Friday, July 1, 2016

old towns and ball gowns

Bonjour everybody!

It's crazy to believe that this is going to be my last post before I'm back on American soil. I will write at least one more after this one, but for my final post to wrap up this incredible year, I want to write it from home to really reflect on my time in France. I feel like being able to look at this past year from the point of view of my "normal life" will be interesting for me to do, and will probably show hints of how I have changed because of this experience. I may do one more post several months down the road to see if anything has stuck with me in the long term, but I won't know that until I am back in my normal routine.

A lot has happened since my post about Normandy. June has been a bit more gracious to the locals, though not nearly as much as we would like. Right now, I'm looking out at yet another relentlessly gray day, and while it is no longer cold enough to require a jacket, it's still chilly enough to wear a few layers of long sleeves. We've had a few sunny days, and some have felt very hot, but I assure you, it is not "summer" here, but feels more like how April would feel back home. Certainly not July 1st, which is the middle of summer and when people back home are flocking to lakes and beaches. I posted a few news articles about just how terrible the weather has been this spring. I know I complain about it a lot, but I promise you, it's justified. This spring has been a record wet and chilly one. The worst for 116 years. May was the wettest month of May Paris has seen in 146-ish years, which contributed to the Seine rising to flood level and causing damage, delays, and the closure of several metros. I even had one local neighbor I frequently walk with when taking G to school say to me that I picked a bad year to come. Great, thanks. So it's not just me. Even the locals, my French friend Isabelle can attest to this, have had it with this weather. When you think of Paris, there is an image that likely comes to mind of walking along the Seine, picnicking along the canals, or strolling through the beautiful gardens with a good book while the sun happily shines down. Or perhaps sitting outside at one of the hundreds of sidewalk cafés with un vin rouge or un café, chatting with friends and people watching. That's the image I had, and while I have done all of those things, I certainly haven't done them as frequently as I had envisioned. I guess it just makes those times I was able to do them that much sweeter. But for those who ask me why I am so ready to leave the City of Light, this is why. I want my summer, I miss my friends and family, and I am sick and tired of the rain and gloom. My soul can't take it anymore, even with the marginally improved temperatures. With the weather, union strikes, train delays and frequent maintenance, flooding, and unfortunate continual threat of terrorist attacks, I can't honestly be blamed for saying "check, please!" I can't tell you how excited I am, in particular, to get away from public transport haha.

But looking back on June, it is easily the best month I've had my entire year in France. From my trip to Normandy, to being able to shed my jacket, to visiting the small medieval town of Provins, and of course, the masquerade at Versailles, this is the month I will think back to when I'm in the States fondly reminiscing about my adventure overseas.

The weekend after my visit to Normandy, my host mom went out of town for a week. She went on her first international trip outside of Europe for a work trip to the USA. It was fun for me to see her go to my home country and hear about her experiences when she returned. She spent most of the week in DC, and one day in NYC. She loved DC and can't wait to bring the rest of the family next year when they hopefully come visit again, since the rest of them haven't been to America either. One thing she mentioned when she got back to Paris made me laugh, because it was something I noticed the French didn't do that Americans always do, and I have been meaning to talk about it all year. I didn't even ask her about this, she noticed it on her own. She noticed that everyone on their way to work was holding a travel mug of coffee. She then imitated a person standing, waiting for a metro or walking with a travel mug in hand. I laughed and told her I thought the same thing when I moved here, but with the opposite thought. In America, we love our coffee. Now, the French love coffee too, but when they drink theirs, they sit. In the U.S., we tend to grab our coffee and go, or for those who do sit and have a cup in the morning (or a cup while getting ready like me), you probably still take cup #2 on the road. During my first week or two in France, I found it so odd that no one, and I mean NO ONE, was holding a travel mug full of coffee on the train platform as they made their morning commute to work. "Do none of these people drink coffee? No one is holding coffee...." was my initial thought. Now that I've been here long enough, I know it's because they all get up early enough for breakfast and sit and enjoy their morning cup of joe. And their coffees are TINY. "What is this tiny cup? Get me a real mug!" I have found myself thinking on a number of occasions. I'm not really a fan of French coffee for that reason. Yeah, it's good once I add milk and sugar, but I've never been able to drink black coffee, and I miss coffee creamer (which apparently is only a thing in the USA). But I'm American, damnit. I need my coffee, and I need it in large quantities. So if there is any more question as to why I'm such a frequent visitor at Starbucks when I live in a city where coffee is sacred, now you know. Starbucks serves a normal size cup.

The day after my host mom returned from the US, my friend Isa and I headed about an hour east of Paris to the charming little medieval village of Provins. A few weeks before our visit were medieval festivals, which I would have loved to see. But they do have 2 permanent shows for those who visit during other times of the year. The first was a show with a number of trained birds. I couldn't understand what the show itself was about, and Isabelle tried to translate a lot of it for me, but for the most part it was a demonstration with all types of birds. Owls, vultures, eagles, just to name a few. I found this pretty cool until these trained birds started swooping over the heads of the audience. I'm not normally afraid of birds at all, but when I have to duck because vulture and vulture is flying about 6 inches above my head...yeah, I'm gonna freak out a bit. One bird actually brushed Isa's hair into her face. They were well trained, so I knew I wasn't in danger, but each type of bird that came out would just fly over us for a while. The vultures they let fly back and forth for about 10 minutes, one after another. Afterward, you could walk through the cages of the birds from the show. I saw a beautiful eagle up close and an owl that could have passed for Hedwig from Harry Potter. The vultures were so creepy looking, but there were some adorable baby birds fresh from the womb.
From here, we made our way to a medieval show that was a play of sorts. There were jousting demonstrations and a storyline that was interesting even if it was hard for me to follow. But we had a great time enjoying the show and seeing the medieval structures and games. After the show, we walked through the town, and I couldn't help singing "Little Town" from Beauty and the Beast. We found a cute little crêperie on the town square and had some tea and crêpes, before continuing our walk near the church. We passed the Tour César, a watchtower and former prison, built somewhere around the 11th century. What I really loved was a little boutique we stopped in, which was full of rose products. Provins has a very well-known economy of producing products from roses. Rose petal jam, rose honey (which I deeply regret not purchasing), rose candy, rose jelly, rose tea, rose all smelled incredible. I opted for a rose lollipop, which was wonderful and I wish I had grabbed a handful, some rose tea, and a bar of rose artisan soap. I wish I could go back and buy all of it. After we left the boutique, we walked along the medieval ramparts that surrounded the city and snapped some pictures of the beautiful view of the French countryside. Overall, very excellent day trip and I'd highly recommend it.
The following weekend was the big event I have been anticipating for over 2 months, the masquerade ball at Château de Versailles. When my friend Amanda first pitched this idea to me, my heart started hammering because I HAD to do this. I have secretly always dreamed of going to a masquerade, but who would have ever thought I would actually get to go to one. And not only go to one, but go to one at Versailles in baroque period costumes! I told Amanda then that if she didn't go with me, I was still going on my own haha. But she and her hubs came, and we met up with her friends from college who originally told her about it since they were flying in from the States to attend. Seriously one of the most fun nights, and worth all the stress of finding a costume, figuring out our hair and makeup, and the rest of the planning, time, and money that went into making the night a reality. Worth. every. penny. Amanda's friends had opted for the highest level ticket, which included a parking pass right outside of the Orangerie, which is the part of the Palace where the event took place. They weren't using it, so they gave it to Amanda. So we pull up to the parking spot and couldn't have been closer to the event. We were still pretty early because we wanted to come and take photos when the light was best. There were about 5 other cars when we arrived and we parked about 50 feet from the entrance. That's VIP parking if I ever saw it. We walk in, and the event didn't start till 11:30, so we were directed to the gardens above for the fireworks show which took place around 11. It was about 8:30 or so at this point, but we were able to take our time walking around, taking amazing photos, and getting stared at by visitors having no idea what was going on and why there were so many people in costume. Some of the costumes we saw were absolutely incredible and elaborate. I know if I ever come to this event again (which I'd like to do), I will be in good company for going all out. We even saw some guy dressed as Louis XIV (I believe) and tourists were stopping him one after another for photos. We had a few come up to us and ask to take pictures with us or of us. It was fun. :)
Once the fireworks started, we all sat on the ground and just enjoyed the show. Amanda had her nice camera with her and got a spectacular photo of them. Versailles knows how to put on a show, I'll tell you that. After the show, we found Amanda's friends and made our way to the ball. In the Orangerie, there is a cavernous long hallway that has enormous windows that look out onto the Orangerie gardens. The hall was made of stone and lined with gorgeous chandeliers. When we walked in, the first thing we see is "beauty and the beast" which was the theme of the event this year. The beast was enclosed in a glass structure playing the piano, while Belle was standing on top of it dancing near a table with an rose enclosed in glass on top of it. Past beauty and the beast were about half a dozen women dancers standing near horses taken from a carousel, all wearing long flowing skirts with the sides exposed, and completely topless except for the silver pasties hiding their nips. Alrighty, then. lol In the center of the hall was a group of dancers, dancing a coordinated routine. These routines changed every 30 minutes or so throughout the entire night. Some were really cool, like the one I recorded with 1920s era music, and others were more burlesque type dancing. We walked to the end of the hall where the VIP section was located. Me, Amanda and her husband purchased the middle level VIP tickets (about half the price of the highest ticket), which gave us access to 2 glasses of champagne, a table with food and desserts, and two huge sofa beds full of pillows to lounge on when we needed a break. After we got some food, the dance party started so we wandered around and danced for hours. We went outside for a bit and walked around the Orangerie, but for June 25th, it was pretty chilly. They had a roaring fire going, but it was pretty crowded around it, so we went back inside to keep dancing. Amanda's husband had a flight to catch the next day, so he left around 3 AM. At dawn, there was going to be breakfast served, but around 5 AM or so, Amanda and I were ok with calling it a night. When we left the event, we had a pretty frustrating experience getting back to Amanda's apartment, but I'll leave the details of it out because I'm pretty sure she and I both want to forget about it and not let it taint our memories of a wonderful evening lol. All in all, I'd definitely attend this annual event again if ever I get the chance. You can tell that Versailles spares no expense when it comes to this masquerade. Definitely an experience I'll never forget, and a party I'm not sure any other will ever match. I can't believe after months of counting the days to this event, it's over and now nearly a week after.
They had these bubble machines going all over the place
So there you have it folks. A wonderful month, overall, but still overshadowed by my anticipation to be home and to see my friends and family. I'm trying not to wish my time away, but seriously, I haven't seen my family since Christmas, and none of my Lynchburg friends since September. I miss my people. On the day I return, it'll be nearly 7 months since I was in the States, and nearly 10 since driving out of Lynchburg. I'm excited to start my life in the Triangle, and would still appreciate prayers for a job. I hope you all enjoyed this post, especially since it'll be the last one I write on this side of the pond. See you in 15 days America! And happy early birthday! Wish I could be there on the 4th, one of my favorite holidays. Someone eat a hotdog and have a slice of apple pie in my honor.

À bientôt! Bisous!