Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sophie and Marie

If my French has improved while I've been here, it is not because I have been attending the bi-weekly French classes at the Université d'Albi with our talented and committed bunch of students on this Study Abroad program.  No, if it has improved, it is owing to the daily conversations I've had with Marie & Sophie ~ two wonderful staff members at SFU France who have shown me much kindness, warmth and hospitality over the past three months.  After being here only a few weeks, Sophie gave me a little present ~ J.R.R. Tolkien's "Smith of Wootton Major", with English & French translations ~ to help improve my vocabulary, and ease me into French again (after 20 years of not studying or speaking it).  Marie ~ who I see every morning ~ has never failed to seek me out in my priory room to have a conversation with me. Lately, our chats have been about topics such as racism, poverty, French politics, and French Canada (Marie has an aunt who lives in Québec City).  I am so grateful for the kindness that Sophie and Marie have shown me during my stay in Ambialet.  I hope that they don't mind me including a few photos here: 

~ Marie (chatting with me in my room) ~ 

~ Sophie (with a basket of freshly-picked holly for Thxgiving) ~

Saturday, November 27, 2010

First Snowfall

Last weekend, while all the others went on a day trip to Lourdes, I stayed behind with JZ (my best friend here) and we enjoyed the first snow fall together!  After a nice, long walk -- it was really pretty magical on the mount -- we decided to build a little snowman together.  JZ constructed the body while I finished the head.  Here is what we created together:


Thanksgiving in France

We are all so far away from home ~ missing our family and friends ~ me included!  I am the lone Canadian, you see. That brings a special kind of isolation.  My family is so very far away.  God, I miss Canada!  God, I miss my family!  How many times have I played 'Hymns of the 49th Parallel'?  ...But on one special night here in Ambialet, when we all ~ Americans, French, and myself, the lone Canuck ~ came together to share and celebrate a Thanksgiving feast, I was able to put aside, at least temporarily, this deep longing in my heart to see my loved ones.  I'll share with you some of the photos I took of our very special Thanksgiving celebration held at Le Prieuré.  Not pictured here is Tim Perkins ~ our first toast went to him.  

~ Shane, Peter, and sweet little Daniel ~
~ Kora-Lee (who's coming to Loretto next semester!) and Ed ~

~ Deb, Peter and Margaret ~

~ Melanie, Kerstin & their Enviro-friendly Tree ~

Left to Right: Sophie, Eric, Becca, John, Melanie, Kerstin, Deb & Mark
Gerry (seated) & Olga (far right) & their son Daniel

It seems fitting to include one famous 'Hymn of the 49th Parallel' here... Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", sung by the incredible k.d. lang. I think of my parents whenever I listen to it, because my mother loves Cohen, while my father loves the 'big-boned gal from southern Alberta.'  ;-)


Thursday, November 25, 2010

History in Ambialet

For their year-end project, students have decided to a do a cultural history study, focusing on the traditions, cuisine, and local history of Ambialet.  Some of them (Becca, Melanie, Kerstin & Ed) chose to conduct interviews; they prepared several questions in French ahead of time. The others (Lauren, Shane & Gabe) decided to gather information on the history of Ambialet using written texts (see below).  We are so thankful to Mamie and Christiane, who generously shared their extensive knowledge of Ambialet with us, with great patience and good humour, and also to our wonderful hosts and translators, Margaret and Peter, who arranged more than one of these meetings for us!    

Left to right: Becca, Melanie, Mamie, Christiane, Kerstin, & Ed.

Pictured in the center are Margaret and Peter
The texts that Gabe, Lauren & Shane will use for this project.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


My fellow travelers on the France study abroad program (as well as those who came before us) will know why I have posted this picture.  It will mean something to them.  For those of you who are in the dark, you will have to come to Ambialet! ;-)

p.s. My favourite:  "Domaine la Croix des Marchands," 2005.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Visit to Omaha Beach around Armistice Day

Let us remember all the fallen.

Lunch at the Château de Goulaine

View of the gardens from the Château.
Heraldic emblem of the House of Goulaine
(Red and blue signify the union of English & French noble lineages).
René de Goulaine founded the earliest European colony in Florida (1500s)
His accomplishment was not recognized at the time because he was a Calvinist.

One of several beautiful tapestries in the Château.

Mark inspecting the wine (in medieval cellar of château).

Right:  Gerry talking with Prof. John Tolan, our distinguished guest from the Université de Nantes
(who later shared with us his fascinating work on "S. Francis and the Sultan")

Kerstin and Shane at reception.

The gang before we sat down for lunch
(not pictured: our gracious hostess, the Marquisse de Goulaine, and our special guest, Prof. John Tolan)

A Brothel-Bar in Nantes

After our visit to Omaha beach in Normandy, we (Mark, again) drove several hours south to Nantes, where we were supposed to meet up with the other two cars at an obscure, little hotel somewhere on the Île de Nantes.  Well, we had no road map of the city, nor a GPS, and were given only vague directions (“go as far as you can, then turn right… find a bridge… turn right at a rotary highway…”).  Needless to say, we got lost quickly.  We must have circled back over that bridge three or four times, before Jen, in a flash of brilliance, suggested that we stop at a bus shelter to view the city map posted there.  We did, and, having oriented ourselves, found our way to the hotel quickly.  Now the hotel was not ****, or even **…  But it was comfortable, and family-run.  After checking in, we walked a block up the street to a Middle Eastern food restaurant, run by a very hospitable family from Armenia.  I had a Heineken with my dinner, which turned out to be a very good decision, because our plan to enjoy a brew at a bar later on never happened!     

More to come! 

Le Mont Saint Michel

After our holidays, we met up again in Paris, and drove several hours north to the coast of Normandy.  Oh what stunning countryside!  I kept thinking to myself that, if I win the lottery, I will buy an old farm house here, renovate it, and settle there for the rest of my life.  While I was imagining this, and as we (Mark, Debbie & Jen) were driving through picturesque little coastal villages, suddenly there appeared, like a mirage in the distance, a singular mountain in the water, with a church sitting prominently on top of it, as if it was a natural outgrowth of that rock.  The image was completely out of place, not in keeping with the picturesque farmland, as if it was some vestige left by intergalactic visitors.  Much to my surprise, we would spend the night there, on that rocky isle.  Although I had seen postcards of Le Mont Saint Michel, it was so much more impressive to stand before it in person. Once surrounded by water on all sides, it is now reachable by car thanks to a man-made causeway:

Several centuries ago, I suppose one had to ride a horse into the water to get to it.  In the Early Middle Ages, all that was there was a huge granite rock that jutted out from the sea.  At that time, it was apparently inhabited by hermits, about which we know next to nothing.  According to legend, in the eighth century, the Bishop of Avranches (a nearby town that lies to the southeast) was visited in a dream by the Archangel Michael, who told him to "build a church upon the rock."  Presumably, he sought a means of enhancing the stature of his diocese by building a pilgrimage church.  The initial foundation was made possible by slave labour.  Prisoners were used to quarry granite on the mainland, and haul large slabs of it up via wheel & pulley to the top of the mountain. The bishop did not live to see the completion of the church. It would take another five centuries before it was finally done:

View of abbey from the causeway.  Gothic spire with Archangel Michael.

A Benedictine community of monks became established on the rock.  They had very close ties with the Dukes of Normandy, who must have largely financed the construction of the abbey and church.  When the Normans invaded England in 1077 (everyone remembers this date!), the monks of Mont Saint Michel supported their efforts.  In return, William the Conqueror gave them a large parcel of land on the coast of England, in Cornwall, where they built an abbey on a rocky island similar to their own. It is now called "Saint Michael's Mount."

Mont Saint Michel was later fortified with defensive
walls and towers in the fourteenth & fifteenth centuries.  It was one of the few places in France which the English could not conquer during the Hundred Year's War.  When you're there, it's plain to see why the English could not take the mount ... even if they had managed to cross the water and arrive at its base safely, what awaited them was an incredibly steep climb up to the top ... with large walls blocking the path. Because Mont Saint Michel was inviolable during the Hundred Year's War, it is regarded in France today as an important national symbol.

Arched entrance to left of church led to our sleeping quarters!
Walled pathway to church on mount.

View of the Normandy coast from church above.

Jen just had her bank card eaten!  Kerstin waits for Melanie to get tweezers!

Just call me "Lenushka"!


Holiday in Beautiful Erfurt: heart of Thuringia

Erfurt is one of the most beautiful and historic cities that I have ever visited. It was almost my second home!  I am surprised that very few people are familiar with the rich history of this city.  Whenever I mention it to friends, they typically draw a blank, not having the faintest idea of its location in Germany.  "Furt --what?  Frankfurt, did you say?"  Erfurt is currently among the many cities in the running to be named the next UNESCO world heritage site. Here are several reasons why I feel this international recognition is long over-due: 

~ Original gate of the medieval university ~
where the Reformer Martin Luther went to school!

~ perfectly preserved medieval town ~

~ The Mikwe ~
(the Ritual Bath belonging to a once thriving medieval Jewish community;
a significant restoration project is on-going)

~ Half-timber houses throughout the city ~
(evoking the medieval past)

~ Old Synagogue ~
(which dates back to the Middle Ages ~ extraordinary testimony of
the Jewish community that thrived in medieval Erfurt) 

~ Parable of the Ten Virgins ~
(Detail on the portal of the "Dom" or Gothic Cathedral ~
evoking the apocalyptic mentality & urban piety of late medieval Erfurt)

~ Fish Market ~
Remarkably well-preserved artwork on buildings in this area 

~ Merchant's Bridge ~
(which dates back to the Middle Ages - Erfurt made its money from woad production)

~ Stunning Renaissance Architecture! ~

Ten Days in Paris!

Paris was definitely one of the highlights of our study abroad program!  We had an incredible line-up of museums, art galleries, restaurants and outdoor excursions put together for us by Dr. Honigsblum (Gerry).  My only regret is that I fell sick with a bad case of bronchitis after only two days in the city, and was not able to attend all of the events.  Without a doubt, however, the highlight of the trip for me was having an opportunity to meet some of Paris's finest artists in the intimate surrounding of their studios.  On the days that I was able to attend, I had the pleasure of meeting the sculptor Shlomo Selinger, and the painter Jean Serolle and his very gracious wife ~ whose warmth, generosity, and humanity left a very deep impression upon me.  It is a very rare thing, at least for me, to be invited into an artist's studio, to see their work close up, and to learn firsthand about their sources of inspiration, ideas, techniques, and investment of labour.  These shall be some of my fondest memories.

~ ~ ~

Below are some images of my Paris visit ~ photos that I took before the 'plague' hit me!            

Feeding the birds outside Notre Dame Cathedral

Detail on Notre Dame Cathedral

On our way to a couscous lunch at a Moroccan restaurant
(definitely one of the best meals we've had this semester!)

Art in the city (one of many examples)
Shlomo Selinger in his studio

One of several beautiful sculptures by Shlomo Selinger

Students laying a wreath under the Arc de Triomphe