A Travellerspoint blog

Back to School!

(And the epic saga of my quest for chocolate chip cookies...)

sunny 22 °C

Sunday was my last day of the summer, and it was a relatively quiet day...I slept in really late after a late Saturday night, then met Théo downtown to visit the Museum of the Resistance (Besançon has a rich legacy as the hub of one of the most powerful Resistance networks during WWII, and Théo, a fellow sucker for interesting history - and whose great-grandfather actually spent the war falsifying documents for escaping Jews - wanted to show me a bit more of the town's more recent history). We got to the museum at about 3:00 (the museum is actually inside of the citadel - you climb the big hill to a parking lot and some outbuildings and a huge gate (that’s as far as I had gone before), but inside the gate is a big park with *another* hill up to the citadel proper, which houses the Museum of the Resistance, a historic chapel, a museum of the culture of Franche-Comté, and a zoo, all mixed in throughout the citadel buildings. It's pretty interesting up there. And there is a staircase that you can climb up to one of the battlements that overlooks the whole valley, which was quite beautiful.

So - we got to the museum at 3:00, and as many of you know, I am probably the most painfully slow museum patron of my generation. I read everything. And when it’s all in French, it takes about half again as long. Suffice it to say, the museum has 20 rooms, and we saw nine of them in the three hours that we had before we got kicked out. And the way that the museum is laid out, the first eight rooms are dedicated to the rise of Nazism and the very early war, and as you progress, you get deeper into the history of the region. So we really only saw stuff that I already knew about! (However, it was very interesting to see the story represented from a different perspective. As you can imagine, the important players are different in France; instead of Truman, Roosevelt and Churchill, I got to learn more about Maréchal Pétain and Charles de Gaulle.) As we were herded out through the last rooms on the first floor, I could see that there is some really interesting stuff. Definitely going back, but maybe at 9:00, when the museum opens!

Monday was my first day of classes - I had my oral comprehension/expression class at 1:30 and my French Literature class at 3:00. It's bizarre - on Mon. and Tues., my first classes are at 1:30pm. It's kind of messing with my internal schedule! Because I tested into the higher level, our core group is pretty small. My oral and written comprehension/expression classes are the same core group of 13 students, and we are from the US, Canada, Chile, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Spain, and I will see them every day, Mon.-Thurs. My literature class is only 8 students, many of whom are the same as that core group. It was a bit exhausting to be listening to lectures in French for four and half hours straight, but I was pretty pleased with my level of comprehension and participation. Our first book will be Nausea (La nausée) by Jean-Paul Sartre, and we spent the majority of the class in a lecture on the historical context, namely, WWII and some of the stuff that I had learned about the day before!

Tuesday was my written comprehension/expression and Semiology classes (unfortunately, it looks like Semiology may be cancelled because there aren't enough people registered...it's too bad; it was a fascinating class period!) Again, I was pretty happy with how it all went. One thing that I am looking forward to as a result of this semester is an improvement in my ability to put my thoughts into words more accurately and eloquently. (I fear that, because of my limited vocabulary and my formal, "classroom" French, my personal expression is a strange mixture of five-year-old and proper 18th century novel...) In our semiology discussion, I struggled a bit with conveying my ideas in an intelligible fashion. And I got called on A LOT. I suspect it was because French professors have no problem with the name Natalie (or "Nathalie") but names of Asian original are a bit more difficult!

One of the things that has been slightly less than ideal about my dorm is the kitchen situation - the information that I received before my arrival said that there would be a shared kitchen on each floor of my building, which made me very happy. But, alas, the "kitchen" is a room with a sink and four electric hot plates...conducive to pasta, eggs, and not much else. So I spent the first two weeks in slight homemade food withdrawal. Also, I really felt the need to do something to thank Théo for all of his help and patience. So after some deliberation, I concluded to use these two reasons to justify the purchase of a toaster oven for my room. (I'm still not 100% sure whether they are actually allowed in the rooms, but I am going to claim foreign ignorance if the need arises!)

I decided on an easy, tried-and-true (and pretty American) thank-you gift - chocolate chip cookies. (Here they are called biscuits aux pépites de chocolat – “pépite” is also the word used for nugget, as in gold nuggets…). So I had Mom email me the recipe that we have always used in our family, and I set out on Monday morning to buy all of the necessities. (It was interesting, because my shopping list also included some very important but easily taken for granted objects like a big mixing bowl, a spatula, a measuring cup, and the Tupperware that I would use to transport my nuggety goodness.) I had heard that chocolate chips are a bit of a novelty in France, and this was proven to be true. The store only sold them in tiny packages containing about a cup (I needed two cups for the recipe) and which cost 3€. That’s almost $8 worth of chocolate chips! So I just spent about 2€ on some chocolate bars with the intention of cutting them up later. The next fun surprise was the mysterious lack of baking soda. I realized at the store that I had no idea what the French name is for it, so I had to look that one up on my phone (It’s “bicarbonate de soude”, if you’re wondering). But I couldn’t find it in the baking aisle, the bread aisle, the cooking supplies aisle, or even the cleaning aisle. And there was NO ONE around to ask. By this time it was getting late, and I still had to drop everything off at home, grab a bus, and take the 20 minute ride downtown to make it to class. So I just gave up.

After class (it was 6:00, because Mondays are my late days) I went to the grocery store downtown, where, again, there was no bicarbonate de soude to be found. But I was able to find someone who escorted me to the correct aisle. And there it was – right on the end of the dog food, next to the salt! How did I not think of that?! And of course, the only box they had was HUGE. So I guess I’ll just have to keep making cookies until it’s gone, to get my money’s worth! After the successful purchase of the baking soda, there remained only one final, but crucial step. The acquisition of the mini oven! I made it to the store about 20 minutes before they closed, and was soon the proud owner of a $35 USD mini oven. So I got to be the crazy lady on the bus with a big box of baking soda sticking out of her purse and an unwieldy kitchen appliance blocking the aisle. (The supreme irony – Théo’s apartment is literally right across the street from the electronics store!)

I got back to my dorm (it was 8:00 by then), busted out the mini oven, and started it on its recommended cleansing maiden voyage. The room quickly began to smell like melting plastic, which was troubling, but that went away in about five minutes. So then I cranked up The Cranberries and set to work chopping up chocolate bars on top of my mini-fridge (don’t I have an exciting life?) After converting the recipe into metric units, I was ready to go! The worst part of baking cookies is always the waiting in between batches in the oven…this was amplified by about 40x because I was only able to fit six cookies at a time into my adult easy-bake oven. I checked on the first batch after about eight minutes, only to find a soupy mess of flat and melty cookies. I had forgotten to take the altitude into account; I’m about twice as high here as in Omaha! So much more flour later, I was cranking out tiny batches of gorgeous looking cookies.

Our recipe makes A TON of cookies, and the Tupperware that I bought was only so big, so I invited my friends Claudia and Gabrielle (from Taiwan and South Korea, respectively) over to share in the bounty. Neither of them had ever had homemade chocolate chip cookies, only store-bought, so they were hooked pretty quickly. (And they have asked me to teach them how to make them ASAP.) When I told them that they were a thank-you for my parrain, they both looked at me a little funnily. Come to find out, in both of their cultures, the exchange of treats/baked goods is often a romantic event…good to know! So we spent two hours hanging out and eating cookies (they were still coming out of the oven this whole time…I lost count somewhere around eight sheets!).

Alas, now that classes have started, I have responsibilities and things, so I should probably get on that…

Posted by NKammerer 11:35 Archived in France Tagged shopping museum citadel classes cookies baking

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Un autre poste charmant...comme toujours! <3

by Lisa Kammerer

Très intéressant, s'il vous plaît envoyer des cookies ici :)

by Ankit

Hi Nathalie - This blog was a real hoot. You are definitely the most enterprising young ladies ever - must have something to do with your upbringing !! Lots of love, Muti

by Muti

I wish I could respond in French - but sorry English is the best I can do! Just loved hearing all about your adventures so far! It sounds like you just love it there and are meeting some really nice people. So happy for you!! This link is awesome!! It's great we can keep in touch like this!! I'm anxious to hear what you'll whip up next in your toaster over!! Take care honey! Love you!!!

by Chris Wulff

What a great international bonding, chocolate chip cookies, who'd thought. What a natural. What is the Cranberries you cranked up.

I love all of the international flavor of your classes. All of the continents except Africa. Wow.

by Opa

WOW" I just read your three most recent "posts" and loved all of the details. I wasn't able to access my email while Opa and I were on our trip, and then I couldn't get into my computer when I got home until the IT guy fixed the problem a couple of hours ago. It sounds like you're having a "blast" and fitting in really well. Congrats on your level of French - that's awesome!

You might become the Famous Amos of France with your chocolate chip cookies!

Can't wait for your next chapter.


by Judy Trout

nati the scenery is beautiful----the blog is delightful---i'm loving it all love aunt betty you're amazing!!!!

by aunt betty

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