sand, brought by the ocean approximately 100 million years ago, solidified and transformed by the heat of the sun, and then eroded into fun formations.

On Wednesday, we visited the region of Camargue, the delta of the Grand Rhône and Petit Rhône, and saw the various human activities. On the coast, they produce salt by flooding the ground in the summer, waiting for the water to evaporate, and then collecting it.  Our teacher told us about the giant piles of salt you can see in the summer, and I pictured a salt pile about the size of the mulch pile my mother gets delivered every year.  And then we saw a real one, approximately 20m high and 800m long.  We visited a port (if only to buy baguettes for lunch) and got 11 trucks to honk at us, then moved on to the rizières.  It was still February, so the rice fields were still dry and unplanted, but it was still interesting to see: relatively small fields enclosed by 1-2 foot walls of earth and surrounded by channels for water to flow through for irrigation.  Our teacher pointed out that between the water brought in for the rice and for the salt, the entire delta was relatively wet in the summer (which is not natural for a Mediterranean climate) and therefore a lot of the beautiful color that can be seen in prime tourist season is completely human-caused.

Before heading home, we made a stop in a tourist village called les Saintes Maries de la Mer, where we had a couple hours to look around (i.e. go to the beach!).  It turned out there was one other girl in my class (a Belgian, too) who had never seen the Mediterranean sea, so the two of us had a lot of fun running around the beach and taking photos.  I convinced her to take off her shoes and come wading with me, but she wasn't as conditioned to cold oceans as I was (yay north Atlantic ocean for giving me tolerance) and couldn't stay in long.

Our last day in France we went to les Baux de Provence, which they call the prettiest village in France.  I'd believe it... it's set in lots of calcareous (for lack of a good translation) mountains with little evergreen trees and contains only cobblestone streets and cute shops/churches/etc.  Apparently in the summer you have to pay just to enter the village.  We had a picnic lunch overlooking some of the nearby houses (apparently only very very wealthy people (wealthy from exploiting the mountains) can live there) and took off on a  ~ 10km hike towards the town of Arles.  We walked a couple of hours through the mountains, seeing more red/striped rocks and great views while poor Manu had to rest up for the imminent drive home.  We got a lift the rest of the way to Arles, had one our very last Topo, then had a few hours to ourselves to walk around.  Even though Arles is called the second French Rome (after Nîmes), it was pretty small.  The three girls I roomed with and I walked around while most other people went to a movie, got some Chinese takeout, then went back to the bus to read the French Cosmo-equivalent that one of them had bought.  We left around 10 and were back to Liège early enough to have a good day to rest up.

I'm a bit late in typing this up, but between editing all my photos, typing up a resumé of the trip, and trying to figure out what I missed at school the whole week, I've had a lot of work.  Hopefully I'll get some pictures up soon.

À bientôt!