03 February 2010

A Whole New World

I have internet! It's my sixth day in France and the first one where I've been able to connect to the internet using my own computer! I'll limit this post to my stay in Jouarre, where I stayed at a convent for my first three nights in France--a great deal, by the way; three nights and five meals for 40 euros.
Here's how my adventure in getting from CDG airport to the convent went...

The people at CDG and Gare l’Est were very nice and accommodating about helping me figure out where to go; the people at Gare du Nord I think were trying to be accommodating but also thought I was stupid and didn’t seem as nice. But maybe that’s just me. [I had to take a subway to Gare du Nord from CDG and a metro from there to Gare l'Est before I could get on my train to Jouarre.]
Then once I got on my train, I didn’t get off at Meaux…thus I backtracked a stop before I exactly figured out that a train runs back and forth between Paris and Meaux, and another one between Meaux and Chateau Thierry (my stop, La Ferte sous Jouarre, was three stops after Meaux). So I had to get off at Meaux and wait a couple minutes for the next Chateau Thierry train to come in. THEN, when I was leaving Jouarre, I assumed it was the same deal and that I would have to get off at Meaux and wait for the next train to take me to Paris. I was wrong. Well, there WAS a train to Paris. But the one I was on in the first place would have taken me to Paris directly, no switches. Oh well.
My room at the convent in Jouarre was quaint but very cute and, in some ways, nicer than my room here at school (more on that, with pictures, soon). I had a bed with pillows, a desk, two dressers (one served as a bedside stand and the other was a bit wider), and a table, as well as three chairs in the room (one at the table, one at the desk, and another one in the corner). I had my own sink with a mirror and a few hooks to the side…there were hangars on the hooks so I assume the sink closet could also double as a closet. The shower was right next door and was pretty basic—turn the water on by twisting the knob on the left and adjust the temperature with the one on the right.
I never went to morning prayer with the nuns because I was asleep Saturday morning, the only day I could have made it, but I went to sext, vespers, and compline each afternoon and it was beautiful. The nuns sang almost everything, often in harmony, and they sang like angels.
Meals were a new experience for me; they were completely silent, which makes sense in the convent setting, but there was a whole etiquette that accompanied them and it took me a couple meals to get the hang of it. Here’s a rough outline of how meals went:
1. Find a table/place, bringing your napkin with you. If you’re eating more than one meal, a cloth napkin with a holder. Otherwise, a paper napkin.
2. Stand at your chair until prayer is said. Sit down, put napkin either in lap or on the table by your plate.
3. First course—vegetables or soup. Offer some of whatever you want (bread or whatever food is being served) and continue passing it around the table until it comes back to you. You end up with both bread and the first course by the time everyone is served and no one eats until everyone has both. Set bread on the table near your plate.
4. Eat, silently, and a speed I simply could not match. Clean your plate with a crust of bread when finished. If you want seconds, offer them to everyone else before serving yourself.
5. Take dish from first course back into kitchen, bring out main course. Same process with serving, this time water and wine are also in the mix.
6. Eat main course and once again clean plate off with bread.
7. Stack all the plates from the table and most of the silverware—whatever won’t be needed for dessert. Everyone get some more bread, maybe a bit more water or wine.
8. Pass out clean plates, time for some cheese. Either one or two kinds of cheese per meal, everyone cuts themselves a wedge and eats it with bread.
9. Dessert, usually some sort of fruit—an apple, fruit salad, apple pie without a crust, a fried apple, some chocolate bread cake, applesauce. Sometimes the cheese went well with the cake, if you wanted to eat them together. Usually no one drank wine with dessert.
10. (at lunch only) coffee or tea, I think people can talk during this part. But they only did during one of the lunches.
11. Help clean and put away all the dishes, wipe the tables down after sweeping all the breadcrumbs into a little dustpan, and re-set the tables for the next meal. Put napkin and holder back into napkin cubby if eating more meals.
Like I said, complicated. But, all in all, an excellent experience and a great way to start off my time here in France.
I'll be posting pictures and details of my life here in Clermont-Ferrand soon!

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