Monday, July 30, 2012

Week One: 35°C

I live in Tours now, a city (including now-contiguous former outlying communities) of about 300,000 people, though I don't know if that number includes the students - of which I will soon be one - who attend classes on the various campuses of the Université François-Rabelais. I live on the Avenue Saint Vincent de Paul, which borders the Parc Grandmont, which is a small wooded area in which two of the campuses are located, the one for Science and Technology, and the one for Pharmacy. I hope to be taking classes there this fall on cheese science. "To take a class" in this case is translated as "assister à un cours" because I will not be taking the class for credit, just sitting in for my edification. Which is fine - frankly, that's much less pressure, especially when it involves esoteric vocabulary words. I won't know what classes I can attend until the last week of August, when the enrollment process opens up again. Contrary to what I assumed from the last of the long series of e-mails with the program secretary, I am not at this moment officially enrolled in either the diploma program or at the University itself, but I have been assured (again) that there won't be a problem doing so, once everyone gets back from summer vacation.

I'm not sure right now how to handle this blog conversion, you know. If you look at the first six posts on this blog, you'll see that they're entirely cheese- and/or goat-centered, because originally this was to be the "professional" blog of me, Elizabeth, author and world traveler and future cheese consultant. Or something like that. I haven't quite worked out the details. And the other blog was to be of me, Elizabeth, daughter and sister and friend who's also a world traveler and (I hope) an amusing, or at least not boring, raconteur on a variety of subjects. However, even my Gemini soul was having problems with this split in blogging personality, and especially with the split in style I thought I had to have. Approaching pedantic might be a good way of describing the first six posts, and also rather boring to write. Though Kate was more complimentary, saying that they were "like an encyclopedia, but super interesting."

That's not me. Encyclopedic, I hope, on certain topics, and super interesting when I can be, but (as former-and-future client [and always friend]) Pascoe would say, "my life is my business" and so my blog is my life is my business is my blog, and if this isn't as professional as I envisioned at the beginning, this is just the process of me finding my voice as a writer, right? Er ... well, we'll see how this goes.

Anyway, what started that particular digression was a sudden thought that perhaps there are or will be new readers to this blog, from the cheese community, who might wonder who I am and why I'm here. Since I don't want to rehash everything and bore the rest of you, here's a precis.

In this Year of the Dragon, my 48th on the planet (not counting former lives as an oak tree and mountain goat), I am putting into practice what I have saved and planned and worked for during the past seven years: living and traveling in France and unknown future locations around the world, supporting myself as a freelance writer, and learning as much as I can about cheese and cheesemakers and cheese traditions, with a particular focus on non-cow dairy products, even though I'm lactose-intolerant or something like that and can't eat any of what I am basing my potential career on, but this just feels right, so I'm going ahead with it, while remaining open to all the possibilities the universe might see fit to put in my path.

I politely refer you to my previous blogs for further detail. Or you can leave a message in the comments requesting more information.

It was hot the day I arrived in Tours, though not as hot as it was when I left Chicago. Then it got hotter, staying in the mid-90s for several days. I continually wiped my face and neck with one of Big Papa's handkerchiefs as I walked around town, and stopped frequently to drink water. The sun was blinding as it reflected off the white stone of the buildings. I went a little farther every day on the bus, exploring the old city on the banks of the Loire, and (with Sebastien's help, because he has a car) some of the outlying areas where the big box stores are. This isn't a quaint little village, though there are people carrying baguettes around, and outdoor cafes, and people arguing and gesticulating on the street in the true French style. Outside of the center of town, it's kind of like Beaverton, but with long streets of connected houses instead of individual house-plus-lawn arrangements. And the streets don't run parallel to anything, usually, so I carry a map with me everywhere, because turning the corner four times often results in ending up two blocks away from where you started. There's an Ikea and a Toys 'R' Us within walking distance of the apartment. Okay, it's a long walk, but still. I can walk into the center of town if I want, and if I have a spare 45 minutes, or I can take the bus that stops once an hour or so at the base of the apartment building.

I have accomplished a good bit here in this first week. I met with the director of a clinic specializing in mastectomy supplies, and she has referred me to a physical therapist and a doctor, and I have appointments with both of them on Wednesday. I met with an advisor at the University, who explained the whole registration/taking vs. getting credit for classes situation, and established communication with several people in the two campuses where I'll be studying. I have purchased a bus pass, and joined the pool that's a 20-minute walk away on the south bank of the River Cher. I have moved into my room in Seb's apartment, where I'm currently living alone as he's on vacation for a week in the Limousin region. The dog's at his parents' house, so it's just me and the two cats. I have joined a natural foods co-op that's halfway between the apartment and the center of town, and am delighted that they sell gluten-free baguettes that just need five minutes in the oven to be crusty and light and almost like the loaves everyone else carts home from the boulangeries, and I know when the man comes by the apartment complex in his van to sell handmade charcuterie and rillettes and the rabbit sausage I ate for lunch the other day with the last of the lentil salad I'd made on Wednesday. I love that "ordinary" lentils here are the "fancy" ones you find in the States. I love that the jars of cornichons come with nifty plastic things that you can use to pull up the pickles out of the brine towards the top. I love that the radishes are all "French Breakfast" and that Dijon mustard is not an import product.

I love that lemonade is always squeezed lemons, with water added to taste.

I went to a concert sponsored by a local early-music group, which featured a lutenist and a guitar player from (I think) Morocco. The performance was held at the Salle Ockeghem in the old Eglise Saint-Denis, a church built in the early 12th century. From the entrance to the salle, you can see the Tour Charlemagne and the dome of the Basilique Saint Martin.

I love that "old" here doesn't just mean "built before 1940."

But it was hot last week, as I mentioned. Sorbet is an excellent way to cool off, and Seb had recommended the selection at Tutti Gusti, on one of the main squares in old Tours, the Place Plumereau, so that's where I went. I found that litchi sorbet is amazing, and cassis (black currant) sorbet is just as wonderful as I remembered, but unfortunately they taste really weird when eaten together. So I ate them separately, watching the residents and tourists walk past, giggling at the occasional drops of water on my neck from the sparrow taking a bath in the tray of the flower pot on the first-storey window above my head, and marveling at the amazing fact that I am here living in France.

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