A Travellerspoint blog

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

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


I love your posts and your pictures. Wow you are doing so much I get tired (and hungry) just reading each week.

Thanks, Opa

by Opa

It is so much fun reading of all your adventures! As much as I love all the pictures & food descriptions (you literally make me drool!!) I love the people you are meeting and befriending. They sound like such a fun and interesting bunch! You are truly establishing relationships you will treasure forever!!

I love you honey - keep writing!!!

Aunt Chris

by Aunt Chris

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.