Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"I need to do theater!"

We sat down on the train heading to Montauban. It was Saturday and I anticipated a quiet ride. Boy, was I wrong. The whole thing was hilarious. First, we had to walk about .75 miles to the train station (with all of our luggage). I know what it is like to pack light because I have traveled around Europe and watched/felt the pain of those who carry too much luggage. Well . . . my friend and travel companion, Marie hadn’t prepared for a long walk and her awkward suitcase wasn't meant for walking. Plus she had four other bags on her back/arms. So, in utter desperation to make it to the train station on time, I carried two of her bags and she carried her 50 pound bag like a baby. We sprinted to the station . . . me, surprisingly calm, but secretly sweating and stressed. Incredibly, WE MADE IT.

Then, we sat down, got all our luggage put away, and this sweet French lady asks me if she could sit next to me. Most of the seats were open in the car, so I wasn’t sure why she wanted to sit by us, but I said "sure." Turns out, she wins the award for friendliest person of the year. She was a French Jew, was born in Morraco, spent time in Jerusalem (learned Hebrew), married. had two children, and was happily divorced. She was rocking the freedom, and her message to us was that all people need to be loved . . . despite religion, color, or nationality. Before she taught me some profound lessons about life, she taught me some French. And this is where I learned how shy I am. She grabbed my face and started moving my mouth around to try to help me pronounce the vowel sounds correctly. She told me that I needed to do theater. She said that it would help my confidence and allow me to be more comfortable. It was hilarious. It just felt so awkward. But she followed up the lesson by saying that I was pretty like a mouse. I am holding that compliment dear to my heart for a good while. She was the best roller coaster.

Once we settled down in Montauban and went to the cutest branch for church on Sunday. It surprised me that I was able to communicate a little better. The French lesson was coming in handy.

Somehow, this year I have celebrated three Mother's Days in Europe. In Spain, in the U.S. and this Sunday, in France, which was my favorite because they gave roses for all the girls/mothers. This boy, around 8 years old, with the BIGGEST, CUTEST, MOST PRECIOUS smile came up to me and handed me a rose. I have officially been given a flower by a Frenchman. I snuck a picture of him.

And then, another kind French soul dropped out of nowhere. Everyone offered to give us a ride home and they were all very helpful, but Laurence invited us to her home. It was another great French experience. She taught us, and she told us the wild story of her life. Get this . . . she divorced her husband because she found out that he was a terrorist and a mercenary. Then he won custody of her son because she was born out of incest (meaning her parents were brother and sister). But my favorite part about this cultural experience was that she slept in a tent on top of her bed to keep warm. My mind was running wild with intrigue, but slow because it didn’t want to understand any more French.

She made us sardine pasta. I tried to love it. I loved the pasta. Pasta for the win. The cold sardine sauce almost killed me though. My eyes were bulging. I was gagging. I didn’t even have a napkin to cover up my pained face. I just couldn’t get over the texture and the bones, but after my near death experience, Laurence just asked me if I choked on an onion. Marie happily replied, “Yes, yes she did.”

Laurence and I

The rest of the day, and most of Monday, we worked and worked and worked on our research projects. But the WIFI is so slow in our hotel room so we tried a new tactic. We went to McDonalds. We ordered some chicken nuggets and used the WIFI for hours. It was surreal because American 80’s music was blasting. We had run into a security guard at the grocery store by our hotel the day before, and we ran into him again at Mcdonalds. He was on duty and came up and talked to us for awhile. I was stunned . . . who are all these random souls sent to be kind to us and help us with the language? I don’t even know any security guards in the United States. At least none of them have ever started a conversation with me. After McDonalds we went to another store . . and we ran into him again! He added us on Facebook . . . I couldn’t believe it.

Studying at McDonalds

After all these crazy tales, are you ready for the miracle of the trip? When we first arrived in Montauban we realized that the archive we needed to get into to work on our project was only open on Thursdays for three hours, which was terrible because we were leaving on Wednesday. So we went into the city to try and attend a mass (our second attempt in Montauban at this point) but again the information sign was wrong. We decided to at least find the archive. even if it wasn't open. We wandered around it and found a sign that said “Tour.” We thought if we couldn’t go in to the archive, we could at least take a tour of the Bishop's house, but when we went in to talk it was like a terrible French jumble. We learned that “tour” is the French word for “tower” and not a guided walk through a building. But this is where the miracle occurred. We were told to knock on the Bishop’s door (the same building that the diocesan archive is connected to) and ask them if they could help us because they spoke more English.

I walked away a little bummed . . . like French fail. I was wondering what we were doing in this city… it was cold and rainy the one day I wore a white shirt and short. I was thinking it was going to be a long day. Alas, we walked to the door of the Bishop's and practiced what we should say and rang the door bell. A cute blond secretary answered and it was as if the heavens opened and I understood French again. She told us to come in and she called the archivist, WHO CAME IN 10 MINUTES LATER JUST FOR US. What?? That never happens?! My mouth dropped. 

Turns out she was about the nicest person I have ever met. Spoke such clear French. It just felt like service was her second nature. She took us back and gave us everything we needed to search for our research project. Then, she offered to photo copy all of the information FOR FREE. Then, she sent us historical articles through email. Then, she let us take pictures of other documents. THEN…she walked us into part of the Bishop's house to see a painting of the man we are researching. We met the Bishop and he was so easy going and good-spirited.

The only picture I could sneak of the lady

All of the documents she scanned for us. 

THEN . . . GET THIS! Seriously, this is where her kindness blew me away. It was raining and we didn’t have an umbrella and so she DROVE US BACK TO OUR HOTEL. I don’t even know this women’s name. And without a second thought, she drove two strangers to their hotel and gave them all the help they could ever ask for at the drop of a hat. She will always be an inspiration to me. Marie and I just couldn’t help but feel it was a divinely lead miracle.

Later in the evening we tried to go to mass, and again, for the third time, failed. So instead we went shopping and I found my mom an awesome late birthday present. But, all the sudden, the shop workers just started talking to us. They asked us about Donald Trump and then we asked them about their new president and it became this 20 minute conversation about French politics and economics. I feel like I am being punked with kindness. All along our path the past week and a half, we have continually met people who are tres gentil and it just surprises me. The cultural experience is just falling from the sky and I am loving every moment.

Here are some pictures of the city:

Inside the Cathedral

La Place National

I also got to end my stay here by going to a patisserie. Bought myself a much needed chocolate ├ęclair and then the lady asked me if I wanted a baguette with it. I swear the way she looked at me, she knew I was a baguette eater. It was such an accomplishment. I said YES. How did you know I eat one every day with Boursin cheese? (It actually has become a habit and my most common meal).


Marie always laughs and says, “What would you do without your baguette and boursin?”
It’s true. I don’t know. But it sure was a good way to end the night.

We are getting bored of the obviously cutesy you can tell

It makes for a more interesting picture don't you think?

Montauban will be remembered as the city with no mass, random kind strangers at every turn, and last, but not least…the most car honking attention we have ever received. It is becoming hilarious. Cars full of men, cars full of families . . . they all honk and stare at us . . . like they want to eat us. It is the most bizarre European phenomenon. Every time it happens, I turn wide eyed to Marie and say, “Wow, that was a big one…” Memorable moments. Oh and I can't forget the small bathroom of wonder. Here is me washing off my foot. Took up the entire bathroom. 

Now, I'm eating a baguette avec boursin and listening to the Beach Boys as if they answered my prayers.

A bientot, Montauban. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

It's been quite the adventure.

This week was the first week we had without our professor. It was the real deal. The real test of our French. Of our navigating skills. Of our archive skills. And you know what? It has been a wild ride, with some bumpy moments . . . but mostly grand, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

We stayed at our first "cheaper" hotel, which welcomed us to our new stage of cheaper hotels--our first little French adventure. It was like this apartment complex where you had to schedule a time for someone to be there to let you in. But we didn't know we were going to be staying in that town until like 30 minutes before. So, we had three awkward French conversations with people on the street and they called the place, and, voila! we had a place to sleep, which was my only concern at that point.

It turned out to be a great hub for us. Get this! We had a microwave. and a stove. and a desk. and a fridge. THE SIMPLE THINGS IN LIFE. I feel at times like a vagabond, with only my luggage to my name. I have to go out to eat or buy nonperishable food items at the store. It shocked me how much I appreciated space and comfortable electronics. I bought a lot of microwaved meals and enjoyed them to my hearts content.

Each day, we woke up and worked on our marriage dispensation project. Bayonne is the French part of the pays-basque or in English, the basque country. It makes the area interesting to study, and we are extracting information from their marriage dispensation records to find out what kind of impediments to marriage people had during 1775 to 1785. I'm not sure that makes total sense, but at least you can join my genealogy nerdiness for a second.

It takes lot of concentration. So in between the research, Marie and I made sure to take walks around the town. We had fun going to the Musee Basque and thrift shopping. Bayonne is absolutely beautiful with a river going through quaint Basque architectural buildings. I ate what they call a Basque Burger. I honestly don't know why its that different from a real burger. There was a hot sauce on it and bacon, but the coolest part was the little Basque flag in it. The cute little waiter kept teasing me for ordering it because she couldn't believe such a small person was eating such a large burger. I told her it was "pour la experience!"

Then, Thursday. 

Thursday was a game changer. It is what you might say was not a coincidence. It was a cultural fire hose. You see, on Sunday at church, we were invited to go on the ward hike on Thursday, which here in France was Ascension Day. Meaning there was no school and most shops were closed.

We had to change hotels because of the holiday (our hotel was completely booked). So in order to have a place to sleep, which as I mentioned earlier was the most important thing, we had to find another hotel. With all of our luggage, we checked out of our magical place and ran to the bus. Literally, the bus saw us running with all of our luggage and waited for us. MIRACLE. 

The missionaries happened to be on that bus and helped us carry our luggage to the church where we kept it for the hike. Then, the rest of the experience was the longest and most French  I have ever spoken . . . I think . . . in my life. 

The hike was seven miles. We were not messing around. It was an uphill battle for sure. And not only was my out-of-shape self physically exhausted, but I was speaking broken French the entire way up and down. Boy, was it the best mental and physical work out of my life. But in the end the journey made me fall in love with all of these people, and the view was spectacular. 

At first I was so intimidated. I just kept praying, and honestly was not sure how I was going to survive the day. But somehow I kept trying and they kept trying and the worlds of communication came together and I actually learned a lot. 

There were two girls, Claire and Lea, my newest Instagram friends, who talked to us the whole time. They were so afraid to speak English because they didn't want to mess up or sound dumb, and they didn't understand very much. BUT IT MADE  ME FEEL SO MUCH BETTER. I was like, we are so alike, we just feel comfortable in two different languages. 

The two elders, Marie, Lea and Claire

Le Livre de Mormon

They asked me if I had a boyfriend. When I told them his name is Parker, they laughed and said, "that is such an american name!" They kept practicing pronouncing it. They also asked me what my family was like. We bonded over common dance moves like the dab,  the whip and the nae nae, and even bottle flipping. We laughed hysterically over how they pronounce the names of American actors and TV shows. It is crazy! I have never heard Desperate Housewives said quite the same. Or Harry Potter, Scarlett Johansson, and Justin Bieber. 

These girls . . . I was really sad to say goodbye!

There were wild horses everywhere. 

The entire group

Who can tell how secretly stressed I was? Right in the middle of my French speaking success. ha.

I had an interesting missionary experience too. While walking next to the missionaries, a French couple walked by and said Bonjour and proceeded to ask the missionaries who they were. They asked me if I was a missionary too. I said no, and then they asked me if I voted for Trump or Hilary! ha ha 

They started asking the missionaries about the Mormons and how it was an American church. It was weird to step into their shoes and feel what it must be like for the missionaries to teach in a foreign country every day. After a little small talk, they weren't interested, but it made me grateful for all the hard work missionaries are putting in every day to try and help the work progress. 

Everyone we met was so polite, gave us bises (kisses on the cheek), and made us feel at home. Then, Francoise drove us to the church and then to our new apartment. It just kept surprising me how kind she was. We were essentially American strangers. All we had in common was our religion. Her kindness was done with such sincerity and without a second thought, like you could tell it was just who she was. 

Then, she got my number and email and planned to meet us at the beach the next morning. What?? Not only did she serve us, but our bad French didn't scare her way from wanting to see us again!

So, we rocked the bus system once again and went to the beach. It was beautiful. It was called, Milady, and was by far the best beach I have been to in Europe. It wasn't as cold and the waves were big. After growing up in Hawaii, it felt so familiar to me to just sit in the water and be carried away by the waves as I observed the terrain around me. 

We went on a walk with Francoise and Genieve (my other best friend). They taught us, loved us, and told us about their lives and culture. 

Francoise and Genevieve

Crab hunting 




Who are these people and can I keep them forever? It was so fun for me to get the chance to be with them and learn from them and practice my French with them. It felt good to keep failing and trying and failing and trying with real people. And to use hand gestures. And somehow they still understood. It felt good to laugh and laugh. And laugh.

One of the funniest things I learned is that here in France, if you are wearing a bikini, it means that you aren't wearing a top. 

On that note, Bayonne has been the coolest cultural surprise. I just want to speak French better. I have had the biggest mental overload the last few days, but I am so happy to have experienced the kindness here. I just can't get over how much a religion can bind people to one another.