Saturday, July 20, 2013

Occult Rituals and the DELF


I know it’s been a while, but I have to tell you honestly that I’m glad to see you again. The best explanation I have for you is that the homesickness hit me at the same time I figured out how to articulate what I’d discovered in relation to nationality and ethnicity. Wallowing apparently takes an inordinate amount of energy; so much energy in fact that posting blogs is wildly unappetizing. It’s terrible, I don’t suggest it. Turns out there is an idiot-proof way to deal with homesickness and general disappointment with the world: be busy.
And I don’t mean putter around the house cleaning, I mean like… be busy! Last Monday (July 8th, my birthday) was the first day of my DELF language preparation course. I went from having a very large amount of time to mope, to having nearly none. I should back up and explain a few things though. First, the DELF is the French language equivalent of the TOEFL, which are standardized language exams with standardized levels. Once you write this exam and pass a grade, you’ve got an international certificate stating that you are a beginner, independent user or expert in that language. Being as I’ll have spent four months here by the time I finish, I should definitely have something on my resume, right? Well, once I started the DELF prep I got busy. I went from 20 minutes of homework each night (as a maximum) to like… nearly 2 hours. I’m not even exaggerating that.
… Surprise?
 On the bright side after  two weeks of being forced to concentrate on things that had nothing to do with being homesick, and exercising, and eating food that makes me happy, and going to the beach, I feel much better.

Jump pictures are the best.
Better enough, in fact, that I even remembered to take a picture of Poisson (ligne 3, the fish tram), which is the tram that takes you to the beach.

Ligne 3, Poisson. The prettiest of the four tram lines in Montpellier.
Better enough that I started to smile when I saw silly things in the street, like the SDF helping their dogs into the fountains on hot days so that they could cool off.

He actually had to pick up the third dog (who was smaller) and lift him into the fountain. It was adorable.
Better enough that I went to Estivales with Frank (from Saskatoon) and Laura, and actually enjoyed myself. You see, every Friday in Montpellier there’s an event called ‘les Estivales’, which is a summer wine festival. Every Friday 35 different local wine producers come into town, set up a booth, and showcase a red, rose, and white wine each. For 5 Euros you get a wine glass, and tickets for tasting 3 different wines of your choice. It’s really the most inexpensive way to wine taste I’ve ever encountered. However… there is a dark side to these Estivales… and I don’t mean that the youth turn into wild things and brawl/shout/be drunk, but that should be considered too. No no, I mean that for the amazing price of 5 Euros for three half-glasses of wine, you run the very real risk of tasting some seriously terrible wine.

The only picture I have of Frank. We were all at the American bagel shop, eating pecan pie after lunch.
Herein begins the story of the most terrible wine I have ever attempted to drink.
The first two wines the three of us tasted were actually pretty good. I enjoyed the red wine we tried first, and the white that we had second I really liked. I should have cut my losses at that white and just bought a bottle. Past-Kenna… you foolish, foolish creature. Unfortunately for Past-Kenna, she didn’t stop at the second glass, and tasted a third. We went to the Pic-St.-Loup booth and lined up, I believe it was Laura and I who tried the white, and Frank who tried the rose. Mon dieu, the white was terrible. It hit your tongue as fresh, dry, and a little fruity… but then this aftertaste came at you. It started at the back of your mouth and crept up along your gums like something alive. I sat in the center of your tongue and beat your taste buds into cruel submission. It got stronger!
Ok, I’m exaggerating slightly for dramatic effect, but honestly! The aftertaste did get stronger in your mouth the longer you left it, and it was seriously bad. Think: stale pile of leaves on a moist fall day. Wine should be a delight to drink! Wine should make you happy. Some are heady, some are zesty, some are crisp, some are smooth… this one came out to Estivales because Pic-St.-Loup realized that the best way to get rid of it was by practically giving it away. Laura - trooper that she is – stated that there was no such thing as bad wine and finished it. I – who believe that life is too short to drink bad wine – dumped it.
Turns out that was the best choice I made all evening.
Estivales is crowded, so we found ourselves one of the big trees along the Esplanade Charles deGaulle (where it’s held) and figured that would be the most polite place to dispose of the rank wine. It felt wrong to just dump or throw the wine at the base of the tree though, for some reason my tipsy mind decided that was much too crass a treatment, even for this particular wine. You’ll have to just roll with me on this one… I thought it would be best to distribute the wine equally around the trunk, and that that would be somehow less crass than just splashing it all messily in one spot. So with (what I’m told was) a look of great concentration, I poured a neat little trail of wine around the tree in a perfect circle. Once I’d finished, I looked up at Frank and Laura (who were staring at me like I was insane) and smiled, all proud of myself. Then the two of them caught sight of something behind me and started to laugh so hard they nearly spilled their wine.

This was the Sacrificial Tree. Now it's where we pour bad wine all the time. Potentially this tree will be dead by the end of the summer, and I will feel terribly guilty for killing it with bad wine.
I checked behind me. Next to the tree was a random French man, about my age, dressed in a grey zip-up sweater and sweatpants, with his ballcap on backwards, giving me the most incredulous look I’ve encountered in this country to date. He was understandably a little shocked and confused about what he’d just witnessed, mostly (Frank tells me) because it looked kind of like I was doing some sort of occult ritual. (If anyone knows anything about occult rituals it’s Frank, who studies that sort of thing for a living, so I’m going to have to trust him on this one) The look on the random French man’s face also conveyed his intense curiosity as to what I was drinking, and if maybe he should be doing what I was doing too, because he’d missed something somewhere.
Once we’d explained our encounter with the bad wine he laughed too, nodded, and then kind of slid away; because sometimes the crazy is contagious, clearly.
I laughed so hard I cried.  
That’s my solution for you, when homesickness hits. Sign up for something that forces you to do something (ex: lots of homework), exercise, and drink bad wine until you laugh so hard you cry. It probably won’t work every time, but it’s a solid start.

… go easy on the occult rituals though. I have a feeling those are outlawed in most countries.

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