Survival of the First Month Part 1: Picnics, Pistols, Mountains and (Més)Aventures
I celebrated my one-month anniversary on the 18th October. And Chapou, my cité universitaire, as if by way of congratulating me on surviving my first month, fitted my window with some shutters. I had the pleasure of uninterrupted sleep and privacy for a grand total of three days. Then they painted them and they’ve never closed since.
There have been trials and tribulations, but some beautiful memories forged. So in honour of my first month here, I thought I would share with you, Reader, some my fondest memories so far and some of my reflections on jobs well done. And not so well done.
On a High Note… Mirepoix and Montségur
I’ll start here, since this day was a real high point in my first month. It’s been a real uphill climb at times, but seeing the view from Montségur put me on a real high. I truly felt on top of the world. Yes, I literally climbed a mountain.
The trip involved getting up at the crack of dawn and heading to the gare routière (which we eventually figured out was “coach station”- it was early, okay?), which is right next to the train station, Marengo SNCF (I had been acquainted with the train station a week previously after getting hilariously lost at midnight- details to follow). There I ordered a Quick breakfast (pastry, yoghurt, bagel, coffee and juice galore for about 5 euros). There’s nothing like starting the day right.
From there we headed first to a quirky church a little way out from Mirepoix- the Church of Vals. The church was pretty and had some interesting history, as well as an unusual ceiling, but the highlight of my visit was the“ugly Jesus”, as I called it (see below). Maybe it was the sugar rush from the Minute Maid, but I was in raptures- excuse yet another pun.
It was also here that I had my second laughing fit of the day. It was barely 9am. Having (admirably, I think, considering the time of day) decided to follow the French tour rather than the English, we were milling around the top of the church, in a balcony/courtyard of sorts, waiting for the English speaking tour guide to finish. In a lull in conversation, we just happened to tune in to the tour guide’s schpeel, to hear the words (completely out of context), “…that well known French word, ‘carrot'”. The next photo pretty much sums up my reaction.
We then headed to Mirepoix, which is like walking into Disneyland Paris. Everything is a bit oddly colourful and shiny. Maybe a little too happy-looking for a village that was constructed after a devastating flood. After a wander around and much picture-taking, we spent a good two hours in a restaurant (which, while very French, may have had more to do with the very un-southern temperature). Someone sampled a typically toulousain cassoulet and I identified a need to find out the French for “well done meat- like well done and then some”. We then treated ourselves to hot chocolate and I educated Team Excursion in dipping bread in everything. Nemo tried educating us in Finnish table talk. And yet all I can remember in Finnish is rated PG.
Having been warned of a 25-minute walk requiring trainers, I wasn’t quite expecting a 40-minute upwards hike up against all of France’s classic nonchalance towards health and safety (even our guide had gone royally arse over tit by the time he made it down) and in trying to save one member of Team Excursion from tumbling to her death, I managed to accidentally grab both of her breasts. How else do you make friends for life?
At the top, to the horror of the two members of the team with fear of heights, I was too tempted by the rocks and remains of the fort to not climb them and demand pictures, getting increasingly more brave (read foolhardy).
We also discovered a hobbit cave and put our resident hobbit in it (she made the mistake of telling us that she and a similar-sized friend are nicknamed Pippin and Merry back home- I however, have a better nickname for her…)
Piracy Makes a Splash- My New Hobbies
I’m going to call our resident hobbit “Pirate of the Cari-bean”, for reasons I am about to explain. We didn’t get off to a great start, my partner in piracy and I. Firstly, I mistook her nationality and had her pegged as a Spaniard with an amazingly native-like level of English (although she should take this as a compliment to her Spanish), then, as aforementioned, I accidentally grabbed her breasts. However, thanks to her, I’ve rediscovered my love of film (French and otherwise) and have even started going swimming at least once a week (which for someone who feels seriously uncomfortable in any state of undress is kind of a big deal- and you are obliged to wear a swimming cap…). And aside from her love of water, film and Johnny Depp, it also turns out that she’s kind of from the Caribbean and (perhaps as a result) obsessed with pirates. Oh and I nearly accidentally drowned her as she giggled at being called a strange bean.
My quartier général, my regular haunt, has become the Gaumont cinema. It’s fast becoming a bi- or even tri-weekly thing, since it’s so cheap and easy entertainment when you’re already pretty knackered from Le Mirail’s hefty timetable. I ended up tagging along with Cari-bean (and our mutual friend, The Meerkat- one of the most animated characters I’ve ever met, mainly in facial expression but definitely also in personality) to see Frankenstein- the National Theatre performance which had been recorded. We seemed to get a lot more out of it than the French-speakers. Our group being apparently the only Anglophones in the room, a lot of the humour, not quite captured by the French subtitles, bypassed the French, leaving us chuckling to ourselves in our little English-speaking corner…
A Moment of Weakness
You can promise yourself you won’t do it. That you’re living abroad to have a taste of a new life, a new culture, a new country. And then you’ll find a pub that serves Newcy Brown and fish and chips…
We all succumbed- Cari-bean, The Meerkat and I. It was beautiful and amazing and just what we needed and we might even go back. So there. And no, I’m not touching foie gras, thankyou very much.
Dangerous With a Non-Lethal Weapon
For the first time in my life, I am within perfectly reasonable distance from a Laser Quest. So, aged 20, I was ridiculously excited when I found out EIMA was planning to book the place for all the Erasmus students.
The first time around I was so excited that my heavy-footed running about and cackling manically as I did so kind of gave the game away and I finished 22nd. I had also become so disorientated in the dark, the warm and in my childlike glee that I ran headfirst into a wall, poked myself with my non-lethal weapon and ended up with the most glorious purple bruise the following morning.
The second time round however, my team was keen to make up for its awful overall performance in the first bout (with three players actually ending up with minus scores). There were therefore many calls to “take the bridge”, a strategy that would allow us to pick off opponents that had not managed to make it to higher ground.
I was ruthless.
Hiding behind a barrier, holding my gun over the side of the bridge and peeping through a hole in the structure to aim, the voice that accompanies you around the Quest (in English) barely had time to tell me (in a creepy, Terminator-esque voice) “Well done…” before I’d hit my next target. Then, high on adrenaline, I began running down to the lower levels, creeping up on opponents sneaking around the maze-like ground level, then running away giggling as they tried to retaliate.
That time I finished 4th, with over 80 “kills” and a respectable number of “deaths” (when hit, you glow white, are deactivated for 5 seconds and the creepy voice declares, “Hit. Don’t give up! Don’t give up! Don’t give up!”)
Moral of the story: when given a non-lethal weapon, I am a danger to myself and others.
More Cultural Pursuits and the Pique-uh-Nique-uh Toulousain(g)
Don’t get the impression that I spend all my time indoors however. One thing I really love about Toulouse is that I struggle to not be contented with being anywhere outdoors. There are so many beautiful squares, quirky little streets, gardens, parks, not to mention the canals and the River Garonne.
A popular pastime, weather permitting (and it usually is), is picnicking somewhere pretty. So far, we’ve done La Prairie des Filtres, which looks out over the Garonne and is often host to various fêtes and festivals, the Jardin du Grand Rond, which was hosting a photography exhibition at the time, and the chateau on Le Mirail campus- perhaps the only pretty thing in the vicinity, I’ll be honest. On all occasions, we were all out in t-shirts and shorts in September/ October.
At the Jardin du Grand Rond, we discovered Crusty Crocs (don’t say that too quickly) and soon polished of an entire box. At the Prairie des Filtres, we tucked in to several boxes of wine between us and just, well, pickled over the course of the afternoon.
This, however, gave me the impression that drinking in public was perfectly acceptable, nay encouraged, in French culture. This lead to my first (and only so far) run in with the law. Oops.
Having been invited to have some drinks one evening at Place Saint Pierre, I gladly accepted and bought a bottle of wine for me and Kettle to share. Little did I know that this wasn’t a similar set-up to that which I’d experienced at Grand Rond. This was more of a riverside piss-up. Although there was also a photography exhibition.
Having almost finished the bottle, I was surprised to look up and find myself face to face with a police officer, who began to explain that I was kind of breaking the law and that the bottle of wine I was holding “must disappear”. Maybe I panicked, maybe several large glasses of wine had impaired my judgement, but I don’t think he was quite expecting me to neck it.
Thankfully he shrugged and moved on to have words with the next group along, who were evidently in the same (or worse) position than us.
To be continued… More of my (més)aventures!