It's finally here! The halfway point in our semester, marked by a few days off for vacation. But as with most good things, the reward of sleeping in this morning didn't come without the toil of studying for mid-terms (blitz-krieg style) and cranking out French compositions.
In addition, my host mom's father and stepmother have come to visit this week - French schools have a week off for All Saint's Day. Thus, everything takes a little longer: every time I'd arrive home I'd get pulled into an hour-long conversation, and dinner becomes more of a traditional affair with more courses and more intense conversation! At least I get to practice my French in explaining that not all Americans eat at McDonald's and giving geography lessons about the Great Lakes (with my hand as a visual aid, of course).
Tonight I'm flying to Rome with Heidi and Jenny, another IES friend, and yet we've barely planned our trip, because we were all hit by the mid-term wave. Thankfully, our 2-hour train trip to Paris and our flight should give us enough time to look thoroughly at the various travel books we've amassed from our host families and the IES library. We'll also be meeting up with Katie Crombie, an Alma friend who's studying abroad in Rome. Besides my gratitude in having a safe, free bed to sleep in, it will be a blessing to spend our time with a good friend who's already familiar with the city - especially as we only have 3 days to explore it! It will undoubtedly be a little alarming switching to a different culture, and for the first time, one with a language that I won't know - though Italian shares Latin roots with French, so it won't be totally new.
I was also rather occupied at the end of last week because I went to the Phoenix concert on Thursday night, and then visited the Isle of Nantes on Friday afternoon with a large group from IES.
The concert was naturally fantastic, especially because all the French teenagers were really into the music. They were dancing and singing along - which is incredibly rare for the French - with accents at all. For the inevitable encore, the concert hall was filled with cheers of "PHAY-NEEX!" Thea and I even squeezed our way right up to the front, though admittedly it takes a certain type of concert-goer to appreciate the energy sardine-packed into a sweaty crowd, all swaying to the beat in unison.
Then on Friday we visited Nantes' unique attraction, the Isle of Machines. Inspired by the science-fiction novelist Jules Verne (born in Nantes and wrote books such as Journey to the Center of the Earth), a few years ago some creative engineer/businessmen came up with the idea to create a sort of theme park with animal "machines." Most of them are motorized sea creatures aided by a few passengers to move the fins, eyes, and mouth. There's also an elephant that walks around outside! They have plans to make the island an even bigger attraction by 2016, with the construction of more machines, a carousel-structure for them all, and a huge tree with lookout branches and cafés.
It's really exciting to see how Nantes is developing. I won't be surprised if it's a lot more prominent in a decade or so!
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