C'est si bon!

Bonjour à tous! Je suis Vanessa, étudiante de 20 ans en France pour le moment. Je viens de Pékin, mais j'étudie à la fac à Chicago.

Hello! My name is Vanessa, a 20-year-old student in France for the moment. I come from Beijing, but I go to college in Chicago.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Being a Provençal lady: the quotidian, the festivals, and more

at the local carousel
Bonjour à tous!

I believe it's time to recount the Provençal traditions that I've encountered in the past week. In general, the life of a Provençal lady basically means that you gotta love summer, because it is so hot here! The sun makes everything shine an extremely bright hue, exactly in Van Gogh's paintings during his stay in Arles. (Yes, Van Gogh lived here! More about that in a separate blog post to come.)

But, despite the heat, there is plenty of things to enjoy and even celebrate! Last weekend, there was a music festival in town, and everyone came into the streets to see the bands, dance troupes, and there was even a flash mob! And then on Tuesday, I witnessed, with many Arles locals, the celebration of "Le Feu de Saint Jean" (the bonfire of Saint Jean).

Rue des Porcelets
Place du Forum
feu de Saint Jean
Before the fire, people gathered on a square to write down wishes on little pieces of colored paper distributed by women dressed in traditional costumes. The paper is for writing down wishes, which will be tied to the firewood and later be burned. It is believed that in this way, the wish will come true. So of course, I wished on a great life with my love.

my wish 
firewood with wishes attached
carousel at night
dancing after the fire
traditional Provençal costume
ritual before the fire
After the bonfire was started, everyone gathered in circles and danced a complicated dance where numerous partner changes occurred, and the choreography was simply dizzying! I was pulled into the circle by strangers, but once we joined hands, I felt like I became part of the celebration, part of the tradition. It was joyous, and I was touched to see so many people still enthusiastic about participating  in and respecting traditions.

Apart from the loud, merry festivities, the quotidian life in Provence is also enjoyable. 

local florist
"street signs" found in town 
my neighbor's babies 
puppies on the town square
Many families here take pride in their parenting (look how cute and well-behaved the little ones are!) and their pets (equally cute puppies, non?). Along the streets, one can also find an abundance of plants and flowers for the pleasure of the eye.

On Saturdays, locals also visit the famous, 2-kilometer long market where one can find almost everything! Clothes, accessories, cookeries, ethnic costumes, CDs, shoes, books, seafood, vegetables and fruits... 

This morning I went to the market with my host Maman, where we bought the weekend's supply of food for the family. The farmer's market part of the market was jostling with locals bargaining for colorful, fresh, organically grown vegetables and fruits. Under the sun, I listened to the almost playful banter between vendors and customers, and the repeated "have a good week, see you next week" after each transaction. 

Farmer's Market
vendor of fruits
filling the bottle with olive oil
buying vegetables for the weekend 
tomatoes and melons
the seafood section of the market

fresh fish
the "Bouillabaisse" that Marseille is famous for 
rotisserie at the market
This is all for now. Have a good weekend!

Vanessa :]

Thursday, June 26, 2014

France, China, America: culinary observations

Is my hat French yet

Bonjour à tous!

I've been in Arles, Provence, for exactly a week now. Even though I've only spent a few days with my host family so far, already I've learned an abundance of things about the Provençal culture, and the French lifestyle! I would love to record and comment on all of them, but if I do that, it'll seriously take days! So I'm just going to talk about one  observation here today - the cuisine.

Before coming to France, I knew that European cultures are different from those in America, but still I generally thought they are both Western cultures, so they should be pretty similar. However, after having really lived here with a host family and participating in cultural events in Arles made me realize that this is not the case at all. In many ways, especially in the food cultures, I find the French culture more similar to the Chinese ways than to those of the US! Surprising, right?

In France, people take their meals seriously. Like, two-hour-per-meal seriously.  But as I was strolling through town, I hardly saw anyone overweight! Almost all the younger people around my age, including the teenagers, are slim, and the people my parents' age are sill mostly fit! As far as I know, working out/sports is not a big thing in France, so why on Earth does everyone look so good?

The secret lies in the French cuisine. The word "breakfast" in French literally means "little lunch," and a typical French "little lunch" usually consists of a piece of bread, a cup of coffee, and maybe a glass of juice. Really little compared to the American full breakfast affairs, non? For lunch, people usually have a salad with some kind of meat or fish with bread, or some pasta. Dinner here is super late, at around 8pm or even 9pm! At my host family we eat dinner at 9pm. But we eat very light, usually just a salad like this:

And this is what a typical lunch looks like:

Or this:

I don't have a picture of breakfast, because the lighting isn't very good in the morning when I typically eat so... but if I do get a good picture, I will add it to this post.

Overall, I find that the way people eat (little breakfasts, heavier lunches, light dinners) here in France are more similar to the Chinese than to the Americans. This is not a critique of American fast food, but here in France, it is very hard to find fast food chains! In Arles, for example, there are no chain restaurants at all! Also, another thing that I remarked on is how light French dinners are, and how small the portions are in general. When I mentioned this to my host Maman and host Papa, they were surprised that portions in American restaurants are so "enormous." 

I also think that in America, I often hear a lot (sometimes too much) about how/what/when to eat. In France, one just eats! That simple. It's more or less like that in China as well, because come to think of it, the problem with the American way of eating, in my opinion, is what and how much people eat, not how. If people ate more vegetables and smaller portions, I think then it'll be a better cuisine in general.

Of course, all of the above are just my personal views. All comments are welcome!

Vanessa :]

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Musical accompaniment

For more blogposts to come! And yes, I love love love this song. It's been on replay on my laptop!

Vanessa :]

A few glimpses into the the French life

at a resort near Arles
Bonjour à tous!

Today marks the third full day I've spent in the South of France. After several flight delays and changes (plus a rail strike), I finally arrived at Arles near midnight of Thursday. Even though I've only been here three days, I already see and feel and a lot of differences between the two cultures! How do I put this simply - at my host family, my host Papa concludes it as "the French kiss each other all the time, drink coffee and wine all the time, smoke all the time." Cliché, I know, yet incredibly accurate.

downtown Arles
Since Arles is a very small town (one can circumambulate the historic part of town in one hour),  everyone seems to know each other. When I went on a grocery run with my host Maman on Saturday afternoon, we ran into some acquaintances of hers about every two minutes, and we came across my study abroad program director twice. Therefore, People stop to give each other cheek kisses (usually three times, alternating the cheek) every once in a little while. All this is truly endearing and fascinating to me - it seems to bring everyone closer when they kiss each other, casually saying, "ah, good afternoon, it's beautiful out today." It was also a bit surprising to me that everyone expected kisses from me, too, when my host Maman introduced me to them. Nonetheless, the more I do it, the more I adore this custom. It truly makes me feel like I'm starting to belong to the community.

vin rosé 
beer with mint syrup
 In French dining, instead of bread and appetizers, people have this procedure called "l'apéritif," something that could be translated into "the pre-dinner drink." Usually, before a meal (lunch/dinner), everyone sits down at the table, takes a glass of wine, and spend a variable amount of time chatting. In the summertime, rosé is a very common choice for apéritif, as shown in the picture above. My host Papa told me that it's better to hold the glass only with one's fingers instead of the whole hand, so as to not heat up the iced wine too much.

the daily coffee
Besides wine, the French also drink a lot of coffee. And by a lot I mean a lot. Typically, there's coffee at breakfast, after lunch/later in the afternoon, and after dinner. People talk about almost everything over coffee. (Or wine.) My host Papa told me that to some, coffee is really the essence of life. Good coffee, that is. Then again, it's hard to find bad coffee in France, I'm totally serious!

The French also smoke a lot. My host parents smoked when they were young (now they have quit), and when I went out with other French young people, they all smoked. I personally don't think it's a good habit to take up, but well, the culture is there nonetheless.

Above are my major observations and discoveries of the French life. There are so many more things that I want to talk about, but I can't spend all my time seated in front of my laptop! I must take time to explore, so that I will have more things to write about.

Last things: two unbearably cute pictures - one of our neighbor's dog Boulette, and one of my host brother Louis.
Boulette! <3
Louis :)

I wish you all a relaxing Sunday.

Vanessa :]