Category Archives: Nancy

A week of Saint Nicolas events

Saint Nicolas is the patron saint of Lorraine and became so through his service to children in the region during past centuries when he was passing through on travels. The beginning of December marks the beginning of the “Fêtes,” which include all the holidays we find in America as well as Saint Nicolas, which is December 6th. Since this day fell in the middle of the week this year, two weekends were filled with many events honoring this beloved saint.

The story goes like this: three children were playing during the summer and got lost in the woods. As it was getting dark, they searched for shelter and finally found a house where a butcher lived. They asked to stay the night and the butcher let the unknowing children inside his home. As soon as the door was shut, he sliced all three into bits and conserved them in a barrel, where they lay for three years despite the search efforts of their families (yes, this is what they tell the youngsters!). One day, Saint Nicolas happened to be riding through the forest on his beloved donkey, and he comes across the house. He realized that a horrific event happened there with his divine  sixth sense, which lead him to ask the butcher if he can stay the night. He then used his magic saint powers to chase off the butcher and send him running off while he revived the three children, put them to their intact state, and returned them to their much-surprised families, unscathed.

Now, every year on the 6th during dinnertime, families put warm milk out in front of their front door accompanied by a carrot for Saint Nicolas’ donkey. These treats invite his spirit into the home, and by after dinner, there are gifts left magically for each child to enjoy. The carrot is disappears and the milk is drunk.

There is a massive medieval Cathedral (Saint Nicolas de Port) just twenty minutes south of Nancy, which was built to honor the man for his deeds. The week after the 6th, my host brothers all went there with their Scouts of Europe troops to join in the experience of circling the cathedral for hours, singing happy chants, written on candlesticks that they hold. The weekend before, there was a firework show that told the story of the three children in Stanislas Square and we all decided to go. There were 25,000 people crammed into the square to watch. We thankfully got there early before they cut off the inflow of the crowd. What a spectacular event! Maybe even better than most 4th of July’s I’ve been to! The next day featured a parade where the butcher and Saint Nicolas made an appearance on floats pulled by tractors through the town.

Of course, to keep warm, we couldn’t help but partake in the hot spiced wine for sale all through the city. In the pictures, I’ve included the lights of the town as well as some features of the week-long spectacle!

I also included some pictures to illustrate the differences between “bien fait” brie (well-aged) and young brie. The former has holes and is squishier than the other while the latter is firmer. Take a look! We don’t necessarily have these differences in the US since there is a huge stigma around raw cheese, as you can read in my previous post.

Bonnes Fêtes!

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Autumn in Nancy

I almost forgot to add some photos I took this past week that give a sense of autumn in the town. Enjoy!

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First Week of REAL School // Fromagerie

Unfortunately, despite all the seemingly new things I did this week, I didn’t really have a very eventful week. I began real classes (finally), swam with the team two days, and then worked at the fromagerie (cheese shop), the last of which was the most exciting.

It turns out there are seven cheese families:

1. Croûte Fleurie – This includes Brie and Camembert, the latter of which is a staple among cheeses here, classified by the white “croûte” (covering) of the cheese that forms naturally as the cheese forms

2. Croûte Lavée – This includes Munster (like the stinky one I mentioned in my previous post), classified by a yellow/orange “croûte” that forms after the cheese is brushed with lightly-salted water during its fermentation

3. Pâte Cruite – This includes compte, Emmental, and Beaufort, classified by the cheese’s hard outer shell that has been heated after (or during?) fermentation

4. Chèvres – This includes goat cheese, classified by cheeses originating from goat milk (they all look and taste similar in quality)

5. Pâte Persillée – This includes Roquefort and blue cheese, classified by the bluish spores found inside the cheese

6. Pâte Filé – This includes Mozzarella, but I am not sure what exactly classifies these cheeses (yet…)

7. Pâte Pressé – This includes Tomme, classified by the cheese having been pressed into a certain shape; the cheese is covered by a hard shell as well.

Among these cheese families, there are differences that can be found, which cause differences in taste, consistency, and bacteria content (which ultimately affects taste):

1. Type of milk: While some cheeses can only be made using raw milk (not heated any time after harvest, like Roquefort), most cheeses have a pasteurized equivalent that tastes less strong and contains less bacteria. Pregnant women often choose this option in fear of getting sick or affecting the baby (this seems to me to be a widely recognized myth). On the other hand, Laurent (the proprietor of the cheese shop) mentioned that raw cheese’s bacteria content helps the immune system stay strong by introducing the germs regularly, rather than ignoring them entirely via pasteurization.

2. Origin of the milk: There are three animals from which the cheeses are made at the cheese shop: cow (vache), goat (chèvre), and sheep (brebis). Each one caters to a certain group of cheeses, but can be mixed to create certain tastes or to make the process cheaper in certain industrialized operations (for example, sheep milk is usually made to make Tomme, but can be mixed with cow milk. Therefore, you have to ask for pure sheep Tomme if you want to get the right cheese).

3. Producer of the milk: There are also differences found among the types of producers. There are two main types: farmer (fermier) and dairy-producer (laitier). The former is more artisan because the farmer produces his own milk and the then makes cheese from it directly, usually on the same farm. The dairy producers, however, buy the milk from large milk producers (therefore they are the more industrial side of the cheese business) and make cheese without ever being in the presence of a cow, goat, or sheep. With this said, there are still some industrial producers (laitiers) who try desperately to hold on to their cheese’s artisan qualities by buying raw milk. Nevertheless, the ultimate artisan cheeses come straight from the source from where the animals were milked. And let me just say, raw cheese is strong!

Most cheeses in the US are pasteurized so we never get the full effect. Our idea of brie and camembert is a bit flawed, for instance, because the samples of raw camembert that I tried here tasted as if they were edging towards the taste of Munster (no, not Muenster), as I previously mentioned in my post on my host family’s Bréménil countryside manner.

The best part of this week was that I was invited by Laurent and his dad to assist them in going out into the countryside to buy their cheeses! They said it would be somewhat of a long drive, as we’ll be traveling towards the swiss border, but not passing over into Switzerland, unfortunately (2.5 hours — https://maps.google.fr/maps?hl=en&safe=off&client=safari&ie=UTF-8&gl=fr&daddr=basel+switzerland&saddr=Nancy&panel=1&f=d&fb=1&dirflg=d&geocode=Kc2SphdumJRHMY1Jgg2xcdZO%3BKU8waSfHSZBHMZCKbfNw6xw2&ei=kzRxUNucBMix0AWS44DgCA&ved=0CBwQ9w8wAA)

I hope this works out! It would involve me missing school, but I am fine with that; I get the credit hours anyway for my stage so it helps me fulfill another requirement for my stay here (in terms of hours spent at my internship). One problem: I have a government summons on the same day for my visa. I have to show up at the office of immigration that day to provide my passport information and other papers to make sure I can stay here. It’s been a long process of continuous paperwork and lots of hoops to jump through, but I’m continuing the process anyway. I will have to try to change my appointment, which should prove to be difficult. I will need to have a few cups of coffee before I go in to give me some edge and good language skills in the morning (when I have none).

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Lastly, I have included some pictures of the garden exposition in Place Stanislas that has been a featured event for the past week (see above). It is absolutely beautiful! Sorry for the lack of interesting information this week! I promise next week’s entry will be better!

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Filed under France, Nancy, Study Abroad Logistics

Last week of Orientation and Alsace Excusion

I decided to start off this week’s entry with a quick extract of what I witness on my daily walks to the central Place Stan, the town square where the light show played every night once I had arrived. Now, the square has been transformed into a garden, for which I have included pictures.

Tuesday  night, I came home for dinner to find a the young men’s church group in the dining room, discussing how an Eskimo, even when cut off from society and any church, could find his way to God. While the youngest boy in the family (who I call Po-Lo since the family told me it was his nickname and is much easier to pronounce) was not yet old enough to be a part of this dinner meeting, the three eldest boys and their fellow high school church-goers sat as the tall priest preached about the journey to find god and much more. He engaged the children and asked them questions about how they were to find God or asked how they had already experienced God’s will. I had a relatively unconventional meal that night since the family was split apart and no one appeared to be home besides those present in the congregation, who were engrossed in the discussion. I left that night after finally saying hello to the family before they sat down to eat dinner (I had been told to find my own food in the fridge if no one was home). I was going to meet my friends to talk and amuse ourselves in the boring hours of the evening (although school has some homework, there is only so much you can do because it is minute compared to the homework in the US).

On the way to meet the gang in the central square, I took a fifteen minute walk, one for which I have memorized the most beautiful route that takes me past the old entrance to the city, dating back to the Middle Ages, as well as the towering St. Epvre Church. The lights of the church square shine down on the busy cafés below where people sit under warm heat lamps, scarves wrapped around their necks. Even during the week nights, the people of Nancy come out to enjoy a glass of wine or beer at night it seems. A stone fountain in the middle of the square, complete with the vicious faces of lions spitting water from their mouths, trickles lightly as I pass a woman shouting, “Je t’aime!” to someone in an idling car. She slams the door and the low roar of the diesel engine carries the small car away. A Vespa driver delivering sushi struggles to get his vehicle on the sidewalk as I pass him in the street. A man shouts, “À Jeudi!” (See you Thursday!) as he parts with a tall blond woman. She smiles and turns her back to him before walking away down a dimly lit street, the sound of her wedged heels clacking on the cobblestones.

Of course, I smile every day as I walk around the city, jotting down a few words so that I can write it down here for all of you. It’s a part of the life here that I love and for some reason, I don’t think it can be found in the US in the same way. There’s far less sense of urgency here, yet at the same time, everything appears so bustling. This is a paradox that fits with me, I think.

This lack of a sense of urgency, however, also has its faults. When trying to find courses at the university that would accept foreign students, I went to speak to the teacher before class. Of course, I had to climb to the fifth floor of a building, appearing totally flustered once I finally stepped into the classroom. Thank god the classroom had only one student in it. I spoke to her and she explained that the course she was waiting for was linguistics. I was a bit confused since I had just checked with the information desk about the whereabouts of the class (entitled, the Literature and Civilization of the Middle Ages). I then waited in the well-lit hallway for the teacher to come (it turns out Mrs. Zunino also teaches linguistics). Finally, after ten minutes the woman arrives and I let her pass me. After a few seconds, I open the door as she is shutting the curtains of the room, her students staring at me from their desks. I asked if she was also the professor for the literature course I was looking for, and she responded affirmatively. Then I asked for an explanation as to why the literature course was not in the room at that moment. She quickly responded, “I switched them.”

Well how is that logical?

Anyway, despite that fact that NO ONE knows about this besides her and her students (keep in mind this is still during a period at the school when students are frequently changing classes), I wrote her and email and discovered another surprise. It turns out the course she’s teaching is actually a course on Dante’s Paradis. And it’s a Master’s level course. Regardless, I’ll be showing up Wednesday at 11 am to see what I can get out of it and if I like it, I’ll stick with it (after much difficult reading, I presume…).

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I went to another day of swimming today. Rather, I was running and doing drylands with a small portion of the team, which is part of their normal weekly routine on Mondays. I was one of the best runners, which I attribute to the fact I come from Colorado and enjoy working out at altitude. I was asked to slow down for god sakes! I had no idea I was going so fast, but I guess it’s just the way it goes when you’re trying to stay in a group. Hey, at least they have someone to pace themselves off of! Tomorrow, we’ll do some real swimming, to which I look forward.

For the literature course I’m taking with DéFLE (translated to Department of French as a Foreign Language), we will be reading two books: Barbe Bleue by a contemporary Belgian author, who was in Nancy just last month for the huge book festival Live sur la Place. The second book will a book from the French enlightenment during the 18th Century. I might choose Rousseau or Voltaire… either way, I’ll be swamped with reading! I’m excited!

Last, I was asked to provide a list of the classes I’m taking. Below, you’ll find a list. Note that “DéFLE” is not a true university course that I take with other French students.

 

DéFLE – Civilization ( French government, politics, history, etc.)

DéFLE – Literature (as described above with the two books)

DéFLE – Social Sciences (in general, the vocabulary and everything)

DéFLE Group 8 Seminar (thrice per week)

Ancient History of the Near Orient

Literature Course on Dante’s Paradis

4 Hours per week @ Fromagerie (Internship at Cheese Shop): photos to come! I just started learning about the 7 different families of cheeses! This may be what I do my thesis on… “French gastronomy: the production of cheese”

Swimming (3-4 days per week plus competitions on certain Thursdays)

 

I hope you are all well! I’ve put some pictures in the loop this week from my trip to Strasbourg and other cities in Alsace (including a castle, a WWII museum, and, wine country), which is part of the L&C College abroad program (one that is top five in the US right now apparently!!!! Just thought I’d throw that in there!).

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Filed under France, Nancy, traveling