Old people are just as fun as college students!
04.04.2015 - 22.04.2015 18 °C
My blog posts are not getting fewer and farther between intentionally. I finally have the time to sit down and write because, as of yesterday, my semester is OVER! It hasn’t fully sunken in yet, but my French studies have come to an end. And I’d say it went out with a bang. Yesterday, I took an oral exam on Greek sculpture. (As in show up, draw a slip of paper with a subject written on it, prepare for ten minutes, and talk for ten minutes. I’ve never had to do anything like that before, but I guess it is a pretty good way to make sure that you have grasped a subject!) Luckily, it was only one-on-one with the professor, who is quite nice, if a bit demanding (I mean she assigns oral exams…). But I seriously kicked its butt! I pulled the best possible topic, and even though my presentation was nowhere near ten minutes, my professor appeared quite pleased. Then in the afternoon, I took a written exam on the various artistic representations of Moses and the burning bush. Yep.
And over the weekend, when I should have been studying for these last exams, I was busy with more social events. Firstly, remember that Romanian cooking activity I did at the assisted living facility in February? Well, I was invited to run the same activity with an American menu. After multiple brainstorming sessions with Eva, two of the least stereotypically American eaters managed to come up with a menu of pretty iconic (but not too obvious) and appetizing traditional recipes that fit our time, budget, and equipment constraints. We decided on Waldorf salad, potato salad, sloppy joes, and Muti’s famous recipe for banana bars with cream cheese frosting. As Eva said, it was pretty serious church-basement potluck material. On Friday morning, I met the ESN community sponsor, Michel, at the Farmer’s Market to do our grocery shopping. (Michel is a super interesting and awesome retired professor who has a striking physical resemblance to Pa and whose personality is very similar to Opa’s. So he’s pretty great.)
Afterwards, we headed to the apartment complex to get cookin’. It was a bit complicated, trying to prioritize and direct all of the steps for all of the recipes, but we were able to divide and conquer, and still had some time for fun and chatting!
We had to make a few changes – cream cheese is not available here (probably because bagels aren’t either), so we substituted for it with mascarpone. I turned out a bit looser, and didn’t have the same strong cheesy flavor, but it turned out just fine as far as frosting goes. Molasses isn’t easy to find either, and neither is Worchestershire sauce, so we skipped the former and substituted another liquid meat seasoning for the latter. That gave the sloppy joe sauce a slightly different – but by no means bad – flavor. After about two hours, it had all come together, and we were ready to tuck in!
The salad was a big hit – the strange mix of veggies, fruit, nuts, and yogurt was very intriguing to everybody. But it was kinda awkward, because the Dijon mustard that we used for the potato salad was some super legit French stuff that is probably made in tiny batches by a stooped old man in a cellar whose family has done nothing but make artisan mustard for seven generations. This stuff was STRONG. So the potato salad basically became a burning mass of acid that most of the old ladies couldn’t handle. Except for this tiny little lady who was sitting next to me – she absolutely loved it. (There was a ton left over, because it was a big recipe, and she took a huge container of it home with her. It was pretty adorable.) And it was really pretty looking! And then there were the sloppy joes. Following the suggestion of one of the staff members, we cut the spiciness by about half to avoid any tummy problems. And sloppy joes aren’t even spicy to begin with – just a touch of chili powder and paprika. But pretty much every lady was practically having a hot flash during the main course. I guess it’s just because French food – and most western European food – is so incredibly un-spicy. But all the other international students agreed that it wasn’t spicy at all. Aside from the “spiciness” though, everyone was quite fascinated by the flavor created by all of the weird ingredients that go into BBQ sauce (you know – sugar, cloves, ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, etc.).
But the banana bars! If any of the other strange combinations made people question the discretion of the American palate, a cake made of bananas and cheese really drove the point home. But it was a resounding success. Everyone loved it, and all of the copies of the recipe were taken afterwards. Thanks, Muti!
Then, on Saturday, I had the opportunity to participate in yet another awesome inter-generational activity. This one was a weekend trip in the Haut-Doubs. (I live in the Doubs department, and when you head south of Besançon, up into the more mountainy country, it becomes the “haut” or “high” Doubs.) There is a really cool initiative that got started a couple of years ago when one of the assisted living facilities in town opened. It moved into an existing building and because of safety codes and the existing elevator situation, elderly people could only occupy the first four of the seven stories. So someone had the idea to rent the upper three floors to college students, giving them a discount on their rent if they spent time doing social engagement with their older neighbors. So this trip consisted of fifteen seniors from various different facilities, four university students who live in the one shared building, and four staff members. There were a few extra spots, and because Michel apparently knows every single person in town, they were offered to ESN students. But because everyone is so busy with exams, I was the only one who signed up!
It ended up working out really well, though. Because I didn’t really know anyone (aside from a few of the seniors who I had met at the Olympiad) I got to meet a whole bunch of new people. And I made a really great new friend – one of the other students was an incredibly nice girls who is here doing her undergraduate degree, but is originally from Madagascar. So we spent much of the weekend together.
Our program started with a visit to the absinthe distillery in Pontarlier that I had already visited with ESN. But it was fun to go back and sample 50° alcohols at 10am! Always a great way to start the day, and particularly interesting with a group of spunky senior citizens!
The second stop was a little picnic in the mountains, next to a playground that was kind of cool, but mostly creepy. There were little people statues on all of the equipment…
Next was a little visit to “La Maison de la Réserve”, a nearby nature reserve. We toured the center and listened to a presentation about some of the native species. Unfortunately, due to the limited mobility of some of the seniors, as well as some chilly temperatures, we couldn’t do any hiking, but it was fun to learn a bit about the local wildlife and appreciate the pretty scenery.
The last stop was the village of Rochejean, population 549. Here, we checked into our hostel, Le Souleret, which is a joint venture with an educational farm, La Batailleuse, a kilometer up the road.
The farm, which keeps goats, cows, chickens, and a smattering of other farmy animals, produces organic goat and cow dairy products, as well as runs programs to teach the practices of organic farming and food production. They have a little shop where they sell their products, ranging from chèvre to honey to yogurt to bread. They also have an on-site bakery that we got to tour. The oven, which is basically a brick-lined slit in the wall, produces 80 kilos of bread a day! All of which the baker apparently insists on kneading by hand…
We arrived just in time to observe the milking of the goats. There were also several pens of adorable babies, who were unfortunately a bit too squirmy for my camera to capture well.
Down at the hostel, they host anybody who is working/interning/vacationing at the farm. The best part was that they serve three meals a day, made with as many of their own ingredients as possible. Our dinner on Saturday night was a green salad and morbiflette, accompanied by copious amounts of fresh bread. (I think that morbiflette is my favorite Franc-Comtois dish – potatoes, onions, bacon, and lots and lots of morbier cheese.) And then for dessert, we had a magical homemade blueberry tart that turned all of our faces purple. Breakfast on Sunday was lots more bread, homemade orange jam, fresh butter, honey, and fruit. Then for lunch, we had salad, little pastries stuffed with chèvre, herbs, and a touch of apple (they were absolutely divine), and beans and rice (and one of the old cows from the farm…). Dessert was a little ramekin of fresh faisselle (kind of like a loose plain yogurt with tiny, tiny curds of cheese) topped with a confiture of green tomatoes. I tried the confiture just to be a sport, but it was so delicious that I almost ate as much of it as the faisselle!
But right before lunch, we took a little (and very slow) stroll about the village. It was a good chance to chat with some of the ladies, who had some really interesting stories. It was all quite picturesque – lots of rolling hills and smatterings of houses.
Over the course of the weekend, I got the chance to chat with really cool people from three (maybe even four) generations. And I learned that I may need to take some time to live and work on a farm in tiny French village before I die.