Alex Ingram ’10 – A touch of homesickness is setting in as my last week comes closer. The French Riviera has been an amazing place to spend my summer, undoubtedly full of cultural experiences, but I feel more and more alien every day. My French is certainly improving even more, which has opened up even more of an experience by allowng my to communicate much more than I was able to at the beginnig of my trip. I can´t think of a single day when I, or the group I´m usually with, hasn´t been approached by a random French native for something or other.
This week has provided great political insight into the workings of the EU and the French political system as well. Everything from passports to license plates to health care seem to be unversalized through the EU to make a system that seems to work fluently. One of our fellow students is suffering from a malady, and he was able to go to the local hospital and use his EU health card, from my understanding, to recieve a checkup with minimal red tape and fees. I have seen plenty other salient examples of connection of the EU member countries, but all in all, it has been great to see first hand how the system works.
The French goverment itself is very dfferent as well. There is certainly a socialist undercurrent running through most everything. For example, the French government has instituted what is essentially a mandatory four-week period in which busineses must reduce prices of merchandise by a certain percentage, which needless to say is not a free-market oriented practice. The French government also dictates hours of business for many non-state owned businesses as well. It´s very awkward to comprehend the logic, but the people here don´t seem to have any negative attitude toward the practice.
Another interesting thing is, forgve the sweeping generalization, the French seem to place much less of an emphasis on work than people in the states. It is common practice to take two-hour lunch breaks and work much less than 8 hours a day even for salaried positions here. Further, because of the Catholic prevalency in southern France, Sundays are marked by barren streets and only a few scattered open places of business.
Of course, I´ve continued to indulge on the local French cuisine and deliacies. My new favorite dish is socca, a simple recipe of water, olive oil, and chickpea flower, with varying seasonings. Essentially, it´s a savory crepe, and It´s amazing. I´ve also been lucky enough to find a centuries-old chocolate shop just blocks from my residence that makes the most amazing treats I´ve ever had. Even the simple tempered dark chocolate hits the spot in the morning.
The highlight of the week in culinary adventures, however, was finding a restaurant on the port that served rose wine (the prevalent variety in southern France) and mussels (quite a few variations) in an all-you-can eat family style setting. A group of around fifteen of us students went and it had the feel of a Spanish wedding in the restaurant.
My travels have taken me around the south of France and eastern Italy as well. Although I have only taken day trips, the petite villages in the area are amazing sights for a midwesterner like myself. I´ve walked the seaside mountain-cutting path that Nietchze walked for inspiration and muse, I´ve returned to Monaco to revel in the amazingly posche life and culture, and traveled to St. Tropez to see what celebrities live like in the summer time. Italy, suprisingly, had a very distinct feel even in the border cities. The regional foods were different, and the culture seemed even more relaxed. Needless to say, the views everywhere have been amazing.
I have one week left in the south of France, and am excited to return to my comfort zone and begin my senior year, but of course sad to leave this beautiful place.
Thanks again to the Rudolph family for this amazing opportunity.