A Travellerspoint blog

Fall Break!

You are not going to want to read this post on an empty stomach !

sunny 11 °C

This week, France is celebrating Toussaint, All Saint’s Day. It’s a universal holiday week for schools, and later in the week (the 1st of November) comes the national holiday that everyone celebrates. So far I have managed to have a pretty packed break.

Saturday night was a pendaison de crémaillère (housewarming party; literally “hanging of the soup pot”) of an adult classmate who just finished the process of moving to Besançon. It turned out to be very interesting, because there were seven of us from the CLA, and the rest of the party was the friends and family of my classmate’s French wife. It was also a potluck, so I got to taste some delicious Chinese as well as French dishes. (In keeping with the international theme – and in the interest of time and kitchen resources – I decided on a Kammerer family favorite, gurkensalat. This is a super yummy and simple German recipe: cucumbers and onions marinated in vinegar and dill.) Unfortunately, it wasn’t super popular; it didn’t really go well with the fancy French cheeses and potato dishes or the Chinese dumplings… :) But it was a really fun (and long – I got back at about 2:30am) party. I got to hang out with some classmates that I hadn’t really had the occasion to yet, as well as chat with a few very nice and patient French people.

Bright and early the next morning – 6:00 – I left Besançon for a little town in the south of France – Forcalquier – in the Provence region. Théo’s grandparents very generously opened their home to me (and Théo, his cousin, and his friend) for five days, and this time, not surprisingly, turned out to be the deepest French immersion I think I have experienced yet! It was great because I got to be a fly on the wall and listen to (and understand a portion of) some rapid-fire French, which does not happen at the CLA. (But I do think that my comprehension – and vocabulary – improved a bit over the course of my stay.) Unfortunately, in retrospect I regret having been a bit too quiet, letting my fear of making mistakes or saying the wrong thing get in the way of conversing freely.

Forcalquier was absolutely beautiful. We were in the mountains, and the trees were starting to change colors. This is the place of those iconic photos of columnar coniferous trees against a background of golden fields. We arrived at lunchtime on Sunday, and quickly sat down to a massive Sunday lunch. (This side of Théo’s family is Italian, and his Mamie is an incredible cook. We started with a pizza with a carmelized onion sauce, black olives, and anchovies. Next came heaps of spaghetti with a tomato and meat sauce, followed by bread, cheese and green salad. After this was a cake (we were also celebrating Théo’s cousin’s birthday) with lemon preserves inside and fresh lemon slices on top (we didn’t eat the fresh lemon bits, but the juices had permeated into the cake), and it was SO good. Finally, we finished off the meal (I think it was about two and a half hours later) with a coffee course.

To aid in our digestion, we spend the next part of the afternoon in a game of backyard soccer, during which I thoroughly embarrassed myself. Soccer is one thing at which I am absolutely hopeless.


But as you can see, it was fun! After soccer, we decided to play cards, so I learned the French versions of Rummy and Up the River, Down the River. Some things were very similar, and others were very different (including the deck: aces function generally the same way, but they are actually ones, and obviously the face cards are different – “R” for roi, “D” for dame, and “V” for valet). Also, there is a different deck, the tarot deck, which is used for certain games, like the Up the River, Down the River variant.

After our lunch of champions, dinner was relatively light, but equally delicious. Fresh bread, an charcuterie tray, olive tapenade, a plate of incredible cheeses (comté, Muenster, Roquefort, camembert, etc.). For dessert, we had a basket of fruit and a roll of yummy nutty nougat.

Monday breakfast was another new experience. I had a big bowl of coffee for dipping toast with a variety of spreads (honey, butter, and apricot and currant confitures).


After breakfast, we headed out for a day trip to Marseille (the second largest city in France, about an hour away). Almost everyone had already been to Marseille at least once, and we spent most of the day wandering around the old port area.


We also went up to the Bonne Mère, an old church that dates back to the city’s early history. It was my first time inside a Byzantine church, and it was incredible.


At dinner on Monday, I had my first occasion to taste (homemade) foie gras. I had no idea what to expect, and it was delicious! We had it with toast and fig and onion confitures. I also learned that there is an unspoken rule in the Accogli house against the spreading of foie gras, which was brought to light when Théo’s friend Marc started spreading his and the table erupted in cries of good-natured indignation…. Our next course was an eggy, quiche-y bread that was green with fresh parsley and had little pieces of ham throughout, accompanied by a green salad. Dessert was a yellow cake roll filled with Nutella. Mmmmmm!!!

Tuesday was another day of exploration, but this time we stayed in the neighborhood of Forcalquier. There is a beautiful little citadel/chapel with a lovely view of the town and the countryside. Forcalquier is such a charming little town that there must be a calendar somewhere that features its buildings and surrounding countryside.


We took a break from our explorations for another formidable lunch, starting with a fried pie of spaghetti, tomato, meat, and egg. The main course was a delicious vegetable moussaka (made mostly from their garden) and beef steaks for all of the guys and soy steaks for Lucia and me, because she knew that I am not accustomed to a lot of meat. This was followed by bread and salad. Next, I got to experience the tradition of serving a little ball of fruit sorbet with strong alcohol, which I learned is typically only served partway through big holiday meals in order to aid in digestion. (But I think vacation-mode resulted in a few little extravagancies…). So we had our little sorbets and because I missed part of the initial explanation and assumed that that was our dessert, I grabbed all of the dessert spoons and joined everyone in the kitchen. But I soon learned that we were following through on the full tradition and the reason that everyone had gone to the kitchen was to watch Lucia whip up some homemade strawberry Italian ice cream. Oh my goodness. I thought that we were livin’ the life in Omaha with our little ice cream maker, but I was wrong!

After lunch came the first stage of the culture-sharing experience of the trip. I had asked before we left what I could bring as a gift for my hosts, and Théo said that I should just bring an American recipe and teach them how to make it. So, its being the end of October and all, I decided that the only choice that I really had was to make a pumpkin pie. I brought our family recipe and translated it, managing to delegate most of the work to Théo and Marc.


Then we headed back out for more exploration, this time to an area outside of town that has really interesting rock formations. We were there right around sunset, and it was beautiful.


Dinner Tuesday was friselle, a southern Italian tradition. A “worker’s meal” it historically consists of a special double-baked dry bread soaked in water and broken into pieces, then a tomato squeezed and cut up on top, all sprinkled with olive oil. But it has evolved a bit; we had all of those base components, but added olives, capers, marinated eggplant, salt, and oregano. It was sooo good – I am going to have to try to find a recipe for the bread! We ate our friselle with a delicious Italian red wine, then followed it up with a cheese course. Then came the pie…. I think that everyone enjoyed it; if not, they did a good job hiding it! (A couple people took seconds, which is always a good sign!) As amazing as my international food journey has been so far, it was nice to have such a well-loved Nebraska autumn staple halfway around the world.

Wednesday was another day of activity – all six of us went on a hike through some nearby lavender country. It isn’t in season anymore, but the fall trees made up for the bare fields. We came across two or three different sites of old sheperds' dwellings constructed with a traditional technique that uses no kind of mortar, so every stone is chosen carefully to fit perfectly in place. Every once in a while along the path were mounds of stones, and each hiker who passes adds to the pile. We stopped for a sandwich picnic in a clearing next to one of these. On our way back, we encountered a herd of donkeys who really enjoyed our attention!


In the evening, some friends of our hosts came over for dinner, which was hands down – sorry, Eva – the best risotto (mushroom) I have ever tasted. Their friends had just returned from an extended trip to the US, so it was fun to talk to them a little bit about that (they had been in San Francisco and New York City). Then, true to form, came the salad, bread, and cheese, followed by little assorted desserts like saffron meringues and chocolate covered almonds.

We left this morning, and it was quite difficult to say goodbye. The nature of the trip, the house, personalities, and even a little bit the physical appearances of my hosts reminded me of a trip to visit my own grandparents in Sioux City. I have been so lucky so far in these past two months to have met so many generous, supportive, and hospitable people. One thing is sure – I will not be forgetting this fall break any time soon!

Posted by NKammerer 13:36 Archived in France Tagged hiking soccer risotto marseille pumpkin_pie forcalquier toussaint crémaillère home-cooked_meals bonne_mère citadelle friselle Comments (5)

Ethnic Cuisine + Local history = My two favorite things!

sunny 18 °C

Another week down - it’s hard to believe that it has been almost two months! But I am continuing to find interesting ways to keep myself busy.

This week, the international club organized an event called “Club Cuisine”. For five euros, you got to go to the apartment of another international student (there was a limit of six guests for each house) and cook and eat a traditional meal from their culture. There were four host cultures to choose from – Franc-Comtois, Spanish, Polish, and Algerian. Of course I had to choose Algerian, because I didn’t really even know what Algerian cuisine entailed… So on Thursday evening, I went over to the apartment of three Algerian guys, where two Romanian girls, a Russian girl, a French girl and guy, and I spent three hours putting together a KICK BUTT meal. Unfortunately, we realized a little too late that we had forgotten to take pictures… But the first course was a tomato-based soup with garlic, tiny meatballs, semolina, onions, and an impressive amount of parsley, accompanied by little samosa/eggroll-type things with potato and ground beef and some incredible seasoning combination. These were eaten wrapped in leaves of lettuce and with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Next was a chicken-based soup with bigger meatballs, chunks of chicken, garbanzo beans, onion, and whole green olives, eaten with baguette. Dessert was another smaller incarnation of the samosa, this time filled with pulverized walnuts with rose extract and cinnamon, fried and drizzled with honey. And some really delicious homemade mint tea.

During dessert, our hosts took out their guitars and we had a little concert of traditional Algerian music, a French folk song or two, and a lot of American classics (Imagine, The Sound of Silence, Let It Be, and others). It was a really fun way to end the night, and it turned out that Liza, the girl from Russia, had a beautiful voice (Let It Be was her solo).

A couple of weeks ago, I signed up through the CLA for a program called “tandem conversations” that matches up two language students in order to allow them both to practice the language that they are studying. Each meeting is one hour, and 30 minutes are in French and 30 are in the other language. Luckily, there are a LOT of French people studying English, so it was really easy for them to find me a partner. We had our first meeting this week, and it went really well; my partner is an adult grad student who is writing a thesis that requires a lot of research in English, so he is brushing up. Our conversation was pretty good; he was very curious about Omaha and how Besançon compares. It was during this conversation that I experienced my first and only (so far) pangs of homesickness, talking about the Old Market, the Joslyn, restaurants, etc.

Another highlight of my week came with the much-anticipated arrival of a package from home! I received a slip in my mailbox on Friday saying that I had a package. Typically, you can just take the slip to the welcome desk and they hand over the package, but this one was fancy (probably because it weighed 15 pounds and involved customs forms…) so I had to take a little field trip to the post office and flash my passport to claim it. But it was TOTALLY worth it – now I have peanut butter, chewing gum (like peanut butter, it’s available but expensive – but after seeing how much the postage cost, it’s probably more cost effective to just get it here!), a bunch of canned pumpkin, molasses, our family’s pumpkin pie recipe, my wonderful Crane Coffee thermos (because everyone just drinks tiny cups of espresso here, it has been impossible to find a travel mug, and my ability to stay awake in certain classes has suffered as a result…), and my absentee ballot for the Nebraska gubernatorial election! How’s that for civic responsibility?!

On Sunday afternoon, I went back to the citadel to finish out the Museum of the Resistance with my friend Nicolle. And oh my, was it an emotional roller coaster! Last time I went, I did not see the sign that said the museum is only open to people 10 years and up; usually those limits annoy me, but I think that I would agree in this case. I had already been through the first half – the rise of the Nazi Party, the beginning of the occupation in France, etc. Today I learned about the incredible depth and breadth of the French Resistance, and all of its forms. The museum had an impressive number of artifacts and photos, ranging from false stamps and papers to personal effects to written correspondences. I learned about the existence of maquis, a kind of underground network of camps of Resistance soldiers who did an amazing amount of sabotaging of German supply transport, as well a group of civilians whose secret efforts saved more than 2,000 Jewish children from camps. I can’t believe that these aspects of the war are not discussed in (at least OPS) World War II curriculum….

I had been a bit curious why this museum was located in the citadel, but another thing that I learned today was that, during the Occupation, the citadel was used as a prison for soldiers of the Resistance, and was also the site of about 100 of their executions. One of the rooms had photos and a bit of demographic information about many of these men. They ranged from students my age to a fifty-year old baker who was the father of seven children. If that wasn’t enough to rip your heart out, the photos were followed by a case containing many of their last letters, all of which were written with the knowledge that they would be dead by the time their letters reached home.

The section on the Resistance was followed by some rooms dedicated to life in the concentration camps, and eventually their liberation. Again, an impressive and more than a little disturbing collection of artifacts, from rusty shears and a pile of hair, to a pail of Zyklon B pellets, to some of the most striking camp photographs I have seen, to sketches created in the camps that depicted scenes from daily life.

After that experience, I really felt the need to be outside in some sunshine. So Nicolle and I made our way up to the citadel wall, where we had a beautiful view of the city and the river.


Classes continue to go well; I am reading a very interesting book in my Contemporary French Literature class called La peau et les os (Skin and Bones) by Georges Hyvernaud. It is a semi-autobiographical memoire of imprisonment in a German POW camp during WWII. And probably my most unique class is Oral Expression, just because it is so different from any class I have ever taken. We start most classes in a circle, where we do a vocabulary exercise or learn a tongue-twister or poem verse. Also, we have a weekly assignment to create dictionary entries for colloquial phrases that we pick up over the course of the week. So far some of my entries have been “mind-blowing” (époustouflant), “long holiday weekend” (faire le pont – literally ‘make the bridge’), “garage sale” (une vide-greniers), and “to have your mind go blank” (avoir un trou de mémoire – literally ‘to have a hole in your memory’). And yes, that last one was a phrase that I had to look up after I experienced an impressively severe memory hole during a public transaction…from time to time, I get a harsh reminder that daily life is still a work in progress!

My favorite class is probably Sémiologie – it ended up not getting cancelled, which makes me very happy! It is a discussion-based class, and each week we focus on a different topic, examining documents that represent the topic in different ways, and with different results. We talk about the motivations behind different documents, and the choices that are made in their production. For example, we have talked about the use of animal pelts in fashion, immigration, fashion commercials, and war-time literature. It’s super fun and interesting!

I’m also on a quest to taste as many confitures and cheeses as I possibly can. This week I knocked out apricot confiture and Morbier cheese. Both would definitely be repeats if there weren’t fifty other kinds of each to try. The jam goes really well with wheat toast. Or, you know, a spoon. I’m not necessarily proud of it, but I went there. And the Morbier was the last of the three regional cheeses that I had to taste, and it was by far the strongest of the three. But that is a plus for me. It’s a slightly salty white cheese with a rind, and in that respect it is a bit like Comté, but down the middle, it has a single stripe of mold. AWESOME.


Posted by NKammerer 02:57 Archived in France Tagged food museum cooking package citadel cheese classes club_cuisine Comments (2)

So much to do in so little time!

An epic post about an epic weekend

sunny 15 °C

So this past weekend I made my first real trip outside of Besançon – to Paris! Because of the wonderful facts that I do not have classes on Fridays and that my first class on Mondays is in the afternoon, I was able to stretch it into a super long weekend. (And the early trains were the cheapest, so that was a plus, too!) I left Besançon at 6:30am on Friday, putting me in Paris before 10:00. In typical form, the trip had a great start when, after the two-and-a-half hour train ride, I realized that I suddenly REALLY needed to use the bathroom. But that was okay, because I came into the Gare de Lyon – the same station that I went through on my initial arrival to Besançon. So I was able to head straight to the bathroom that I knew about. Only when I got there, it was – quite literally – gone. Where there had been a door less than two months ago, there was now a solid wall, with a sign directing people to one of the other two (impressively far-off) bathrooms in the station. Also, before leaving the station, I stopped and bought an awesome map of the city with great details of the streets, bus, metro, and RER stops, and big landmarks. It proved to be pretty invaluable over the course of the weekend.

I had about a mile and a half walk along the Seine to get to the Centre Pompidou, and I hadn’t yet eaten anything, so I stopped at a boulangerie and bought a “brioche Suisse” and continued to meander towards the museum, discovering some other really beautiful stuff along the way; it is so cool to be completely in charge of your itinerary!


Eventually, I made it to the museum, without having had any navigational problems, which is quite a feat for those of you who know me well! Another pleasant surprise came when I discovered that admission to the Pompidou is free for student-aged legal residents. The Marcel Duchamp exhibit that motivated the whole journey was pretty interesting – not the best exhibit I’ve seen, but there was some pretty interesting stuff nonetheless. It was also cool to see the works exhibited in the context of their original language, including case upon case of notes and studies that Duchamp had scribbled to himself.


At this point, it was getting late and my brioche was starting to wear off, so I headed off in search of a snack. I fully intended to eat some real food, but the pull of pastry was too strong, and I was sucked into a patisserie where I ordered a tropézienne (essentially a pie-shaped brioche, cut horizontally and filled with a mixture of pastry crème and butter crème – kind of a sandwich, right?) – I recently translated a traditional recipe for this particular dessert for Eva, so you should all get on her about that!


After my dessert break, I headed off again and found another amazing church (Saint-Nicolas des Champs) that didn’t make the cut onto the landmark map, as well as the Théâtre de la Renaissance, which was the backdrop of a lot of the early work of Alphonse Mucha, and the incubator of the Art Nouveau style (which just so happens to be the subject of my UNL Honors thesis). So that was a lucky find!


By this time, it was about 5:00 and time to meet up with my friend Mike, a UNL grad student who is teaching English in Paris this year, and who – very graciously – agreed to host me for the weekend. So I headed to our agreed meeting spot – La Place de la République – a big square/central metro station close to his apartment. As awesome as my day of total independence and aimless wandering had been, it was so nice to see a familiar face!

While we were chatting (in English) in the square, a French guy our age approached us and asked if he could talk with us, just to speak some English. Our conversation ended up lasting about forty-five minutes, and spanned an impressive number of topics, from Star Trek to Frank Zappa to Quantum Leap. Our friend Antonin also mentioned that there was a movie theatre in the area that holds weekly interactive “Rocky Horror” showings, about which both we demanded as much information as possible.

Next, we headed to Mike’s apartment so I could drop of all of my stuff (I had been awkwardly lugging my backpack with me all day). Then the next thing we knew, we were both waking up from long and unintended naps…it was 9:30 and we were starving, so we walked to a neighborhood pizza place. It was here that I was introduced to the wonderful French practice of cracking an egg into the middle of a pizza partway through the cooking process, so you have a sunny-side up egg and a delicious pizza at the same time!

The next morning, Saturday, I headed out on my own to hit up Notre Dame and Sainte-Chappelle, a small private chapel constructed for Louis XIV (it has been at the top of my Paris bucket list since I saw a picture of it in my first art history survey class). Notre Dame was absolutely magnificent and overwhelming (and so was the line to get inside). So I took a 360° tour of the exterior and called it good.


Sainte-Chappelle, however, did not disappoint. I don’t know how much the steep climb up a tiny spiral staircase contributed, but when I reached the top of the stairs, my breath was taken away. Of course, the crowning glory of the chapel, an immense rose window, has recently been removed for restoration, but that didn’t really matter – it was absolutely surreal to be inside such an old and beautiful place that I had studied so many photos of.


Next, I headed back to the apartment, where we ate a lunch of champions – cheese and baguette – and then we headed right back to the neighborhood of Notre Dame (this time by métro) to buy our tickets for that night’s showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show! The metro turned out to be way less intimidating that New York’s subway system; it was surprisingly easy to navigate. However, I was incapable of feeding my ticket into the right part of the turnstile. A kind and patient older French man behind me tried to help me, but as it was obvious that I was NOT from Paris, he didn’t speak, just kind of tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the right slot, which was in the last place I expected it to be. It took me a second to figure out what he was trying to do, so it was a little awkward. But it worked. We bought our movie tickets, and then headed in the direction of Père Lachaise, yet another bucket list item of mine. This time, I fed that subway ticket through the stile like a pro! At the entrance to Père Lachaise, we found a map pointing out all of the locations of the most famous people buried there. I was surprised to learn that Camille Pissarro, Sarah Bernhardt, Chopin, Molière, and Max Ernst are all there, in addition to some of the more iconic names. The cemetery turned out to be laid out in a very strange way, and we had some trouble finding the graves we were looking for. And after about 45 minutes, a guy on a motorcycle drove up and started herding us toward the exit. Apparently, the cemetery closes at 6:00. The only famous grave we saw was Yves Montand – Mom knows how I feel about that…. But again – so much history and so many pretty moss-covered mausoleums!


Later that evening, it was back to the theatre, where we were greeted and escorted to our seats (dead-center of the second row) by the actors of the troupe that leads the showings. The theatre was a tiny basement room, with maybe about sixty seats. The screen was a canvas attached to the wall with carpenter clamps. At the beginning, the leader (he also played the Doctor) asked how many people were new to interactive showings. More than half the people in the room raised their hands. So as part of the introduction, we all stood up and practiced the Time Warp. Apparently, it was clear that Mike and I knew what we were doing, so we were asked to remain standing and repeat the dance a few times for everyone – on our own. The movie was shown in the original English with French subtitles, and about half of the jokes were the English ones that I’m used to, but there were also a lot of new French jokes added, some of which were pretty great. There was also an interesting moment where a guy celebrating his birthday was brought up to the stage, stripped down to his underwear, and sent back to his seat. And some pretty intense audience interaction that made me grateful that we were not in the front row…. This was definitely the kind of thing that I hope I can continue to do as I travel; it was a little bit touristy (there were a few other tourists there), but totally off the beaten path. And I was still finding rice in my pockets two days later.

Sunday morning brought a super long ATM search (the first one I found was out of order, and then at the next one I realized that I had forgotten my new French PIN…but after this minor heart attack and most of the possible permutations of the four numbers that – thank God – I could remember), a great cup of coffee, and some more independent aimless wandering. Then we headed to the Louvre.

I think that I have been told by literally every single person who has visited the Louvre that it is just plain too big. Truth. And as Mike said, it was like my candy store. I had an idea of a few things that I really wanted to see, but aside from them, I had no idea where to begin. After I bought my ticket, I made a beeline for the section where I knew would find one of my all-time favorite works, the Nike of Samothrace (a Greek sculpture of the goddess Nike dating to the 2nd century BC). It is displayed on a landing at the top of a giant staircase. I can’t lie – I definitely got a bit choked up when I walked through the doorway and saw it up there.


The whole afternoon was spent jumping all over the museum, trying not to miss anything that I would regret not seeing, and also discovering some awesome new stuff. But I also have a pretty strong reputation for moving painfully slowly through museums. So it was a moment for personal growth in that respect. (Ben, as much as it pained me, I did NOT read every single plaque!) Aside from the incomprehensibly large collection, the building itself is quite an impressive work of art. I could easily spend a week there and not feel like I had enough time. It was so fun to come across numerous famous works that I had forgotten were part of this collection (Rubens’ Medici series, the Law Code of Hammurabi, The Lacemaker, The Grand Odalesque, etc.).


I left Paris bright and early (not really; it was still pretty dark…) on Monday morning in order to make it back with plenty of time to get to class. It was a fantastic, super fun weekend; I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to make this trip, and so incredibly grateful to have had a friend to help me out (thanks again, Mike!). I can’t wait to get back. But there are also so many other places to see as well!

And I’m afraid that if this post gets any longer, no one will ever want to read my blog again….

Posted by NKammerer 14:57 Archived in France Tagged art paris theatre metro museum pizza cafe louvre pompidou notre_dame pastry pere_lachaise duchamp rocky_horror saint-chappelle saint-gervais saint-nicolas-des-champs Comments (7)

Food, Churches, and Food in Churches!

semi-overcast 18 °C

After last week, this week was a huge letdown! No visits with world leaders or voyages outside of the city. But don’t get me wrong, that still left me with plenty of awesome/delicious/weird things to do! I will warn you up front that the majority of this post is going to concern food.

Last week, Nicolle (the New York friend) and I saw a flyer for a student social event featuring super cheap crêpes. So obviously, we were all over that. The address proved to be a little difficult to find, and when we arrived, we discovered that it was actually being held in a church’s social hall. So that was a little awkward. But it seemed like it really was just a community support event, and the vast majority of the students were just there for the food. But of course Nicolle and I found ourselves in line (it was a VERY long line – we waited at least half an hour) behind some very friendly young men who belonged to the church and who apparently thought that it would be really cool if their congregation gained some temporary Americans. We finally got to the front of the line and ordered (watching crepes being made is a mesmerizing experience), only to have them join us five minutes later and start asking us questions about our religious beliefs. Needless to say, it was an awkward evening. But it was made even more awkward by the fact that Nicolle still had an unredeemed crêpe ticket, so she got to go back and wait in the epic line. Lucky. Meanwhile, my new friend Clément shared with me his testimony of how he found God two summers ago, and how much better his life has become as a result. Honestly, I am happy for him and the clarity that he has found in his life. But I do get a bit wary when people try to talk to me about God. But really, it was no big deal, because the crêpes were totally worth the awkward conversation. I ordered a forestière (mushrooms, ham, gruyere, and béchamel sauce) and an Alsacienne (a scrambled egg, onion, bacon, and an unidentified white cheese).


One thing that had been nagging at the back of my mind for a while was that fact that I hadn’t eaten pizza since I left Omaha. That is kind of a big deal, for anyone who is not intimately familiar with the Kammerer family’s dining habits. I’ve gotten pretty spoiled on downright delicious Dad-made pizzas. Fortunately, it turned out that my friends were in the same boat (we actually tried to make a date for a pizza night last week, but our schedules ended up not working out.) So a few days ago, Gabrielle, Claudia, Nicolle and I hit up a pizza place near campus that we pass every day on the bus. We ordered a veggie (it was pretty standard - I think it was mushrooms, peppers, onions, and (whole!) black olives – but quite good). The winner was the four-cheese pizza that was an ingenious combination of bleu, emmental, camembert, and chèvre. I am ruined. I will never be able to look at a cheese pizza the same way again. I actually may have found a testimony that I can share with Clément if I ever run into him again…


About a week ago, I came to the realization that I must really be letting everyone stateside down, because I have not been taking full advantage of my proximity to countless absolutely incredible-looking pâtisseries, and for that I am truly sorry. So to make it up to you all, I mounted an ongoing crusade, beginning last Thursday, to fully experience the rich (pun intended) culture of French desserts. Now that I have started, I don’t really know if I can stop…

After our last class on Thursday, Nicolle and I walked to a little pâtisserie/boulangerie (also on the bus route) called Le Moulin des Pains (the Bread Mill). Nicolle ordered a gorgeous little light fruity and cakey thing, but I had to follow my coffee obsession and order the “moka”. Nicolle’s dessert ended up having fresh crème inside under the berries, and the cake was the lightest angel food cake with the most perfect crusty outside. My moka was kind of like a dense cinnamon roll where the cinnamon has been replaced with a really thick, almost ganache-esque espresso-flavored mousse.


Then yesterday, Claudia and I went downtown to check out a music festival that had been advertised a here a lot lately. It was pouring, but we went anyways. It turned out that the performance had been moved inside to a little venue that was not big enough for all the attendants. So when Claudia turned to me and asked if I wanted to go find a café, I was all for it. The only problem is that most of the town shuts down on Sundays. So we spent a good twenty minutes walking in the rain through the empty downtown streets. But finally we found one that was open. We ordered espressos (and pastries, obviously) and killed some time (there was a movie that I wanted to see at the independent theatre down the street, but it didn’t start for two hours…). I ordered a figue (there is really no figginess involved, it’s just decorated to look like one – puff pastry with pastry crème filling, covered in fondant) and Claudia ordered a Paris brest (some kind of wonderful puff pastry with a lightly chocolatey/coffee flavored crème sandwiched in the middle).


I also discovered that Saturday afternoons are the time to go out church-seeing. I had been disappointed that all of the doors I had tried on earlier occasions had been locked, but I passed a church last Saturday whose doors were propped open. So I popped in, only to find it absolutely deserted. Only a few of the lights were on, and all of the chairs were pushed to the center of the nave. But it was absolutely gorgeous, in a slightly creepy, almost abandoned kind of way. So I spent about an hour - it was that big - walking around and peeking in all of the corners.


I’ll let that suffice for now, but be sure to check back in about a week for a recap of Paris! There are sure to be more pictures of food and churches, so I hope you enjoyed this warm-up!

Posted by NKammerer 14:31 Archived in France Tagged churches food pizza coffee crêpes pastries Comments (5)

Life is more interesting when you don't understand it 100% !

semi-overcast 18 °C

Well, I have passed yet another few exciting days of existence! Honestly; I think this week wins, and it’s only Tuesday!

Starting with the relatively mundane, I have purchased the train tickets for my first weekend trip – I’m heading to Paris bright and early on the morning of Friday the 10th of October! This particular trip was inspired by the fact that there is currently an exhibition of the paintings of Marcel Duchamp at the Centre Pompidou. So I’m all over that! Thanks to the fact that I don’t have classes on Fridays and my first class on Mondays starts at 1:30, I get to spend all day on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in Paris, and head back to Besançon on the crack-of-dawn Monday train. It should be pretty exciting – right now I anticipate hitting the museum shortly after I arrive on Friday, because it’s only about a mile from the train station. Then I’ll have the rest of the weekend to explore the rest of the city…

Last week, I received an email from the Franche-Comté coordinator of my study-abroad program asking me to prepare a testimony of my experience in Besançon thus far - why I chose this school, how nice everyone has been, etc., to share with the president of the university. First of all, it was worded like I didn’t really have a choice; secondly, it seemed like a very nice, but normal enough occurrence to have the president invite all of the international students over to meet and welcome them in person. So, of course, I said yes, despite the fact that I was more than a little hesitant to speak to an important person in French….

So then a few days later, I got a follow-up email from the President’s secretary inviting me to a debriefing to prepare for the meeting. This struck me as a little bit dramatic, but the French are really professional and have high quality-control and whatnot, right? So I show up at the administration building (running, because I was about five minutes late) and go to the appointed office. Sitting outside the office on a couch was one other international student who I recognized but hadn’t actually met yet. So we sat there for a few minutes, equally confused about what was going on. Finally, one other student showed up. So we hung out in the hallway for about ten minutes waiting (events, meetings, classes, and such things rarely start on time here). So I had the occasion to get to know Stjepko, who is from Croatia and is working on his graduate law degree, and Elyas, who is from Bolivia and is working on his Master’s in psychology.

Finally, we were ushered into the office, where we were introduced to the president’s personal secretary, a university department head, and finally the President himself. That last one kind of threw me off a little bit… So the meeting began and we were asked to tell a little bit about ourselves – where we come from, what we study, why we chose Besançon, etc. All the while, the secretary was taking notes, and all three adults were nodding their heads every once in a while, saying things like, “Oh, yes; that will be great” and “Ah, wonderful – the CLA! We need to make sure that that gets mentioned.” After our introductions, the president told us how excited he was to have us representing the university and the international program, and not to worry ourselves about our language levels (I’m fairly intermediate but make really silly mistakes when nervous, Stjepko is a little less advanced (but he also speaks like three other languages fluently…), and Elyas is pretty darn fluent, making us both look bad in comparison!)

Then they went on to tell us how the presentation would unfold on Monday (yesterday). We would meet around noon at the administration building, and all of the university representatives and the French students who would also be making presentations and we, the internationals, would all go have lunch together and mentally prepare ourselves. They made a point of telling us that we had to be careful – we couldn’t tell anyone about this presentation for security reasons.

By this time, I had finally figured out what was actually going on. We weren’t going to share our experiences with the president of the university – we were going to speak at a press conference with Manuel Valls, the Prime Minister of France. Yes. So that happened. Monday came, and we went and ate a delicious lunch at a café downtown. We had about two hours to kill after that, so Stjepko and I ran around taking selfies to commemorate the day.


When it was time to head back to the building where the conference was to be held, we discovered that the street had been blockaded and we couldn’t get across to where we needed to be. We had about two minutes until we were supposed to meet up, but we had to run down about four blocks to the next bridge, cross the river, run back those four blocks on the other side, and cross the river again. But we made it. In this case, the standard French lateness was quite convenient. So I had been hesitant about speaking to the president of the university, but instead ended up speaking to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Education, and the Minister of Higher Education and Research and a room of about forty reporters. Whatever. I talked about how Franche-Comté is perfect for me because I can spend one semester immersed in one of my majors and the next in the other (that’s really not possible in a lot of other French universities – the CLA is a pretty unique resource), and he asked me follow-up questions about my studies and got to talk a little bit about my research. In all, I think that it went fairly well! It helped that all of the French people were ridiculously nervous, too. This is the only picture that I could find in all of the press coverage that actually had a bit of me in it – you can see the back of my head in the bottom left corner! The Ministers are in the middle of the horseshoe surrounded by French students who talked about student life, research, job placements, etc. This picture is from the very beginning; that’s the president of the university giving his welcome in the middle.


So that’s definitely a story that will be going down in the books!

Also, I did my grocery shopping for the week today, so here is a bonus feature for fellow food enthusiasts – some fun facts about grocery shopping:

• There are a bunch of different varieties of ready-made (jarred or canned) ratatouilles, much like we have canned soups in the US. So I bought one today, and will try it on a night when I don’t really feel like cooking…also, there's the vegetable ravioli, which turned out to be pretty great.
• Toast is not really a big thing here (there were a few toasters at the electronics store, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they are for the Americans and Brits who have relocated only to find themselves in a toast-desert). Instead, a fairly typical breakfast option is “pain grillé” (literally, “grilled bread”). It is sold in a box of about 15 slices; and is pretty much just super dry and crunchy premade toast. It is kind of a bizarre concept to me, but it is pretty bomb with fruit preserves or Nutella, and accompanied by a cup of coffee!
• There are SO MANY interesting flavors of confitures (fruit preserves) – blueberry, orange, peach, cranberry, rhubarb, lingonberry, fig, prune, plum, lemon, chestnut, quince, currant, and gooseberry. In addition to the typical blackberry, raspberry, cherry, strawberry, etc. – but I actually haven’t seen any grape… Anyways, I have my work cut out for me!
• The cheese cooler is a dangerous black hole that could easily suck up my entire stipend. There is a RIDICULOUS selection of amazing looking fancy cheeses that range from way cheaper than anything that could be found in the US to gourmet things that are handmade by ancient old hermit women in their tiny cottages in the mountains that cost like €35 for half a kilo. The best thing so far is the fact that the “cheap cheese” is Emmental. A bag of shredded Emmental magic costs a third as much as the same amount of mozzarella! One can also buy crème fraiche in a tub as easily as one would buy sour cream back home.
• Nutella is such a staple here that there are generic brands, too! And the one that I bought is just as good as the real stuff. Even the real stuff is relatively affordable – nowhere near as expensive as in Omaha. This is countered by the fact that peanut butter is NOT a thing here. I have only seen Skippy, and only in a few stores. When it can be found, it is in a jar about half the size of the smallest option in the US, and it costs almost $5…
• In the produce section, almost all of the products are bulk, and you choose what you want – including individual giant leaves of spinach!
• The apple species are different – there are Pink Ladies, but they are prohibitively expensive – almost $5 per kilo. So I have discovered both the Jonagored and the Boskoop apple, both of which are quite scrumptious.

Posted by NKammerer 15:01 Archived in France Tagged food paris pompidou groceries pressconference primeminister Comments (7)

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