Friday, June 22, 2012

Last day at the school

We listened as Laurent read the Italian version of Little Red Riding Hood to the kids. Learned a teeny bit of Italian in the process.

Somehow we went off on a tangent and Laurent told us about these prehistoric caves on the Côte d'Azur that can only be accessed by going underwater (they used to be walk-in caves but got submerged by geological whatnot), and how there are negative images of caveman hands on the walls. The cavemen would press their hands on the wall and blow paint onto it, then remove their hands. Pretty cool, i'll have to google that next time i get a chance.

At recess I spoke with a woman whose primary job is to supervise one girl who has hoint problems and another kid with vision problems. I had seen lots of kids wearing t-shirts with English words on them, an I asked her if they know the translations for their t-shirts. She said no, that it's just stylish to have English words on your clothes. Personally I wouldn't wear something if i didn't know what it meant. She asked me some questions about Hurricane Katrina, and I explained the evacuations, the X's on the houses, etc. I got to use the word "patrimoine" (no English equivalent, but roughly means: the historical assets/objects/symbols of a region) in reference to American stuff, woooh!

Later in the day we videotaped me giving Laurent a little interview. This is our only real assignment while we're here: film an interview and use it in the 45-min video we put together when we get back to LA. He said that the reason there are multiple class levels in a single room is because the community is so small that class sizes vary greatly from year to year, thus classes often must be split up and recombined. He later said that in high school, even public school students learn the historical and literary aspects of all the major religions: Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and maybe more. "Historical" includes origins as well as events like the Inquisition, Protestant Reformation, etc. Is this legal in American public high schools? Does anybody know? (I would assume yes for the historical events and no for religion-as-literary-importance.)

The older girls in the class gave Mary and I (but mostly Mary) drawings and goodbye notes. That was the first time I'd seen the word "adieu" in actual use. It means goodby, but unlike "au revoir," it implies that you'll probably/might never see the person again.

Music festival

Fête de la Musique was las night. We watched a jazz band while sitting in the town square, at the bar. They were pretty nonspectacular, except for some kids who jumped on stage and started dancing.

Then I went to a café where they were playing rock music, and stayed tere till they ended at 1am. The singers clearly didn't know English, but all the good rock music is in English, so they just sang jibberish (later learned the French word for this is "yaourt" [yogurt]) that rhymes with the lyrics. That was funny. They only know the words for the choruses. Stuff like: I can't get no satisfaction, should i stay or should i go, seven nation army, highway to hell, let there be rock, and Hey Joe. Hey joe was especially funny b/c the whole place sang the words "Hey Joe" and literally no one knew any of the other words or even attempted them. I considered stepping in and singing for a little while. At the end the guitarist did a pretty spot-on solo performance of Enter Sandman. With mostly correct lyrics and all.

Also Seven Nation Army was funny b/c they all sung along with the guitar/bass like, "laaaa, la la la la laaaaa laaa, laaaaaaa la la la la la la la la."

The French listeners didn't care about the jibberish singing, they probably don't know the difference.

I spoke to one woman in line for the bathroom and she immediately said "pas français." When I told her I was American, she was like, "What? An American? In little Barcelonnette? Are you lost?" lol

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rainy day

= boring day

Our nature walk got cancelled due to the weather, although it was really just cloudy and on-off drizzly.

Good thing is, it's humider now, so my skin isn't flaking up, and i haven't needed chapstick all day!

All we did was some shopping in Barcelonnette, then picked up our bikes from the bouticycle. Going biking tomorrow!

Played frisbee an petank. I was off my game for petank, and our team lost. This French guy (a friend of Michel's?) was watching our game intently. None of us Americans actually care enough about the sport to watch a stranger's game. Same story for football (soccer). At the bar, we watch it on and off, and only catch the goals on instant replay, whereas all the natives watch intently and see the goals in real time.

Col de la Bonnette

Visited the peak of the highest road in Europe yesterday with 3 of the girls (Haley, Julie, Mary), Carla, and Bernard. Drove from Barcelonnette's altitude of 1120 m to 2802 m (i think).

At that altitude there was "beaucoup de rien" (a whole lot of nothing): no trees, no animals except marmots and insects, just rocks, grass, flowers, patches of snow that haven't melted yet, and old WW2 military bunkers. On the way down we saw some shepherds herding sheep.

Near the col there is a statue of the virgin Mary, labeled "Notre Dame de la très haut" (Our lady of the very/most high). I'd say.

Found a marmot skull (see earlier post).

We saw Edelweiss, a flower that only grows at high altitudes, but it wasn't much to look at. Still, the profs made a big fuss about it.

Tomorrow we're gonna bike from there to Jaussiers (village next to Barcelo).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lip balm absolutely necessary at this altitude and low humidity. I have to use it every day, whereas in LA i never do.

Tastes Like Chicken

So the chicken we ate at lunch turned out to not be chicken. We all thought it was just cooked differently or something, but upon picking up our plates, the server lady corrected a girl she overheard and said it was "lapin" (rabbit).

One of the girls was visibly upset, but got over it.

The legs were almost like chicken legs but with more tender, more easily cut meat, and a longer shape.

Laurent's Reflections on English and America

Some things i forgot to post about when writing avout my days at the primary school:

Laurent (the teacher) told the kids that English music is different from French music in that in English music, the melody takes center stage and the words are morphed around to fit it. And presumably for French music, the melody is written to suit the lyrics, which are of primary importance.

Also, as i was translating You Are My Sunshine for the kids, he told the kids that English is weird because certain additional words can totally change the sense of a verb. In "take my sunshine away," the words "take away" are very different from the lone word "take" (I translated the phrase as "prends mon soleil de moi"; I wonder if that sounded weird to them). I had never considered it before, but I guess that does happen more in English than in French.

Also, in describing how LA fits into the US, he said the US is actually 50 countries ("50 pays") united together. I had never though of states as countries, except for historic Texas, but I suppose that is kinda a valid way of looking at it. Each state has its own government and laws, unlike French regions (?). A kid suggested that it's kinda like the "Royaume Unis" (United Kingdom). Not quite.

Mayor of St. Pons

So apparently the guy who owns our ski lodge and took us on the via ferrata journey is actually the mayor of the nearby tiny town of St. Pons.

Mayoral elections were yesterday (or maybe that was just for national Deputy), and he showed us the election process. They vote in 2 rounds: one to narrow it down to 2 candidates, and one to pick. He showed us a big poster from the first voting round, with handwritten counts of each person's votes.

There are no electronic voting booths in France.

He did not get re-elected; the socialist candidate beat him out.

Marble Quarry Quest

Wen on a randonnée with just Bernard and 3 others (everyone was exhausted from whitewater). We saw a big hunk of marble on the mountainside, and apparently the columns of the Palace of Versailles were cut from it. We tried to make our way to it, but got lost on the trails, and we were way too tired to keep trying. Also we weren't too excited to see a marble quarry. So we gave up.

Whitewater Pics

Camera Dump again!!!

A bunch of crab thingies I found out on the rocks at the Menton beach:

Snowing in the mountains surrounding Barcelo:

The Nice harbor. A bunch of cars waiting to get on a ferry:

These are Smart Cars that you can just walk up to and start driving, as long as you park it at the next free car station. Pretty crazy, eh? They also have this for bikes, called Velibre (velo + libre), and that's more popular. This car version is brand new.

At the magasin des vetements (clothing store). There's always a baguette to be found nearby, everywhere in this country :)

Sabons de Venus. very rare flower. terrible photograph, sorry:

Parapente liftoff!


random flower

Helicopter landing through some trees (if you can see it):

This headstone freaked me out. Then I realized that Andre is the last name (all the surrounding graves had Andre as the last name), and I suppose Elie is the first name, or a hyphenated part of the last name??

Mike and Taylor:

Here's a picture of me winning the LSU study abroad photo contest:


les moutons. Shepherds are just now starting to graze them through the valley. They eat flowers, so soon all the flowers will be gone!

Found Another Skull

Pretty sure this one is a marmot skull, esp since where we were (near the Col de la Bonette) there's pretty much nothing but marmots. Not even trees. It's much smaller than the one i found before. I think the other one must be from a wolf, goat, fox, sheep, or badger.

Here is a pic of the two, with American dimes for scale. Are there any medical professionals reading this blog (I know there's at least one) who can help identify the large skull?

Edit: just googled some animal skull images with Haley (bio major), and found out the small one is definitely a marmot, and the big one is probably a sheep skull, but only the back part. It actually goes upright, which threw me off b/c i was orienting it horizontally.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Car Wreck After Via Ferrata

There was a traffic jam on the road on the way back from via ferrata, and in the mountains a car wreck is almost always serious. It was stopped for a while, and eventually a helicopter flew in. We walked ahead to see what was going on, and saw the helicopter landing through the trees (which was some pretty cool maneuvering) and some gendarmes (police) scrambing around.

Traffic got started back up an as we drove by, I saw a twisted up motircycle. Out of the cluster of paramedics I saw two legs sprawled out and a bare chest undergoing compression. Freaky stuff.


Went rafting on the Ubaye River. It was freezing, so they gave us wetsuits and windbreakers (although the widbreakers actually hold water in). Some of the Parisians (that's what we call the LSU in Paris group) went too. We were 2 raft of 7-8 people.

The guides shouted directions in English, although we all understood the French ones. I'm pretty sure they were purposely trying to spin us around an run us into stuff, b/c there were times when their directions served no purpose other than that. It was pretty fun, but too short in my opinion.

Twice we stopped and swam downstream. It was really cold.

LSU in Paris

The LSU in Paris students came visit us this past weekend in Barcelonnette. They ate dinners with us at our ski lodge, watched the football (soccer) games at the bar with us, and did activities with us, like rafting and a randonnée.

The whole group wasn't here. They have 30-35 altogether and on the weekends they can choose where to go. This weekend some went to Lyon or elsewhere. About 10-15 came to Barcelo.

Their French wasn't quite as good as ours b/c they only speak it in class (also, they have class! Sounds terrible). Also they said they speak it while drunk, which i have a hard time believing; wouldn't that make it harder?

Their professors even spoke English sometimes! That was weird, since ours almost never do. I've spoken to Carla in English b/f the trip, but with Bernard I don't think I've heard him speak a full English sentence until this one time the other day.

The professors for LSU in Paris warned them not to speak English to us, otherwise they would "infect" is with English. Aside from at the bar and on the randonnée, they mostly spoke French. Still, the English they spoke to us is infecting us a bit; we now are more loose with letting English speech slip out :\

I also noticed that overall the Paris group members are generally less open minded. I was surprised upon seeing people refuse to try new foods, drinks, and activities.

They also said the weathe in Paris has been terrible since they got there; cloudy and drizzling almost every day.

They said their classes are mostly in a classroom but sometimes venture out of the classroom, and they have research assignments they have to do, sometimes requiring internet, which sounds pretty terrible. Especially since the FIAP (same place we stayed in Paris) has terrible wifi. It takes multiple tries to log on, then it boots you off after ~30 min.

I'm glad I picked this program instead of that one: no class, contact with the locals, and more experience speaking and hearing French!

Via Ferrata

Ferrara is Italian for "iron," and Via Ferrata is a method of climbing, using iron steps as aids, invented by Italians during WW2 so their soldiers could gain more high ground. More recently it has spread to France as a touristy activity.

We did it on Friday. We were grouped in teams of 4, and team members were tied to each other for safety. We spent like at least 4 hours climbing this mountain and ziplining down. It was harder than i thought. Even with the iron bars. The bars weren't eerywhere, so sometimes youre just grabbing rock 200m above the ground. Two of the girls cried. Most of the girls didn't like how hard it was, and Taylor's legs were exhausted for days afterward. We kept saying how much we're gonna deserve ice cream after it's all over.

There was a 100m, 1ft-wide bridge that we had to walk across (always harnessed to the cable, but still, it's freaky! And the wind didn't help. Also sweaty hands don't help.

Also we were hungry and thirsty the whole time. The climb was so long we missed lunch!

No pictures of via ferrata, since i never had a free hand to hold a camera! One of the guides took pics, tho. Wonder if we're ever gonna see them.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Newspaper article

Here's an article in the Le Dauphine (a newspaper for the Hautes-Alpes & Haute Provence) about us. The journalist did a group interview of us but didn't quote us or anything.


Finally went parapenting (paragliding? Not sure how to translate). It's a steerable kite thiny that you ride, and if you catch the rising wind right, you can ascend and fly pretty much wherever.

Getting up the hill was insane; it was a really bumpy uphill ride in the backs of some van/trucks with abdolutely nothing to hold onto. The ski lifts next to us were mocking us; if only they weren't shut down for summer we could use them for a much smoother ride.

Taking off was hectic. Lots of people had trouble. You've gotta run really fast toward the edge of this cliff. One girl tripped in a hole, curled in the fetal position, and just took off like that (the guide strapped to her kept running)!

The ride was much more tranquil than you'd expect; aside from the liftoff it's not really a thrill.

There were 3 parapentes in the air at a time.

For me, the first 2 minutes were nice, except the guide was talkin on his cell phone. While steering us. Then I started getting motion sickness, and he was still on the phone. Apparently they can normally tell when sickness is coming, but since he was on the phone he couldn't. I started vomiting to our side, but the wind was apparently blowing it on the guide, who started cursing me out in English (I didnt know he spoke English). He shoved my head out the side, through these straps, so it would all go downward, and the rest of the ride was pretty miserable.

For the landing i was leaned too far back to run, so we kinda slid feet first. It was a pretty comfy landing, except for the vomit on my jacket.

I chose to walk back down the mountain to avoid any more motion sickness. Opened my sunscreen bottle and it squirted everywhere again due to altitude pressure change. Some people took the trucks back down, and this one single girl rode on the back of some "cute guy's" dirt bike.

Saw some cool scenery on the mountain; will post pics soon.

For the next day and a half people kept asking me if i was feeling better. Of course i'm feeling better, it was just motion sickness. It went away 10 minutes afterward, people!

School field trip

Showed up to the school Thursday and, surprise, there was a field trip scheduled! Some nature guides were there for a "randonnée" (nature walk). Apparently Laurent forgot about it and didnt tell his class, so no one was prepared. Some kids stayed back b/c they were wearing sandals, etc. The girls who were staying were begging Mary to please stay back; I guess they think she's cooler than me, cause nobody begged me.

We saw Sabons de Vénus, an extremely rare and protected flower that looks like a certain type of shoe (sabons). It would've made a great picture, but my camera was on Tv mode and i didnt realize till it was too late, so i have some really mediocre pics :\ oh well

All the girls kept giving Mary flowers, and she's allergic, but she was too polite to refuse them, so she just carried around a bouquet (purple and gold!) until we got back.

The guide showed the kids two stink bugs "en train de reproduire." Not sure how much of that they understood. We saw plenty of bugs getting pollen from flowers. The guides explained to the kids how to count tree rings to tell the age. Then they kept asking Mary and I if we understood, an although we repeatedly said "oui," they kept asking us if we wanted them to explain it. They did the same thing for the explaination of flower pollenation. Not sure what part of "I know, i learned that when i was a kid; we have trees and flowers in LA too" (thought, not said) they didn't understand.

One of the guides did show me a really cool purple orchid which, when probed (he probed it w a flower stem), changes shape such that these two stamen (?) bend downward to poke the insect, aiding pollenation. The mechanism was really cool.

Italian citizenship for French people during WW2

Mr Bosco, our guide in Aix, told me at the café that during WW2 he was considered technically Italian, despite being born in France, because his parents were both Italian-born. But he also said that it didnt result in any actual difference in his life; he wasn't discriminated against or anything.

"It looks like a..."

One of the girls here always says "... regard comme ..." when wanting to say that something "looks like" something else, and it hurts my ears every time. The right way is "... semble ...". To say that something "regard comme" something else is to say that it watches like something else, and that doesn't really make any sense.

"Le nuage regard comme un lapin": Imagine a cloud watching something in the same manner as a rabbit would. Literally only English speakers can figure out what she's trying to say.

Unfortunately the phrase is slowly creeping into others' speech too. The prof don't correct grammar very much (to be polite), but Carla will butt into a conversation to correct that one.


Apparently the valley(s?) has its own language that is falling out of use, called Valléen. I first heard it when hearing Laurent translate into it, and thought it was Italian since i couldn't understand it. Also Bernard told us some tidbits about it.

Clothing store

Primary schools are closed on Wednesdays (like a mini weekend), chocolaterie was choc full (see what i did there?), and Maison de PR is getting old, so i went to the magasin des vêtements (clothing store), called "La Diligence."

As usual, there wasn't much work to do, and most of what i did was talking to the workers there. This store was also unique in that you get a chance to chitchat with the customers as well, especially with the husbands of the ladeis who are trying in clothes. One couple was retired and visiting the valley from some costal city, and had been married 50 years. The husband said he used to be a chemical engineer, manufacturing chlorine or something.

There was another stagiare (intern) there, but she was from the local lycée (high school). Apparently they do 3-week internships specific to their areas of study, and she is going to study commerce, so she's learning about sales ("la vente"). She said she wants to get out of Barcelo ASAP when she graduates, so she can go to Marseille, where apparently she has some friends/family.

We checked pants to see if they were. correctly organized by size. Pants sizes here are listed in American units primarily, then in SI units as well.

The store owner's husband owns a jeans store just down the street called "Dili Jeans" (get it? Like Diligence, the name of the clothing store).

All clothes at the store are super expensive. Jeans cost 110€ ($140), for example. Holy crap. I saw a t-shirt for 39€ ($55).

The workers were fighting with this terrible, old word processing software, trying to make a flyer to remind people about father's day. We couldn't find a father-son clipart, and pasting from the internet didn't work, so we went with just text. The owner fussed that te flyer the other worker made was poorly designed; all the text was the same size/font. She took control and i heard her mutter something about "comique." Oh no, was she searching for Comic Sans? She found it and was very excited for some reason. When she left it to me to finish it (so she could go sew something), I changed it to a simple serif/sansSerif combo. I left it open on the screen so she could change it back if she wanted.

I talked with her daughter and daughter's friend, who just got back from high school. They are a junior and a senior, and the senior is preparing for the Bac (the exiting exam for all French highschoolers) next week. She is also about to take her driving test (driving age is 18 here). The other girl already has her license, but totaled her car when she hydroplaned on these hard snow balls that form on the road when it's cold. I told her about my similar experience.