Marques de Fabriques

Sorry people. Blogging has fallen by the wayside. WHOOPS!
Life is good here in Bretagne. That is the region of France I am in, for those of you who are not versed in French culture.
My days have been full of autumn sunshine and eating way too much food and of coure, lots of French.

Bretagne (also known as Brittany) is a very distinct region culturally. People who live here are Breton first and French second- they like to say that Bretagne is not France.
My host parents aren't from Bretagne but they've lived here for a long time, so they really understand and love the Bretagne culture, but not in a heritage-y kind of way.

One classic regional thing here is FÊTES! Festivals. There is a festival in some neighoring village or another every single weekend. Each fête has a theme that has to do with the Bretagne culture. Or sometimes when they run out of cultural elements to celebrate they have a fête in honor of...well, anything they can think of. For instance, about a month ago my host parents went to a fête in honor of cows. My host mother told me it was boring. I wasn't surprised. My image of a cow fête is a bunch of people standing under tents in a field chewing cud with hunched shoulders and glazed eyes.

Anyways, last weekend we went to a fête in a nearby village called La Fête de Fruits d'Automne. A harvest festival, basically. In the morning we did this thing called a Ballade Chantée where you walk around the countryside in a big group and sing french songs. Apparently that it is a classic Bretagne thing- to sing while walking. In the afternoon we ate traditional food (roasted chestnuts and Galettes and hard apple cider), listened to bands play and danced the traditional Breton dance, which is a goofy, celtic-influenced line dance involving very rhythmic little steps. It's really fun.

This weekend there is a great big fête here in Redon in honor of chestnuts. Chestnuts (especially roasted chestnuts) are a big thing here. People are crazy for them. And I must say, they are really delicious. Roasted chestnuts by a fire on a rainy saturday afternoon... What could be better? They also have this stuff here called Crème de Marrons which is a sort of a chestnut spread that you eat in yogurt or on crêpes and it's AWESOME.
I don't think I'd really ever eaten a chestnut before coming here. I have a newfound respect for them.

Besides alcoholism, rain, and stubbornness, fêtes are a "marque de fabrique" of Bretagne. That is a french expression that I know! My friend Louis taught it to me. It means like a signature thing that a place/people are known for. I know there is an expression like that in English, but I can't remember it.

For example, a marque de fabrique of France would be...
Also known as strikes.
When the French are unhappy they go on strike. And the French are never happy. Therefore, the French are known for striking a whole lot.
You may or may not be aware of this, but things are getting a little tumultuous (<-- is that how you spell that? I have no idea, spell check is in French on this computer...) here in France. The french, in general, are really unhappy with the government. Most of the unhappiness has been targeted at the retirment system, but there are really just a whole lot of problems in France right now and it is all Nicolas Sarkozy and his administration's fault. I know there is a lot more to it than that, but people have been explaining it to me in rapid French, and well... I don't really understand.

On my first day of school here there was a strike, but basically all that meant was that a few of my teachers were missing. A few weeks later, there was another strike and enough of my teachers were missing that I just didn't go to school. Last week there was a strike once again, which meant that I had a wonderful picnic/autumn afternoon in the park with friends.

The interesting thing is that in America, people threaten to go on strike, but hardly ever do, and the simple threat of a strike inspires people to start negotiating. Here people go on strike and they strike and strike and strike and protest for weeks but the government ignores it.

So after more than a month of pretty regular striking and protesting, France is getting fed up. I noticed a definite change last week- there have been protests and strikes and sit-ins everyday. The students joined the protests last Thursday. I went to a sit-in in town with some friends on Thursday afternoon, tons of students just sat down in the middle of one of the biggest intersections in town. It was a lot of fun.
For reasons that I don't really understand, the gas stations are on strike (or maybe it's the refineries that are striking and not the stations themselves) and so are a lot of trains and buses, making transportation very complicated. School has become sort of optional: if you don't want to go to class, you can go join the protests in town because they are literally always going on. Or you can just stay home, because half of the students and teachers aren't at school anyways. This morning students held a Blocus in front of school, meaning they blocked all the entrances to school so no one could go to class and was basically forced to go on strike. After standing around in the cold for an hour (first frost last night! woohoo), my host mom came and picked me and my host sister up. We spent the morning at home and then went back into town later for a student protest. Tomorrow is the last day of school before a ten-day vacation. I think the strikes will calm down during the vacation and pick up again afterwards. We'll see. Right now the government is just sitting on their fat asses (pardon my French), plugging their ears, repeating their mantra that everything is just fine.

Honestly, I am loving experiencing all this striking business. I find it so exciting. But for the sake of the French people, I hope something happens soon.

So there you go. Two marques de fabriques that I've been learning a whole lot about. Pretty fun cultural immersion stuff.

My next blog post will be sooner, I promise.

Until then,


Some Information

Bonjour, tout le monde! Look at me, I'm speaking French ooh la la.

It's Thursday afternoon, the sun is out for the first time in about a week. It is a golden autumn day.
Tomorrow after school I'm going to drive to Paris with my host family. We're going to stay with my host brother who is 23 and lives there. On Saturday night we're going to see a soccer game! France vs. Romania. And on Sunday I will get to see my dear freind Kari Olk.

Well, I think now I will write some of the descriptions I promised in my last post.
I will start with where I am living:
I live in a house. The house is on a road which connects to the highway. The highway doesn't really feel like a highway at all, because it is about the width of the street I live on in Minneapolis (roads and cars are so much smaller here and everyone drives a LOT faster). Our road is lined with houses on either side, it's somewhere between a street and a road. It's very charming. My host family's house is a normal-sized house, with a sort of farmhouse vibe. The ceilings are low and the hallways are tight. The walls are painted warm, homey colors and everything feels cozy. There is a great big stone fireplace in the living room which I am guessing I will be spending lots of quality time with this winter. Out back there is a big old garden and and a pen of chickens and several sheds and garages, one of which has been rennovated into a little cottage (a college student is living there this year).
The road curves right after our house and takes you through the dirt road I described awhile ago. You may recall the pasture with the pooping cows. That road is one of my favorite places. It's lined with fields and pastures and and little patches of forest and beautiful stone and vine houses hidden in the distance. If you stand in this one spot on the road you can see a great big château which is lit up at night.
I wish I could describe everything, but word and even pictures don't do it justice.

I am ending this post here because the sun is setting and I want to go walk Zano and visit my pooping cow friends and stare at the countryside before it is dark.

One more thought:
It is silent at night here. I never noticed noise in the city, but now that I'm living in the country I notice the silence. And the darkness. No streetlights outside and no firetrucks on 36th street. Sleeping feels like hibernating.