Thursday, December 23, 2010

Liège

Last Sunday, December 19th (yes, I am actually up to date now), I returned to Liège to meet up with the other American AFSers in Belgium. This time, I took the train from Arlon to Namur alone (I'm basically as far south in Belgium as it is possible to be) and met up with about half of the group there. It had almost the same hype as the flash mob- which was the last time I had seen any of these people. From Namur, we took the train to Liège. Our group was almost complete...we were just missing 2 of the remaining 13. It is a little sad, really. We started out as a group of 16 overly excited Americans going to Belgium- 12 in Wallonia and 4 in Flanders. Now, at four months, we're 11 in Wallonia and just 2 in Flanders. But I'm happy to say that we are still thoroughly overexcited.

Although, according to Johanna, overexcitedness is likely a universal trait of exchange students. Something we'll never lose.

Anyway, we spent the day walking around the Marché de Noël, mostly not paying attention to where we were going. We stopped occasionally at a stand to buy something to eat or drink. We tried hot wine, hot chocolate with Bailey's (mmmm), as well as Peket, which is just really sweetly flavored alcohol. We also bought baked marzipan and these odd chocolate coated marshmallow fluff candies. You could buy them with all kinds of flavors on the inside. And, of course, we stopped to buy gaufres de Liège (not to be confused with gaufres de Bruxelles).

Here's Austin and I with our gaufres.


It snowed all day long. Since all of us come from places where there is snow all winter, we were certainly content. Although, we were also certainly soaked through at the end of the day.



At one point, we went into a mall, to be greeted by none other than Père Noël! Being the absolutely and wonderfully ridiculous exchange students that we are, we had a group photo with Père Noël, an elf, and Rudolph.



It was an excellent way to celebrate our 4-month anniversary of meeting each other. Occasionally I consider what my life would be like if I had not become an AFS exchange student this year, in this country, with this group of people...and it's impossible. I love serendipity.

Anyway, at the end of the day, we went back to the train station. Since the train we wanted to take was late because of the snow, several of us took a train to another, larger station in Liège. From there, I took the train to Namur with a few others. When we got to Namur, however, it really hit me how much snow there was. I had meant to take the train that left just before 7, but I thought I had missed the connection, since I had come on a late train from Liège. But it was okay, it was late too.

And then it was cancelled.

So I took the next train, an hour later than the original.

Which was then 10 minutes late.

It was also twice as full as usual, so I didn't have a seat for an hour of the hour and a half trip. Luckily, I wasn't alone on the return journey. On the train from Liège, we met two other English-speaking exchange students from a different organization, and one of them was taking the train almost to Arlon. It was especially nice since I barely had enough space to move.

In the end, I got back to Arlon at 10:43. I was supposed to get back at 9:17. Nice.

But I got back...and I still love the snow. And serendipity.

Credit to Austin and Lila for the pictures...thanks. :)

St. Nicolas

I woke up on December 1st already expecting something out of the ordinary. After all, it was the St. Nicolas Journée à Thème at school and it would be the first time I would be teaching solo at the primary school. Still, I went downstairs and ate breakfast like usual...and didn't even notice the chocolate in my shoe that was sitting on the staircase until my host father pointed it out. At first, I was rather confused, because I thought that St. Nicolas was on December 6th. As it turns out, children put their shoes out for St. Nicolas starting on the 1st, and then each day until the 6th. So each morning, I came downstairs to find some chocolate in my shoe. Then on the 6th, it was a bigger celebration. There wasn't anything in our shoes, but I walked into the kitchen to see the table full of food, candies, and a gift for each of us. So, now we have enough chocolate to last until Easter and I have a new wallet.

This is from December 1st:


So, as for the Journée à Thème. Athénée Royal d'Arlon has unquestionably the most kickass St. Nicolas celebration. To give an idea how excited the Rhétos were, here's a poster my host sister made. It was hanging in the window facing the courtyard for more than a week before the event, along with a countdown to the day.

I know a lot of schools had visits from St. Nicolas, but I doubt many of them had a visit like this. So here we go...there are about 100 Rhétos at Athénée and we are separated into 4 classes: A, B, C, and D. I'm in 6°C. Anyway, each class elected one student to dress up as St. Nicolas.

The rest of us wore all black and painted our faces black, like this:


Then, during the 10-minute recreation period (most days it's 20 minutes, but on Wednesdays it's only 10 because it's a shorter day), we Rhétos ran out into the courtyard and attacked the younger students with paint and tape, all while making as much noise as possible. At the end of the 10 minutes, every single student had a face full of paint. Many students had paint in their hair and clothing as well.

But that's not the end of it.

During 4th hour, we attacked again. This time, each Rhéto class was assigned a hallway or certain classrooms. We pounded on the door, entered, and plastered the already very colorful students with yet more paint. Then, we sang a song about St. Nicolas. Any student who didn't sing got an extra faceful of paint.

And then we threw them some candy.

My fellow Rhétos were very much more intense about the day than I was, mostly because they had put up with getting painted for the past 5 years. Here's my class after 4th hour:


After St. Nicolas, all the Rhétos traditionally go to a café in town, still with painted faces, and drink all afternoon. However, since I work at the primary school on Wednesday afternoons, I didn't go. Danielle was on a Rotary excursion, off to a Marché de Noël. So I had the class solo. During the first hour, I described the parts of a house. I drew a basic house on the board and then allowed students to come up and draw and addition to the house. Then, I told them the English word for whatever the student had drawn.

During the second hour, I used the house theme for an activity. It was originally inspired by gingerbread houses we make at Christmas in the United States. We used biscuits, different types of spreads, and candies to create houses. Many students brought their creations home to show their parents, although some did eat their houses right away.

So, here's our class with their houses, some of them half-eaten:


I'd say it was a successful day.

"Thanksgiving"

So, Sunday November 28th.

My brother's birthday, my first (and likely last) Belgian medal, and a European "Thanksgiving."

So, first, the medal!

As I've likely mentioned already, I go to Athletic Club Dampicourt with my host family on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We sometimes have competitions on Saturdays, but the club also hosts other events, such as a 5K I did earlier this year in Habay...and a cross-country meet in Arlon. My entire my host family decided to participate in the meet. There were different distances to choose from. My age group could choose between a short (1500 meter) and long (3000 meter) run. Florence and I were going to do the short one, but an official told us that if we did the longer one, we could get more points for the club, and possibly get a place on the podium. So, despite the fact that we're both throwers, we did the longer run. As it turned out, there were 4 competitors in our age group, so I did end up with 3rd place. I may not have huge bragging rights, but hey, I have a medal that says I got 3rd place in the Province of Luxembourg!
Plus, I got St. Nicolas speculoos afterwards.

After we finished the race, we went to pick up Danielle, the other American exchange student at my school. We returned home to cook. Luckily, I didn't have to worry about cooking my first turkey without any help. Because actually...I didn't even make it. I made some bread (which we ended up eating the next day, because we had enough food) and Danielle and I both made the apple pie. However, I did manage to make gravy for the first time. It was a little lumpy and not thick enough, but it tasted fine. And that just gives me something to work on for next time!

In addition to Danielle, we had Michel's parents over for dinner. They brought me a book, La Marquise du Pont d'Oye, which tells the story of a Marquise that lived in a palace near the Pont d'Oye, which is close to where they live. I actually visited there earlier in the fall. The book is illustrated by a local artist...and signed just for me.

The dinner was wonderful. Not just the food, which was great, of course, but the family. One thing I really love about Belgium is how close everything seems to be...how close my family is. In the United States, I rarely get to see extended family. I have some cousins that I haven't seen in five years. Here, though, I see my host grandparents at least every few weeks. I see one of my host family's cousins almost every day because he goes to the same school as me. It is really great to have family so nearby.


So, here we are at dinner. On the left is Nicole (Michel's mother), Danielle, and me. On the right (starting in the back) is Victoria, Florence, Michel, and Isabelle. Marcel (Michel's father) took the picture, so he's not in it, unfortunately.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Around Wallonia

I've been rather busy of late, so I have a lot to write about. But, for the sake of comprehension, I am not going to do one long post. Instead, I'll do a few short(er) posts, organized chronologically. First, I'm going to take a big step back to the end of November.

The last week in November, I traveled all over Wallonia. On Thursday, my French class went to Namur to meet François Emmanuel, the author of La Question Humaine, a novel that we read in class. In the afternoon, we had a poetry workshop. I actually succeeded in doing one of the exercises! We had to write an 8-line poem using an ABAB rhyme scheme and iambic tetrameter. We also had to choose from specific rhyming words, and then add in our own. We could choose from the words lumière, paupière, and ouvert, or dormir, rire, and dire, or the imperfect rhyme of mien and main. We could also use the assonance ciel and soleil, as well as the words yeux and ombres. And, to top it off, we were supposed to write about a woman, but I can't remember why.

Anyway, here's a picture of my class (well, half of it):


And here's my take on the exercise:

Le ciel est noir sur tout le monde
Mais elle ne fait rien que rire
Elle me raconte un histoire quand
L'ombre noir préfère dormir

Maintenant il y a de la lumière
Elle cherche le soleil avec sa main
Mais la fenêtre n'est pas ouverte
Et, en fait, elle trouve la mien
ne

Here's the translation, for those of you who don't speak French:

The sky is black over all the world
But she does nothing but laugh
She tells me a story of when
The black shadow prefers to sleep

Now there is light
She searches the sun with her hand
But the window is not open
And, actually, she finds mine


I'm not sure if the French is perfect, but I thought it was a pretty darn good try for an Anglophone, especially considering I didn't use a dictionary. And it certainly made me feel pretty awesome when the workshop leader asked me to read the poem again, and then complimented me on the imagery of the 6th line. I'm not even sure if he knew that I'm an exchange student.

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On Friday, I had another field trip! All of the Rhétos (Seniors) went to Liège for Ethics class. We were supposed to see two expositions, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, but the one in the morning was cancelled. Instead, we went to the aquarium and biological museum at the University de Liège in the morning, and then we had the other exposition in the afternoon. I found the exposition to be very interesting. It was called Enfermement (I think) and it was all about the prison systems in Belgium, shown through pictures and a video. Unfortunately, only half of the group got to see the video, and I was in the half that didn't. But at least I had a good game of President.

Here's the building that held both the aquarium and the exposition hall:


And here is the river that runs through Liège:



Before the exposition, we were free for two hours to go eat lunch. At first, I was with my host sister and some friends. Since we had a lot of time, we went into a store. This particular store had some American clothing, including Abercrombie. I took a look at the price tag...


...this particular sweater cost 118 Euro. People really pay that much!

Most of the group went to eat at Quick, a fast-food restaurant that's quite similar to McDonald's. I'm not a huge fan of fast food, so the two other exchange students and I split away from the group in search of another place to eat. We ended up with another group of friends, and we went to...

Pizza Hut.

Yes, really.

It was a little strange to eat such "American" food in Belgium, but it was just as greasy, cheesy, and horribly satisfying as I remembered.

I didn't take many pictures at the exposition, but I did take a picture of one quote from a prisoner. Dad, I thought you might appreciate this:



Here's the translation:

"In prison, I learned to like books. Reading is the only escape allowed. Reading is also a good way to learn to know the lives of others."

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Then, on Saturday, I went to Brussels with my AFS Comité. We went to a Chocolaterie to learn how chocolate is made (and to eat some samples, of course!) and then we walked around a Marché de Noël and in the main square. It was a beautiful day. It was actually sunny!



It was even decorated for Christmas.



I didn't buy anything at the Marché de Noël, but I did find a bookstore and I bought a children's book. It was one of my favorite books when I was little, but I actually don't own it in English. At least I now own it in French. It's called The Three Robbers in English and Les Trois Brigands in French. It's written by Tomi Ungerer, if you'd like to read it.

I also saw two really cool pieces of street art in Brussels. Here they are:





On Sunday, I returned to the south, to Arlon. But Sunday will be the next post. It's time to go decorate the Christmas tree!

Update: I corrected the poem and now the French IS perfect. As it turns out, I only had two faults. I just put masculine instead of feminine.