Life in a Hurricane: Seeking Solace in the Eye

Sometimes it feels like I’m living in the eye of a hurricane and every so often, I’m jostled into the whirlwind of stress, work and lack of sleep.

Thankfully, for me this week was calm, the first week since coming back from Christmas Break that I’ve felt went by relatively quickly. However, this week was also rather uneventful, but I think only a handful of my classmates would agree. As I sit in my loft bedroom writing this, the majority of SYA is at school taking the dreaded SAT, which I took way back in October. Now that the time has come for everyone else to take it, I am so thankful that my parents signed me up for it last semester. (Parents, when you read this, feel free to send me a text saying “I told you so” :P)

Having the SAT out of the way has allowed me to finally settle back into a  routine. I got an average of 8.5 hours of sleep a night (*cue simultaneous interwebs’ gasp*), went for a couple runs (once with my easily excitable host dog, now that was an experience), did a little shopping (when there are month long sales, and you’re a teenage girl in France, shopping just sort of happens), a lot of writing (summer internships applications + articles to submit = I need a keyboard cushion) and a proportional amount of school work, I promise ;).

Sometimes though, I feel like the center of the hurricane doesn’t have wifi or the French networks have poor coverage, because I’m missing the Australian Open and am dreading not being able to watch the Oscars or the Olympics (this is my earnest plea for livestream links- please send them my way via the comments!).

This week, the weather was once again bipolar… I’m beginning to consider this the norm. Most days started off by being gorgeously sunny yet as soon as I went indoors, I could start hearing the tapping on the windowpane that slowly built up to a persistent drumroll. I feel like the weather in Rennes encompasses what it’s like to be here, studying abroad. Some weeks it rains 24/7, on rare occasions the whole week is sunny and bright, but most of the time, it’s a mix of the two.  C’est la Vie! 

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Seen on campus: “In Brittany, it only rains two times a week. Once for three days, and the next time for four days.”

Another Day, Another Year Older

Every year on my birthday, people ask, “How does it feel to be another year older?”  Well, normally for me, it’s like nothing has changed, except the number I rattle off after a moment’s pause when someone asks me how old I am. But this year, I celebrated my birthday in France, and not with my family. So the realization of being a full year older went slightly eclipsed by the renewed realization that I was in France (it hits you over and over again.. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being pleasantly surprised that I’m actually in Europe).

On my actual birthday, my amazing friends who are super sweet took me out to a birthday galette lunch, where I had creme brulée for dessert. I love that I can say stuff like that casually about my life. I love France.

Mini Vanilla Crème Brulées

Mini Vanilla Crème Brulées

As another example of how different life here is from back home, I didn’t have to look further than the little excursion my MUN group and I took to work with a local high school’s MUN. In preparation for the upcoming ILYMUN conference, the girls of SYA’s MUN team participated in a mock debate at VHB (a lycée located a quick Metro ride from Villa Alverez). Speaking in an amalgamation of French and English (theirs had a surprising slight British accent), it was neat to see how MUN works in France and to meet more French kids. Plus, there’s nothing quite like a mock UN resolution that references Beyoncé, to brighten up your day.

Lycée VHB

Lycée VHB

On Saturday, after slogging through various renditions of Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy and having attempted to memorize both dialogues from a scene in Parfum: L’Histoire d’un Meurtrieur by Patrick Suskind, I had a birthday double-whammy. Starting in the afternoon, I celebrated with my host family, tofu (for the first time since I’ve been in France so it was kind of a big deal), two cakes (one chestnut, the other chocolate chip) and a scarf (clearly my host family has noticed my obsession… Happy birthday to me :D). In the evening, my friends and I wined and dined ourselves at a cute pizzeria in the Medieval quarter, followed by a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity (Apples to Apples for Teenagers).

Chestnut Cake

Chestnut Cake

Looking back, I have a distinct feeling that my time in France is going to be characterized by days like this Saturday: lots of writing, fun times with my host family and casual nights out with my friends. The French have the balance between work and play down to a science, and I think that maybe some of that savoir-faire is starting to rub off on me.

Rennes's daily dose of rain

Rennes’s daily dose of rain

Bait and Switch: Two PSA’s with a twist

At the movies the other day, I noticed that in between the 30 minute chunk of previews that precede the feature film, the French interject public service announcements (PSA). These PSA’s are not your average admonition but operate on the same level as the moving “It Can Wait” campaign (sponsored by AT&T) that often features victims of car accidents cause by texting and driving and their families.

One such video was a short “film” entitled Ivresse, that centered around the different kinds of drunken-ness. In engaging vignettes, the audience was shown the reactions of people drunk on nature, drunk on adrenaline, drunk on lust, drunk on love, drunk on alcohol and finally drunk at the wheel. The message I gleaned was the underlining idea that being drunk wasn’t all bad, just something to be avoided while driving; in more general terms, amuse oneself wisely.

Another such Public Service Announcement that deviated from the normal forumla, though not featured at a French movie theater, was a Swedish ad that started out simply touting a certain brew for its smoothness. Then at the moment when a normal beer commercial would have been over, this film just kept rolling, stating some harsh facts about the Swedish, their statistical usage of alcohol and the negative affects alcoholism can cause. An ironic conclusion, drew the video back full circle, with a rhetorical question: “How’s that for smooth?”  

My mouth almost hit the floor.

Halfway There

Happy 2014! All week I’ve resolutely avoided writing the date because a small part of me refuses to believe that half of my year abroad is already over.  I feel like I spent most of December counting down to Christmas break and my two weeks of freedom and family, then suddenly, I’m back at my place in front of the space heater in the school’s common room, seeking solace from rainy Rennes and reveling in the return of salted butter to my life.

As much as I love the holidays back home, I’d missed the long French celebratory lunches with endless aperitifs, bubbly drinks, and decadent desserts. I couldn’t wait for all that to start again…and I didn’t have to.The day I came back, jet-lagged, gross from all the traveling and really in no mental state to do much more than smile, nod and sleep, my host family and I celebrated Three Kings Day. After we did some belated Christmas present exchanging, where I introduced them all to Eos (#americanisation) and received some very French Yves Rocher products, we got down to the most important part of any celebration- the food. However, I was so sleep-addled that all I remember was the giant almond (Frangipane) Galette des Rois, aka Kings Cake, for dessert.

My host-dog Lucky, the King

My host-dog Lucky, the King

On the 5 or 6th of January, to commemorate the three kings/wise men and Epiphany, the Galette des Rois is sliced and served with each diner getting the piece assigned to them by the youngest member of the party who is randomly calling out names from underneath the table. This is to ensure no one cheats in the game of who has the fève. Literally translated as fava bean, the fève is a charm placed somewhere inside the cake and per tradition, the person(s) who find the fève in their slice are king/queen for the day and also traditionally buy the next galette whereupon the whole shebang recommences.  As I proceeded to get back into French time and stay awake in class and fall asleep at night, these slices of cake were definitely the highlight of my week. I ate Galette des Rois four different times and in two different forms (brioche and frangipane). I’d say that’s a pretty accurate representation of my life here in Rennes. All the food, all the time…

Lord of the Ring fèves, what could be better?

Lord of the Ring fèves, what could be better?

I attempted to avoid adding to what my friends and I jokingly refer to as the France 15 (in reference to what is known as the Freshman 15 where first year college students away for the first time from home and three healthy meals a day often gain weight due to the changes in their diet) by spending at least one entire afternoon braving the throngs of Rennais out in the street for the Soldes. Previously unbeknownst to me, every year all over France, for a month starting in January, there are ridiculous sales everywhere. With sometimes as much as 70% off, acquiring the French fashions is actually within my means for a whole month. Unfortunately, for the first few days, it’s like Black Friday every day, which made for an amusing and exhausting experience.

From shopping, I squished myself into a bus and joined a few of my classmates at the retirement home, where we split up amongst the tables and joined the residents for a relaxing game of dominoes. It was kind of hilarious and good fun but it reminded me of how much I miss my grandmothers….

Playing Dominoes with the most clever deaf lady, a 100 year old woman and my other Retirement Home pals

Playing Dominoes with the most clever deaf lady, a 100 year old woman and my other Retirement Home pals (P.C Sheryl)

I’ve cemented these images of Three Kings Day, crazy sale day shopping sprees and learning how to play dominoes in my mind, hoping that sheer willpower will keep them there forever, amongst all my other wonderful memories of living in Rennes. Sitting in the loft bedroom that I’ve come to call my own, I keep trying to wrap my mind around the fact that somehow while I was eating and sleeping and breathing French, first semester slipped on by. But I won’t mourn the passing of half of my year too much (*cue instinctive hyperventilation cuz oh my god it’s half gone*) because after all, I have all of that and more ahead of me.

Here’s to 2014 and all the weird stories, new foods and fun French times to come. On y go y’all!