27 September 2012

When they say "you'll experience it all," they mean you'll experience it all...

Something happened yesterday that I have to write about before things completely escape me and I run the risk of typing a mediocre memory of what happened. It has to be written about before I write about anything else on this blog. It could be long, so, get a cup of tea and get comfortable.

My landlady lost her mother yesterday. I found out when I walked into the kitchen to begin making tea and saw her sitting at the dining room table with an olive-skinned, greying man I'd never seen before, crying silently. She told me what had happened and then introduced me to "Do," her husband who incidentally doesn't live with her any more. We very sadly fait la bise, said "enchanté(e)" and then my landlady apologised that it was such a sad way for us to meet for the first time. She explained she had to leave tomorrow (this morning) to go and organise her mother's affairs. Do took me upstairs to meet the neighbours who I can call if anything were to go wrong with the appartment and left me a list of phone numbers to call on the board in the kitchen. I said "Désolée, Corinne. Je vous laisserai ce soir" and went out to see a film with my friends.

The film I saw was of the same theme and calibre as what had happened. It was called Quelques heures de printemps and was about a terminally ill mother and son with a terribly strained relationship due to him having been to prison for six years, which only really gets reconciled at the end when the mother's decision to go to Switzerland to die with dignity is made. A few people I went with didn't like it, they said that there was nothing to it and the inevitable happened, but I think that was the point of it. You knew that it would happen, you just didn't know if the relationship would get any better, and that's what was painful. A lot of the feeling came from the cinematography as opposed to the dialogue; the images used, the audio which picked up every little sound of every day life. The silence really told the story. I enjoyed it, but like my friend said "I don't think enjoy is the word. I think it did what it was supposed to." And it did. I have never tried so hard to not cry at a film in all my life.

I left the cinema and it was raining. It's weird, the duality of the universe. The fact that my landlady (I'll begin calling her Corinne here, I think you'll all know who I mean) lost her mother yesterday, the fact that the film was by chance an extremely sad one, and then the rain. If you look for duality you'll find it, but yesterday evening was just too strange in how everything just matched up perfectly, but sadly. I felt like I was in a film myself.

I arrived home after the cinema and my Lebanese housemate, Dima, had made a cold Lebanese soup with Tahini and served it to Corinne, Corinne's son, Tom, Corinne's friend, Caty, and us two. The lighting was dull and Corinne was still crying, but through smiles because the people she loved were there and Dima and myself, too. It was hard to know what to say because obviously it's hard to deal with something like this in your own language, let alone a foreign one. I hardly joined in the conversation because it was too hard to follow and I didn't think I'd have much interesting to contribute anyway, because it seemed to me that it was a lot of family stories and personal jokes. I hope I didn't seem rude because I really, really am sorry for her loss.

Tom and Caty left and Corinne helped tidy things away in the kitchen with me and Dima, even though we insisted she go to bed because she had to sleep before driving all the way to the North of France this morning. She hugged us both and then just stood and held my hand for five minutes while she told us that we were really nice girls and that she was incredibly glad we'd come to sit with her tonight and that she really, really appreciated it. I held back the tears until I got to my room, and then I sat and cried for a good fifteen minutes before going to bed.

I woke up this morning to find this on the kitchen bench:

Two oranges and a pain au chocolat. The note reads:
"Carey, voici pour toi -->
Je suis désolée que tu as eu a vivre ce moment difficile avec moi mais c'est ainsi.
N'hésite pas a faire appel a mes voisins si tu as des problemes.
Je t'embrasse,


"Carey, this is for you -->
I'm sorry you've got to live through this difficult time with me, but so it goes.
Don't hesitate to call my neighbours if you have any problems.
[Literally] I kiss you,

This post is beginning to be like what Dima calls an "Egyptian film", because you just don't know if it will end any time soon. But I just have one last thing to say to sum up. Corinne lost her father, her mother-in-law and now her mother in the space of just two months. Somebody as nice and welcoming as her doesn't deserve to have so much sadness in such a short space of time. But all of last night she just kept saying "C'est comme ca" and, like in the note, "C'est ainsi" which I guess is a good attitude to have. That's life, is pretty much what she's saying. She is one of the most selfless, caring people I have ever met in my life and, although I've only known her a month, I can say that she's already like family to me. And, obviously, it's hard to see your family be so upset. Mais, c'est ainsi.

25 September 2012

Au revoir, England...

I was going to write about "my first day at French university" (by Carey, aged, 21) but I thought I'd leave that until I've been to one each of the modules I've chosen. I'll also list these when I've decided on a final timetable.

Instead, I thought I'd write about a very important part of the going abroad process; saying goodbye. It was important to me because I've never lived abroad and I've never been outside of Newcastle for longer than two weeks and if I was, I was always with people that are close to me. I'm not as exotic as some of the people I've met here whose parents have moved around a lot and have taken them travelling and who already have seven languages under their belts because of this; I'm a boring, old plain Jane when it comes to having been places and seen things (and that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the very few disadvantages of coming from the North-East of England). So, evidently because of this, I've never had to really say a goodbye of this calibre to anybody.

The majority of this post will come from my personal, written journal so please appreciate that it's a tad harder for me to publish this type of post, for obvious reasons.

So, where do I begin? Coming to France is pretty much having to pick your English life up and drop it right in the middle of Provence, without all the home comforts; just the essentials. You have so much to think about from the time you start applying for universities to the time you have to make that miles-long checklist to make sure you'll have everything you need in your new home (and that's without mentioning the various hiccoughs along the way - e.g. British Council deciding last minute to change the format of forms, Student Finance not being able to get their heads around the fact that you will be abroad and will actually need more money to survive, there are dozens). Your head is swimming with phone numbers, forms, addresses, questions such as what do I do now? What do I need to do next? Your to-do list just never ends, and this endures for six or seven stressful, very nearly sleepless months.

Then, in the final two weeks before you leave, it hits you; you actually have to say goodbye to people. You never even gave this a second thought before now because, frankly, you didn't have time! You have a new list to work your way through; the Goodbye List. You only have two weeks to fit in everybody you love, all your friends, your family and your boyfriend of (almost) four years. How is this in any way possible?!

You book meals, have some drinks with friends, have leaving parties thrown by your families. Laughs are had and tears are cried. The List gets smaller and smaller each time you go to one of these events, yet each time you say goodbye it doesn't get any easier. This is because each person you know and love is different, and they each have different qualities that you'll miss. You'll miss the funny one, the sarcastic one, the caring one, and you wonder whether the people where you're going will even have the same qualities as those you're leaving behind.

And through saying goodbye to all of these people, a realisation hits you. You've forged who you are over years of spending time with these people, how can you just say goodbye to that? I once read somewhere that you're an average of the five people you spend the most time with. So what if those people aren't going where you're going? What will you be, then? Who will you be? The answer is: you just don't know. You have to take the leap and find out. You have to peel back all the layers of of family, friends and every place you've ever been with them, everything you've ever done with them and find out who you are without them. It's a scary thought, isn't it? But an exciting one, if you're somebody like me who has never had an opportunity like this.

I've been here just under a month now and I'm still not entirely sure who I am without all of these people surrounding me. Maybe I have to wait a little bit longer to see if I change. Maybe I have to wait until I'm back home in England for good with all of my friends and family to compare myself to to see if I have changed. Maybe I won't change at all. It's a question I'll have to answer at the end, when all's said and done. For now, I'll carry on eating tonnes of macaroons and drinking gallons of cheap wine and sitting in 28 degree sunshine and hopefully that will help me figure out my new self.

23 September 2012

Je suis en France!

This post is a tad late (try 3 weeks or so) BUT I AM FINALLY HERE. This blog seems a little inconsistent considering the last thing I posted about was finding logement and organising my finances as well as looking at flights and travel insurance. I think it's pretty obvious that I have since sorted those things out, so a brief overview of those things will follow...

Book them in advance. I can not stress this enough, I mean it. A one-way flight with one change at Gatwick airport left my bank account £145 lighter because I booked it so late (about a month before I was due to leave bonny ol' England). As soon as you have applied for your host university/teaching assistantship/work placement book your flights. You can sort accommodation out between the time you book them and the time that you leave (and even when you arrive in your host country.)

I travelled with British Airways, who were fantastically on time and provided a warm (albeit shoddy) breakfast of snotty eggs and super salty bacon, and miles and miles and miles (about 2ft) of that all important legroom. I would definitely fly with them again for comfort, but for finance purposes, would not.

I ended up going with Endsleigh's fully comp study abroad package. Once I registered my laptop/phone/ipod  with my cover it came to about £220, which was another blow to the bank account but a friend once told me "it's better to have it and not need it, than to not have it and need it." Sound advice. I looked into other travel insurance packages, but since this one is specifically tailored for studying abroad, I thought I might as well just go for it.

Coming to France seems to have been quite a culture shock for me, and yet when I think about it, it hasn't. I think what has had most of an effect on me is the fact that I am 1,000 miles away from my family, friends and of course my boyfriend and that it is still 28 degrees during midday at the end of September. Nonetheless, here is a list of things which have surprised or shocked me:

  • If you speak in French and people realise you're English, they will speak to you in English. Somebody told me (just today, actually) to keep being persistent, which is more sound advice.
  • Tea-time (as in, dinner time) isn't until about 8 or 9pm usually. This differs greatly to my usual 5 or 6pm meal time.
  • EVERYBODY says bonjour or bonsoir all the time, even strangers in the street. This is quite a nice one, but still one to get used to.
  • Faire la bise  - I am still not used to this. Which cheek do you do first? How many? Who do you do it do? Do you just air kiss or actually leave a massive sloppy smacker on their cheek? 
  • The cost of living (because I'm in Aix-en-Provence - aka petit Paris) is sky high compared to that in Newcastle (eg. 5€ for a can of dry shampoo, 12€ average for one course in a restaurant), but...
  • BUS TRAVEL IS THE CHEAPEST THING EVER. 1€ to use as many buses as you like within an hour. 24€ a month (compared to £60 at home!) for a bus pass to use anywhere on Aix en Bus lines (only 100€ if you're staying the full year). 5€ for a Cartreize card to travel around Provence and only 2€ a trip with this card. All amazing!
  • The French are massive bloody bureaucrats, if I haven't already mentioned it on this blog before. Everything needs signed, dated, referenced with a place and, most importantly, stamped. If it doesn't have a stamp, it ain't official my friend.
  • Waiters and bus drivers are grumpy, but I guess that's because everybody hates their job to an extent. 
  • The French drive like maniacs; it seems there is no system to traffic at rush hour. If there's a gap, you squeeze through the damn thing.
  • Speaking of roads, if you come from England; REMEMBER, PEOPLE DRIVE ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE HERE. Try not to get yourself run over.
I think that just about covers it for now. I do have a few specific posts to make about certain events which have come about since I arrived here, but that'll have to wait for another day (maybe tomorrow, I don't know). My university course actually starts tomorrow, so I will be able to update about that, too.

In the meantime, here are some (slightly awful) pictures to sum up what I have been doing since I arrived in the sunny South of France:

View from my kitchen window (say whuuuut).


Visited windy Marseille.

Painted a flag on my face and got drunk.

Macaroons - best thing ever.

Gareth + macaroon.
Went, but never made it to, a French clichés party.

Sunny Marseille.

Beautiful Cassis.

That's all folks.

à bientôt!//¡hasta luego!
Carey xo