This past weekend was spent with about half of the CIEE kids on a group trip to Normandy. The weekend was amazingly beautiful--not a drop of rain or even threating clouds!! The sun was, however, a bit paradoxical. Along with the gorgeous weather came the heavy content of our trip: World War II. Normandy, although famous for rain, The Umbrellas of Charbourg, and camembert cheese, also has a coastline riddled with thousands upon thousands of white crosses. These white crosses are a symbol of the horrors of D-Day (or Jour J in French) when tens of thousands of young men from the US, Canada, the UK, France, and many other countries died to free France and other countries under the oppression of Nazi Germany. Because of this, our trip was indeed a bit of a paradox.
The trip started with a meeting time of 8:00 sharp at Villejean (aka: the major campus of Rennes 2). We sleepy-eyed university students piled onto the bus with backpacks stuffed for the weekend (all a bit underdressed for the morning because we knew that by early afternoon, long sleeves and coats would be much too hot). Many slept on the way to our first destination, although I and my seat-mate preferred to listen to my Zen and chat. When we unloaded in Caen at the Memorial, a museum dedicated to the time between the wars and WWII itself, we were more awake, although still cold because it was windy and only 10:30. The museum was quite honestly very well put together, although I didn't care much for the first half. Photographs, timelines, and lots of written history don't interest me nearly as much as actual artifacts and written letters. After wandering through the exhibit, we ate lunch and then hung out in the gift shop until it was time to go on.
The second half of the day was spent in Bayeux. Here, we took a breather from the horrors of World War to view yet another artifact of war: The Bayeux Tapestry. This amazing tapestry is the longest and best preserved in existence and tells the story of how William the Basterd became William the Conqueror. Interesting enough, the English seem to care much more about this artifact than the French. I say this because Bujack became quite passionate about the subject when we learned of 1066 in British Studies, whereas our briefing for this part of the trip consisted of "This is the longest tapestry in the world." In any case, the tapestry truly was spectacular, although I had imagined it to be longer. The colors were amazingly bright for being over 9,000 years old, and I'm, quite frankly, amazed that it hasn't fallen apart.
After viewing the tapestry, we headed over to our hostel for a rather unsatisfying dinner. So, after having eaten, we headed out into the town expecting to find some bar that was open and had some decent food. Unfortunately Bayeux, although a charming town, is a lot like Grantham--dead. Unless you know exactly where to go. Therefore, we ended up at one of the few places open--a restaurant where we split a pizza and had a glass of kir. Then, we proceeded to get lost on our way back to the hostel. Don't worry; we found it before we started crying!
Sunday was another early morning. We left Bayeux at 8:30 and headed north to the coast. Here, we disembarked at one of the plagues de debarquement: Omaha Beach. First, we visited the American Cemetery when the elegant grounds house thousands of crosses standing out starkly against the too-green lawns. We didn't spend too much time passing through the rows and rows of graves, and instead broke the heavy atmosphere by heading down to the beach. Although we were smiling and having a good time, and there were even others beach surfing, it was strange to be standing on beach where so many young men gave up their lives. It was a rather eerie feeling to be walking down the beach and think that only 60 years ago, men were running up those same beaches to the background of machine guns, bombs, and shells. And that many didn't make it up that long stretch of sand and scrubby coastline. So, although the day was sunny and the beach and grass were brilliant in the sun, what was playing in the back of my head was the soundless, black and white images of WWII photage seen in history class after history class.
From Omaha Beach, we headed a little ways down the coast to Point du Hoc, where more men lost their lives scrambling up the steep cliffs by means of ladders and ropes. Here, the ground is still riddled with massive holes from the bombs dropped on the German bunkers on the top of the cliffs. Huge chunks of concrete, iron rods, and barbed wire marring the landscape. After seeing the remaining damage of the war, we headed back home to Rennes, all a little heavy hearted.
Monday mornings I get to sleep in until 9:00. Then, I get up, check my e-mail and get dressed at my leisure until around 9:30 when I take my bad downstairs and have breakfast. Breakfast in France is simple: bread. And fruit on occasion. For me, I usually have a chunk of bread with jam, and sometimes some honey. Usually, my host mom has a bowl of coffee. Yes, I said bowl. If my host sister or I don't want any, she'll drink the whole pot. After my breakfast, I grab my sack and head out the door to catch bus #30 to Villejean Universite (aka Rennes 2). There's a bus stop right by the apartment, so I don't have to walk too far (which is good when I feel like going out in the evening). The bus ride is about 20 minutes because it's one of the buses that goes from the east side of town around to the west side via circling around the north end. The ride is actually fairly interesting because you go through a bunch of different neighborhoods, although I still have the hardest time figuring out which neighborhoods are better than others. The French plan their cities in circles, so those living in the inner most circle (centre ville) are generally better off than those living in the outer rings. But it can still be hard to distinguish, especially to someone from the US who is used to judging neighborhoods based purely on appearances.
Well, this morning I went to mass at Saint Melaine, which is right at the front of Parc Thabor, a huge sculpted park in the center of Rennes. The church is very nice, though certainly not the most gorgeous church I've been in. It's also very traditional, and at this particular mass they were welcoming a new priest so the service took twice as long as usual (in other words, two hours instead of one; and completely in French, of course). Needless to say, by the end my brain was rather tired. I understood a lot of what was going on, but I felt a bit like a mute because I couldn't say most of the prayers, even the Our Father, because I quite frankly don't know them in French. I think next week I'll bring a sheet with the mass parts written out for myself.
I got back home just in time for lunch. Then, at 4:00 we went to the cinema with the sister and mother of my host mother (all of her family lives in Rennes). The film we saw was called "Non, ma fille," and I barely got the jist of the plot line. It was a very complex movie and had a lot of French psychology in it, which is why I didn't really understand it. Although, I'm sure it would have been a good movie if I'd been able to understand more. Or even if there had been French subtitles.
After the film, we went up to my host mother's mother's apartment, which is really very close to the theater in Colombia (a section of town where the most shopping, nightlife, and the major library are located). Her apartment is very nice and has a great view of that part of the city. We had an aperatif of sorts--just nuts, banana chips, and white wine. Then, we headed home, stopping by a bakery on the way to pick up bread for the evening and tomorrow morning. Sunday, my host mom doesn't fix dinner, so we eat leftovers or make a sandwich. All the other meals she cooks, though. She also had some blackberry jam going on the stove all day.
After dinner, I went upstairs to do homework and listen with relief to some American music. After a full day of speaking, hearing, and even thinking in French, I'm totally ready for some English immersion!
Well, I didn't get to bed until close to midnight because I'd gone out (again) Friday night. We ate gallettes and crepes at Creperie Sainte Anne at Place Sainte Anne, and then hit a couple of bars before some of us headed home and others stayed out later (some much later; in fact one got scolded this morning because they ended up not going home and didn't notify their host family, so the host family called Staci...).
So, this morning I slept in until about 10:30. My lunch was, guess what? More gallettes!! Gallettes are basically crepes (did you know that crepes actually originated in Brittany?). Only you use a different kind of flour and they're purely savory. Then, I headed into town for a guided tour of central Rennes. We heard all about the history of the city; how it started out as a Gallo town, then became a Gallo-Roman city, and then a Breton city, and even how it was "joined" with France. And this was all learned while looking at the buildings around town. A very interesting tour, all in all.
Afterwards, we did the French thing and stopped at a patisserie and then at a small bar for some cafe and chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) with Brice and his girlfriend. Yes, I said bar. During the day, it's more of a cafe without food. It was a good time, talking about n'importe quoi (anything), en français, bien sûr!
Then, I went back to my house. We ate dinner around 7:00 (which is early; we usually eat closer to 8:30) and then afterwards watched "Et Demain, Paula," a French film about a homeless woman. I didn't get the whole story because the film was on the TV and therefore had no subtitles, but Paula, the homeless woman, used to be a lawyer and then her kids died and there was some sort of drama around that that I didn't quite understand, but it caused her to go out on the streets. I can't really explain it very well, but it is a good movie, and I understood enough while I was watching it to cry, as usual (seriously. I cry in kids' movies).
And after the movie, I headed up stairs to go to bed early so I could wake-up early Sunday morning for church
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