Today is one of the first days that feels like autumn. Outside, rain drizzles down onto fallen leaves and bobbing umbrellas, leaving a temporary sheen on Aix. It's the type of day that requires the spice of a hot chia tea, a cozy sweater, and a good book; and it reminds me achingly of home. 

Looking at the seven months still ahead of me is like looking straight up at the Eiffel Tower from the very bottom. It's a monstrous amount of time at first glance, but the days are going by like stairs. Already there have been many beautiful views along the climb.

On October 4th, we had our first wine tasting class at IAU taught by Professor Amy Mumma, one of the best wine tasters and connoisseurs in the world. I was lucky enough to help her set up, choose wines, and pick her brain. Then in the class, we sampled four different wines from the region of Provence: two reds, one white, and one rosé. We swirled and sniffed and swished and swallowed and spat. I was surprised by how amazing and thorough the course was, but also by how little I retained. But I did learn this: there is way more to choosing a wine than the price tag. 

Then, on October 7th, my French Culture class meandered through the streets of Aix only to land on the doorstep of Dolls in the Kitchen. Instead of conjugating verbs, we learned how to make a provencal soup called Pistou. Somehow with our horrific french, we followed instructions given by the cook, and through team work, created quite a delicious lunch. Cooking is a great way to learn new vocabulary, like: pommes de terre = potatoes, carottes = carrots, oignons =onions, ail = garlic, etc. It was a great class, but then again, I love anything that involves food.

October 11th was a ladies night involving a french film, a beer, and some much needed chocolate ice cream. It was the perfect end to the week and beginning of the weekend.

 October 12th, I caught a bus with some friends to Avignon where we spent half the day sneaking around and exploring Le Palais des Papes, and the other half of the day at the Fountaine de Vaucluse. The Palais des Papes is huge, filled with wonderful historical exhibits, secret passageways, and strange art exhibits. The Fountaine de Vaucluse is essentially a whole in the ground in a grand cave, that, in the summertime, bubbles up, fills the cave and becomes a rather large river. The water is crystal clear and you can see straight down into the depths of the crevice. 
October 18th we had another wine class feature the wines of Bordeaux. It focused on wine temperatures, fermentation processes, flavors, and food pairings. Fun fact: If you want to serve a white wine with your dinner but you have one guest who prefers a mellow white and another that prefers more tang, try serving the same wine less chilled for the mellow person and more chilled for the tangy person. The acidity of your wine changes with the temperature it is served. Another fun fact: If your wine is too dry for your taste, drink it with a fatty food. This will make the wine feel more smooth.

Later that evening, I went with a few of my lady friends to the local wine bar to try and test our new wine tasting abilities.
October 19th my friend, Jasmine, and I joined another class on their excursion to Arles for a religious studies course. We went to the Musee de l'Arles et de la Provence antique where we learned about the Roman occupation of the south of france, Christian influences on crypts, and saw the only sculpture of Caesar in France. Later that day we went into town and saw the Arles amphitheater, the Church of Saint Trophime, an enthusiastic accordion player, and had a wonderful meal.
The week of the 21st - 25th was midterms here at IAU... Although this semester's midterm week was slightly more laid back than some in the past, it was a week of exams and papers none the less, and I was a little stressed, sleep deprived, and emotionally absent. On top of that, I had a last minute housing change. Now, I am living with an older French couple, who are absolutely wonderful, and my french seems to be improving dramatically.

The week of October 28th - November 1st was spent roaming around Venice and Milan with my friends Dixie and Sonja. We spent the first half of the trip in a hotel just outside of Venice in a town called Mirano. It was a place where the ancient walls whispered, faucets mysteriously turned on, and items were moved when no one was around to move them. It was perfect for halloween! And despite all the spookiness, we felt very safe and happy to be in such a beautiful place. 

While in Venice, we spent out time losing our way among the twisting streets, eating gelato and pizza, and trying on ornate, Italian masks. In Mirano, we visited the local market and dedicated the day to shopping and italian haircuts.

The second half of the trip we rented a cute studio apartment in Milan. During our stay in Milan we visited Peck (an amazing Italian food store) and tasted some fancy wines, saw the Duomo Cathedral (where there are mummified bodies of Popes and Priests), saw the very first and largest Prada store, toured through the Sforza Castle Museums, and cooked a healthy meal every night. My mother would be proud: we had lots of salad.
November 6th, was a busy day. On wednesday mornings I teach English to a handful of wriggling 3-5 year-olds at a school called The English Bubble. That day we learned about fall colors while making paper cutouts of leaves and trees. Then in the afternoons I tutor a french family, who I meant by beautiful chance. That day we went to restaurant

And on November 9th, I took a bus with some friends to Ville d'Istres for the 26th annual Salon des VIns de la Gastronomie. There we spent the entire day sipping, slurping, and tasting expensive wines of every sort and variety, munching on gourmet food samples, and petting animals at a petting zoo. I have to say, it was probably one of my favorite days so far in France and definitely worth the 2€ bus ride and the 4€ entrance fee. 

It's amazing to look back and see how fast the days go by. It's silly to sit here and sigh about how the future is always beyond the fingertips, when in reality what was once the future is now in the palm of my hands. Right now, at this very moment, I am living a dream that I've dreamt about since I was a little girl, and I am so incredibly, beautifully, wonderfully happy. 
Albert Camus
Albert Camus est connu comme philosophe, écrivain, et comme militant de la cause des droits de l'homme. Sa vie en Algérie a joué un grand rôle en faisant de lui l'homme dont nous nous rappelons aujourd'hui.

Né en Algérie française au cours de l'année 1913 d'immigrants européens (les ‘Pieds-noirs’), Camus a vu le monde à partir d'un angle différent. Pendant ses jeunes années, il a vu comment la violence de la première guerre mondiale a ravagé l’Europe et a pris son père. Il a vu comment sa mère, qui était presque sourde, a lutté pour vivre. Il a vu la frustration des Algériens et leur lutte pour l'indépendance. Toutes ces choses ont influencé ses écrits.

Camus a habité en Algérie pendant la majeure partie de sa vie. Il a gagné une bourse d'études à l'Université d'Alger où il a étudié la philosophie. En 1938, il est devenu journaliste pour un journal anticolonialiste appelé Alger-Républicain où il a rendu compte de l'état des Musulmans de la région de Kabylie. Ces écrits ont attiré un avis public et ont amené le gouvernement algérien à prendre des mesures et à commencer le processus de l'indépendance.

Au cours de la lutte de l'Algérie pour l'indépendance, il y avait beaucoup de violence. Cette période a inspiré le livre ‘L'Homme Révolté’ à Camus, où il fait la distinction entre une révolte pacifique et une révolution violente. Il n’a pas eu l’espoir que la situation en Algérie améliorerait.

Apres sa mort dans un accident de voiture en 1960, l’Algérie a était libérée en 1962 de la France. Il y a eu quelques améliorations depuis lors.

Aujourd’hui, les deux payes restent séparées mais ils maintiennent des relations de coopération solides. L’Algérie a supprimé le français comme deuxième langue dans le pays. Même si le français n’est plus la deuxième langue, le français est proposé à l'école mais ce n’est pas obligatoire, et la plupart des gens parlent français. De plus en plus, les Algériens parlent arabe parce qu’il est la langue officielle.

Aujourd’hui, les frontières sont ouvertes à nouveau et il y a de plus en plus de musulmans en France. En 2008, environ 14% de la population française était des immigrés Algériens et leurs enfants. Bien que la France soit un lieu des opportunités, les immigrés et leurs enfants ont des difficultés à s’integres complètement dans la culture française. La plupart des immigrés vivent dans les cités et ont du mal à trouver du travail. Certains diront que le travail est un droit de l’homme.

Les droits de l'homme étaient un sujet important pour Camus. En Algérie aujourd’hui il y a beaucoup de problèmes encore. Par exemple, la discrimination fondée sur la naissance, la race et le sexe est légale, les gens ne sont pas autorisés à remettre en question l'islam ou le gouvernement, et le viol conjugal est encore légal.

Cependant, il y a eu quelques améliorations aussi. Légalement, les deux sexes sont égaux et les femmes reçoivent des soins médicaux décents au cours de la grossesse et de l’accouchement. Les femmes sont encouragées à aller à l'école et les femmes dominent dans des professions comme les soins de santé, les médias, les jugés, et les propriétaires d’entreprises.

Aujourd’hui, Camus verrait un petit peu de changement en l’Algérie depuis qu’il est mort. Peut-être qu'il demanderait plus de changement, et ensuite critiquerait le gouvernement algérien pour être absurdement hypocrite… Mais en général, Albert Camus serait heureux des progrès que l'Algérie fait en découvrant une identité séparée de la France depuis sa mort.

I could not have picked a more perfect place to study abroad. Every morning I wake up to a variation on this view of Montaigne Saint Victoire, piece myself together, and head to class. While all my friends in Montana don their winter coats and Sorrel boots, I lounge around in shorts and a blouse, enjoying the South of France and its Indian Summer. I love the chic simplicity of Aix style and I do my best to mimic it. But I'm learning that if you want to turn any outfit into a french outfit, simply add a scarf. Walking to class is the best time to observe fashion trends, and if you're not careful, step on a land mine. 

The walk into town can be as pleasant as the caressing scent of freshly baked bread and market flowers, or as fowl as fresh turds. The French don't pick up after their dogs! It's illegal not to pick up after the little French dogs, and the French think it's disgusting, but still they don't do it. It's a task that is beneath them and considered to be the responsibility of the town. I'm currently working on a report for a class about French dog culture, and let me tell you, there is no more awkward task than photo documenting piles of dog crap. That's the only major complaint I have about France so far, and I've been lucky enough to not step on a land mine, although I'm sure it will happen in time. However, there are several other aspects of Aix that I'm very impressed with. 

Every morning, the streets inside Aix-en-Provence are crowded with markets selling every sort local or organic food imaginable. There you will find the best deals for food, clothes, and jewelry. Les Marchés d'Aix put even the best Farmer's Markets at home to shame. 

Aix is also an international college town and abundant with young people! Everywhere I go, I run into a familiar face or meet interesting new people. IAU and other universities in Aix put together school events and club meetings to help students mingle and get involved in the local community. So far we've had cocktail parties, professional wine tastings, and day trips around France. Since I've been here, I've joined a local ultimate frisbee team called T-R'Aix that's totally kicking my butt back into shape, and am on a never ending quest for the best yoga and salsa dancing deals. I need to stay stay active while I'm here, especially after discovering...
Macaroons. These things will be the death of me. I have no self control when it comes to sweets... Mmm, chocolat fraise.

I don't know how the French do it. They have sweets and treats and cheese galore, they eat whatever they want all the time, and no one gains weight! It's called the French Paradox, and it's certainly perplexing. 

School has been keeping me pretty busy, and the busier I am, the better. I'm taking three different french classes ranging from culture, to media, to grammar, and still, my French is horrific. I'm remembering more and more everyday, and learning a lot too, but it's a little discouraging when I go to speak in public and the only response I get is a confused, concerned face. Mostly, though, les Aixoises are very friendly and understanding, and eager to show off their english. 

Between les Aixoises speaking in english when they hear my accent, my American school, my American friends, and my English host mother, sometimes I forget that I'm in France.   

Another really interesting class that I'm taking is an education course comparing the French method/education system to the American version.Through that class I got a job teaching English to youngsters at a school/daycare called The English Bubble. The class itself is fascinating, but the teaching is definitely the best part. I want to teach at a high school level, but singing "The Wheels on the Bus" and playing games is definitely a fun way to gain experience!

Also, while dining at a sushi restaurant (I know... What am I doing? I Should be eating French food!), a woman and her 15 y.o. daughter approached me and asked if I would tutor them on wednesdays. So every wednesday they take me out to a different (French) restaurant, culture me in food (which is more than perfectly acceptable by my standards) while I speak to them in English. Not a bad way to spend a wednesday!
This Saturday, I went to Marseille with my host mom and we toured around Le Longchamp Palace and the Museum of Mediterranean Civilizations. They were both pretty spectacular and quite contrasting in architecture. 
The restaurant at the Museum.

Then Sunday, I went on a community trip to Monaco where we saw the changing of the guard and gambled at the Monte Carlo. Well, I watched people gamble, and I learned how to play Blackjack. It looked like a fun game of probability and chance, but not fun enough to tempt me to blow my money away. I'd rather go shopping...

I'm so blessed to have the opportunity to spend the year studying abroad, and even more so to get to travel on top of everything else. And even though I'm surrounded by so much beauty and history, being here only makes me love and appreciate what I have even more. 

It's in the quiet moments that I really yearn for home. I miss freezing at Bobcat football games, laughing with my roommates, my dad's cooking, the crunch of freshly groomed snow under sharp edges, my mom's music playing around the house, my dog and my horses, Dana yelling "Let's rock 'n' roll, people!" way too early in the morning, and the smell of campfire and dust. More than anything, I miss the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming.

They say "home is where the heart is," and my heart is somewhere is those mountains, riding with a cowboy. 

Well, I've been in Europe for about a month now, and it's about time I've updated the blog. 

What a crazy adventure! Landing after a terribly long flight, greetings from familiar faces was the most comforting thing I have ever experienced. spent my first week spoiled rotten in Zürich, Switzerland by family friends. We went shopping on the Bahnhoffstrasse, spent a day at the Europa Park, rode horses on their farm in Germany, and spent nights roaming their cornfields in search of wild boar. When the time came to say goodbye, I didn't realize how many extra things I had collected until there was no one left to help me with my bags.

I overpacked with about eighty pounds of stuff that I really don't need.  My excuses were: "It's hard to pack for a year!" "You never know what you'll need!" "I don't have enough money to just buy everything!" "I'm strong enough to carry all this, don't worry!" Stupid. When the time finally came to leave for France I realized a little too late, just how heavy eighty pounds really is and how much it would slow me down. Confused, sweaty, and on the verge of tears, I climbed aboard my last train, heaving those devilish bags on just a the train began to creep out of the station.  Then a man on the intercom announced that we were arriving into Aix-en-Provence 15 minutes late, and I could swear the passengers in my car gave me a disapproving glance as he said this.

Standing at the platform, I waited for an IAU representative to pick me up. Fifteen minutes went by, then 20, 30, 40... Crap, I must have turned in my train schedule too late. Then an older lady with an IAU sign approached me. The sign didn't have my name on it, but a kid named Jeff who had fallen asleep on his train and was late too. So, we waited for Jeff and then I did the one thing I promised I would not do: go home with a stranger. My thought process was: she has an official looking sign, I can outrun her, there is another American with me, and I'm tired of traveling. So I went home with her, and she put me in the oven and ate me for dinner. No. She was very sweet to me, feeding and watering me like a stray cat, even though my appearance and odor had to be offensive. There had been a mix up with times and my host mother had waited for over an hour at the train station and then left.

I live with a British woman named Claire and her 19 year old daughter Nina. At first I was mildly disappointed that I wouldn't be staying with an actual French family, but I don't think I could have picked a better family! After lugging those awful bags up five flights of stairs, there waited an oasis that reminds me quite a lot of home. Horses and trophies decorate the walls here. I'm living with one of England's National Dressage Champions! Right off the bat, Nina and I had something to chat about while I settled in.

Despite all of that, the first night was definitely a hard one. It was difficult to get to sleep and nine months suddenly seemed dauntingly long. The following morning, however, all was right with the world once again. 

So now, for a brief summary of the past few weeks:
After my arrival in Aix, school began in a flurry of French words.
The first weekend here, we went on a school trip! Saturday we roamed around Nice and played at the beach, soaking up as much salt water and sunshine as we could in our limited hours. Sunday we went to Marseille and saw Le Notre Dame de la Garde!
The weekend after that, some friends and I took a bus to Cassis for a day trip to the beach. After hiking up slippery rock slopes too close to the cliff's edge for my taste, we came to the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. The waters were breathtakingly green-blue, so cold that it literally did steal your breath, surrounded by red earth shooting straight up from the water. 
Then, last weekend we climbed Mt. Saint Victoire! It was quite a long way to the top, especially without a lunch and extra water, but nobody got lost, fell off of a cliff, or shot by a hunter. So all in all, it was a great day and we took our time at the top, soaking in the peace of the monastery and taking copious pictures. 

Finalement, most events have been recorded! Hopefully I can stay more up-to-date with my blogs and then you guys don't have to read novels every time.

A bientôt!

Oh, I almost forgot! I had my very first beer in Freiburg, Germany!
Tous le mardis et jeudis, les Aixois viennent des principales rues d'Aix-en-Provence pour faire un peu de shopping. Les marchés dans Aix sont excellentes parce qu'ils vendent de tout, des aliments frais aux vêtements. Quand vous marchez dans le ville, vous pouvez sentir les herbes de Provence avant de les voir. Ensuite, tout a coup, vous entrez dans une place avec des légumes de toutes les couleurs! Vous ne trouverez pas des légumes comme ce sont les États-Unis.

Puis, vous tournez sur une autre rue et il y a beaucoup de gens achètent et vendent des vêtements. Normalement, ces vêtements sont très chers, mais pas aujourd'hui. Tout a été réduite prix! Je voulais toucher la plupart des choses, comme cette veste, et acheter les autres. Si vous visitez Ai-en-Provence, aller dans les marchés et apportez beaucoup de l'argent! 

A bientôt!

Bonjour, tout le monde! Dernier week-end les élèves de l'IAU visité Marseille. Nous avons vu la Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde et d'une port agée. La basilique a été construit a 1864 et elle est très grande. Elle est une église catholique, qu'est utilisé aujourd'hui, et c'est le point plus grand à Marseille. Je pense que l'architecture et le design est magnifique.
J'aime la symétrie et les accents d'or.
Ce sont des bougies de prière.
Les petits bateaux représentent l'importance du Vieux-Port. Le Vieux-Port était le principal port de commerce de l'Empire français. Le Vieux-Port est une énorme partie de l'économie de Marseille parce qu'il apporte des fournitures et des visiteurs de partout dans le monde.
J'ai pris ces photos au marché près du port.
Ne touchez pas un cactus.
Il y a beaucoup d'art par Salvador Dali.
Malheureusement, nous n'avons pas vu le musée de Marseille. Nous avions faim et nous avons mangé dans un restaurant qui ne nous servent pendant longtemps. Mais nous avons vu le grand ville de Marseille et nous étions heureux de voir où Le Comte de Monte-Cristo a lieu. Et éventuellement on en avait marre, il était une fin heureuse.
     C'est presque fini! After months of scabrous preparation and cyclopean piles of paperwork, the seemingly Sisyphean task of readying for France is near complete. I've made the trek down to San Francisco, CA, had an easy, less-than-five-minute appointment at the French Consulate, and  now my Visa and Passport sit neatly in a folder labeled "France". Next to it, a copious array of bags lay in the corner of my room awaiting packing trials. 
      Packing. The final, and tedious, task lingers on the edges of my thoughts, stress creeping up my spine like ivy the longer I procrastinate. However, with boxes of personal items scattered throughout the West, packing will just have to wait. At the moment I am working as a cook and wrangler out in Wyoming for a ranch called Double Rafter Cattle Drives. I also attend Montana State University in Bozeman during the school year, where I have an apartment with four other girls and major in French and Anthropology. To add to the chaos, my parents are in the process of moving out of my childhood home in Washington, and down to Idaho. So, the next arduous task: scrape together what belongings I can find and put them in a bag.
      I hope that I can find my power adapter and voltage converter. That's probably the most important thing that I could take. I've also tried to limit my books to five: my favorite text book Rond-Point for vocabulary, Conversational French for tidbits and phrases, Barron's 501 French Verbs for the tricky tenses, the Bible, and then something just for fun. Limiting my book collection was extremely difficult and maybe I'm overdoing it on the textbooks, but it's been a long time since I've used my French and I'm afraid that I'm a little rusty. As for clothes, all that I have planned so far is a windbreaker/rain coat. I know that I will definitely need that in Aix. As for the rest? Je ne sais pas.
      Although paperwork is a sponge that sucks the fun from any coming adventure and packing is a source of anxiety, I'm still jittery at the idea of spending a year in Aix-en-Provence, France. But reality has yet to set in, still only ideas and daydreams roll around and crash in my head like waves. I imagine a sweet French family, maybe with a small, yappy dog and a cottage in the country near vineyards, and  the vibrant reds of poppy fields. I imagine wine tasting, spelunking and admiring Neanderthal artwork. I imagine walking to school past bustling markets wafting with an aroma of freshness, while devouring gravity-defying pastries as politely as humanly possible, and chattering as best I can with the locals. 
       In reality, the French will probably laugh at my accent and kids will tell me to say things that don't actually mean what they tell me. Ah, c'est la vie! 
       I don't quite yet know what to expect, but whatever may come will be warmly received and will undoubtedly expand my cultural knowledge and alter my perspective for a lifetime. 
      Á bientôt!