Yeah I couldn’t come up with a good title for this post. Maybe I’ll think of something more creative later.

Hmmm so… where did I leave off??

Last Saturday I went to Albi and the French Manolo, aka Eric Crema accompanied us. We took the train to get there and I was kind of confused by the train’s size. It was only two compartments long and was very short. Apparently we had “reserved” seats but there was another large group of all these senior citizens so not everyone got to sit on the way there.

Albi is located 50 miles northeast of Toulouse situated right along the Tarn river. It was obviously ruled by the Romans back when France was Gaul (I’ve sort of become immune to all the Roman ruins I’ve seen thanks to Spain… honestly it just gets really boring after awhile and one of the reasons why I am in no hurry to go to Rome) and there’s some kind of bloody history due to persecution of Cathars and I’m not really sure who the Cathars were. Anyway the Catholic Church really hated them and persecuted a lot that followed the religion. If any of you want to read a good story set in the Languedoc region of France, I suggest you read the book Labyrinth. I can’t remember the author’s name but I know she’s English. It’s kind of like the Davinci Code but a LOT better and the main character is a woman, not some silly male college professor waxing poetic about symbols and obscure Holy Grail legends.

Anyways Albi is a cute little town and the buildings look a lot like Toulouse because most of them are built out of red brick. And only because I’m really tired and don’t know the history of the town very well, the following is completely copied and pasted from Wikipedia:

Among the monuments of the town is the Sainte Cécile cathedral. This monument is a masterpiece of the Southern Gothic style. It is characterized by a strong contrast between its austere, defensive exterior and its sumptuous interior decoration. Built as a statement of the Christian faith after the upheavals of the Cathar heresy , this gigantic brick structure was embellished over the centuries: the Dominique de Florence Doorway, the 78 m high bell tower the Baldaquin over the entrance (1515–1540). The rood screen is a veritable filigree work in stone in the Flamboyant Gothic style. It is decorated with a magnificent group of polychrome statuary carved by artists from the Burgundian workshops of Cluny and comprising over 200 statues which have retained their original colours.

Older than the Palais des Papes in Avignon, the Palais de la Berbie, formerly the Bishops’ Palace of Albi, now the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, is one of the oldest and best-preserved castles in France. This imposing fortress was completed at the end of the 13th century. Its name comes from the Occitan word Bisbia, meaning Bishops’ Palace.

The Old Bridge (Pont Vieux) is still in use today after almost a millennium of existence. Originally built in stone (in 1035), then clad with brick, it rests on 8 arches and is 151m long. In the 14th century, it was fortified, reinforced with a drawbridge and houses were built on the piers. (end of Wikipedia text)

M. Crema walked us through the streets explaining various sights. We obviously visited the cathedral Sainte-Cecile. It is really, really huge. It’s definitely one of the most gigantic and impressive cathedrals I’ve visited, and I usually hate visiting cathedrals. The inside of this cathedral is COVERED with decorations, no blank space on the walls is left untouched, including the ceiling. I didn’t bother taking many pictures of the inside because my camera kept blurring and I was having difficulty finding the right settings. It’s pretty unbelievable to experience in person. If you ever happen to find yourself in Albi, hit up the cathedral! This is one you definitely don’t want to miss! (That and the cathedral in Sevilla) We didn’t get to visit the back part of the cathedral because they were closing up for lunch and we did have the chance to go back later and see it. However even though the cathedral was beautiful, I honestly didn’t feel the need to go back there again.

We had some free time for lunch and then we went to visit the Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec museum (who was from Albi), housed in the old Bishops’ Palace of Albi. Don’t know who Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was? This should enlighten you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_de_Toulouse_Lautrec (yes I realize I’m relying a lot on Wikipedia for this entry… but honestly I have more to write about then just Albi) Most of you have probably seen his famous poster advertising for Moulin Rouge. A lot of artists ended up imitating his gaudy, cartoony style. And he’s actually has a very curious looking appearance. And he always wore a top hat out in public due to some cranial deformity. I liked the museum and the fact that we didn’t spend that much time there.

Behind the museum, there were these Versailles looking gardens (same guy who designed the Versailles gardens designed these ones) and there was a spectacular view of the Tarn and of Albi on the opposite side of the river along with the 12568th Pont Neuf that exists in France (seriously what an unoriginal name for a bridge: the New Bridge?? Brooklyn Bridge sounds so much cooler!). It was really a beautiful view, especially as the sky was darkening against the pink looking buildings, I definitely took a lot of pictures!

And then we took the train back to Toulouse and I’m sure some people ended up going out that night but I was soooo tired so I went home and slept! But I really liked Albi, especially the chocolate I bought there as an end of the day treat to myself. It’s a typical French looking town with narrow claustrophobic feeling streets and buildings that are close together.

I’ve visited Le Mirail, one of the universities in Toulouse that Dickinson students are allowed to take classes at. So I’m not sure if all university campuses in French are so ugly. I’ve only ever seen the one in Mt St Aignan where my own mother took classes and maybe a few in passing. Whoever told the French building rectangular blocks of concrete cement was a good idea???? I suppose it was a cheap way to build needed classroom space but the look is sooooo outdated. I will NEVER take the Dickinson academic buildings for granted either, despite the fact the stairs in Bosler (the language deparment) kill me every time I go up then. Oh Old West, Denny, Stern, Bosler, Kauffmann, and Weiss… how I miss all those buildings! Not to mention our brand new science building I will probably never set foot in again haha. In fact I will go ahead and say that physically Dickinson looks like an Ivy League campus. If it weren’t for surrounding Carlisle hahahaha (ok yeah Carlisle has gotten better over the years but we still get emails at least twice a semester announcing some student got mugged or stabbed while walking home to campus… how reassuring)

ANYWAYS Le Mirail is a shit hole and no I will not watch my language. The academic sector is really confusing with all these outdoor walkways that ARE covered so I suppose that comes in handy when it rains (and it’s rained here a LOT since I’ve arrived, it almost feels like I never left Carlisle this winter) According to our really nice tour guide, a student of Le Mirail, he explained it gets cold in the classrooms when it’s cold out, hot when it’s hot out. And sometimes it even rains in the clasrooms… hurray. I mean ok I sort of knew I was going to be studying in a crappy looking place, I had been warned, I had seen pictures, I even knew thanks to my mom’s own experience. Well hopefully I only have to take 2 classes there since I’m counting on getting an internship.

Indeed! This brings me to my next topic: I might an internship in Toulouse! Usually only reserved for year students, I had received confusing information over whether I could actually do one. After some thought and discussion with the program directors, I have decided I want to work at this publishing company called Depeche Mag and specifically for their magazine In Toulouse. It’s a bilingual French-English magazine left around the Toulouse airport and Toulouse tourist offices and classy hotels. The articles deal mostly about Toulouse and some sight seeing and stuff to do in the region. I have yet to submit my resume (thank you to Papa one million times over) and projet de stage letter for review and I’m really hoping I get the internship! Everybody at the Dickinson Center says the internship looks REALLY good on an American resume. I possibly want to intern at a childrens’ publishing company back in NY so I’m hoping I get the internship here so I can claim to have some experience. I’ll keep you all updated on that.

So let’s see, Albi, fugly Mirail, internship… classes??? The classes at the Dickinson Center have started and so far I’m only taking one. It’s a class with a super long name but basically it deals with France-Far East (specifically China) relations. The professor for this class seems really nice and passionate about his subject and for homework we had to go out and boy Le Lotus Bleu, a Tintin comic book. I was absolutely thrilled, having grown up with Tintin. Papa used to read them outloud to me and Sandrine so for us Tintin= childhood bedtime reading. And Papa used to make it a lot of fun by imitating the different characters’ voices. I think Mom even used to read them too to us. And as you all know, Milou, our dog, was named for Tintin’s Milou.

Classes at Le Mirail start next week so hopefully I find the right class and don’t mess up the times. We spent 2 days at Le Mirail going from department to deparment figuring out the times of the classes listed (because apparently they still do course enrollment in person and not online like at Dickinson). Also we were supposed to formally enroll in the classes we had chosen by going in person to the different offices but there were too many people and the secretary was taking forever. So our tour guide told us to just show up on the day of the class and explain we were international students. Hopefully the profs don’t kick us out…
However, to be honest, I expected everything to be difficult and complicated and confusing. I know my family hates me saying it but it’s true: the French like to do things complicated.
I might take a yoga class at the university because apparently it’s free but that all depends on my final schedule which I still haven’t figured out.

Before everybody thinks I’m just complaining (proof I’m French since the French love to complain about well… everything) I will sing the praises of French dogs and their owners:

So despite all the dog poop (that I’ve already stepped in), I have noticed one thing: Toulousan dogs are so well behaved! Honestly! They make Milou look like some kind of creature out of that book Where The Wild Things Are! I have lost count of how many dogs I have seen walking along with their owners unleashed. And the thing is: they follow their owners! While most dogs don’t stick right behind their owners, they always stay in their general area and will stop before crossing streets and all that jazz. Is there some kind of magic brainwashing these dog owners do? How can I make Milou not run after every animal he sees (including other dogs)? Well anyways proof that the French love their dogs so much they don’t see the need to restrain them with leashes. I think I may well buy a real French bichon frise.

In general, Toulousains seeem to be a whole lot friendlier than their Northern counterparts and a lot more relaxed, if the rampant piles of dog poop are any indication. And I absolutely love the accent. I notice a lot of similarities between the French southern accent and the French Canadian accent (which the French love to make fun of, well I suppose it’s like Americans and Brits making fun of each others’ accents and vocabulary). I also noticed after the differences were pointed out between northern accents and southern accents that I definitely copy the northern accent inflections thanks to imitating Papa after all these years. I’m a Northern girl through and through on both sides of the family it seems!

All in all, I think I’m feeling more settled here. I was very homesick the first week after having been with my family for 2 weeks, it was a lot harder adjusting than it was in Malaga. I felt like I was hiding from my host family all the time. However I think things are getting better. My host mother is a genuinely nice person, however she’s a working mom with 3 boys to chase after so I guess the change of pace here sort of unsettled me. I was used to Paqui (my Spanish host mother) and her constant presence in the house which I grew accustomed to and I guess it comforted me knowing she was always around in case something happened. I miss her terribly and would love to return to Malaga before I head home this spring (if I do go home? It’s up in the air as to when I actually return to the US since I don’t need to leave the country right away since I’m a citizen… but I need to sometime before end of August!) .

And my host brothers are all nice. The youngest one reminds me of Jaime, Paqui’s youngest and mysterious son who never said much. In fact the mystery of Jaime still consumes me to this day and what the heck he actually did for a living since he seemed to spend a lot of time in the house sleeping or watching tv in his room… and going out at night on his scooter. The girl living at Paqui’s house this semester, who is a Theta sister of mine, also seems as confused as I am by Jaime’s existence. If you would like to read her (very funny) musings, go here: http://anotherhennickinspain.blogspot.com

Umm what else… I go out a lot for dinner since I am only guaranteed 5 meals a week as opposed to Spain’s 3 meals a day at home every day. I usually get a sandwich from a bakery for lunch.
Tonight I went to go see the movie Et Apres, an American-French production based on a French book that I sort of read and that my mom read. I’ll tell you all about it Mom when we Skype!

Oh and I saw a very boring production of this play called Le Cid on Tuesday… I really did have my eyes closed for the entire first act. Our program director didn’t like the interpretation either so I don’t feel too bad bashing it. I’m wary of signing up for the play showing next month but I don’t pay anything so maybe I will…

And oh DUH I watched the inauguration live all the way from France!!!!! Stupid French network DUBBED Obama’s speech and talked over him and did a horrible job at translating. Note to French networks: do not try to dub Obama! Use subtitles! At least they didn’t dub him during his actual swearing in which I couldn’t help but smile when Obama flubbed a line and his wife looked like she was trying not to crack up as she held the Bible he had his hand on (same Bible Lincoln used when he was sworn into office). Apparently only the Fox News network back in the US covered Bush’s return to Texas in that military looking plane he and Laura departed in. Of course that doesn’t surprise me, it’s Fox News! And how cute are the Obamas??? They are definitely the most affectionate presidential couple I’ve ever seen! You can so tell they are in love, I watched their first dance as presidential couple while Beyonce did her diva thing singing At Last at the first inauguration ball they attended. Soooo cute! And their daughters are going to be sooo gorgeous! Squeeeee!

Soooo that’s basically it for now. If I forgot something, I’ll add it in the next post. I’ m visiting Carcassonne tomorrow and it’s not organized by Dickinson, it’s just me and a bunch of 2nd semester students going. So I’m looking forward to that and to blogging about it!

Hope all of you are well and that it’s less rainy wherever you are!

Amelie