My first two days in Angers have been uneventful but enchanting. I've done a lot of walking, getting lost, finding myself again. This is actually quite a large town...larger than I anticipated. I can't imagine living in Paris. I think I read somewhere that Angers is the 16th largest city in France.
What can I say? It's France! I walk out the door in the morning and the smells are wafting from the boulangerie/patisserie. You know how good chocolate chip cookies smell when they bake; imagine the smells wafting from baguettes and croissants and brioches and pain au levain and all those little pastries you thought were only true in fairy tales...that is the smell that I must walk past multiple times a day, my friends. Lucky and cursed at the same time.
It's really fascinating, the square that my famille d'acceuil lives near is like a little village within the city. There's the boulangerie, un tabac (which is like a newsstand that sells cigarettes as well), un magasin des fruits et légumes (a fruit and vegetable shop), un fleuriste, and une pharmacie. So, the necessities are within a short walk. In about 15 minutes I can get to the main street that runs through town. This is where all the shops and restaurants are. I love not having a car!
Yesterday at the tabac, I bought a magazine that I thought looked interesting because Barack Obama was on the cover. Actually Obama is on the cover of quite a few French magazines this month. It seems to me that the French are just as interested in the nouveau président américain as much as Americans are. This particular magazine (Le nouvel observateur) had a lot to say about Obama's perceived cool. In other words, his calm, his seeming inability to get upset. One article was devoted to the secret life of Barack Obama, which, at least thus far, is still speculation. But the article assumes that anyone as cool and private as Obama must have a secret life, and <<plus les autres se projettent sur vous, moins vous etes obligé de dévoiler votre personnalité profonde...et plus vous avez tendence à croire en votre infallibilité>> (the more others project upon you, the less you are obligated to unveil your true personality...and the more you will have a tendency to believe in your own infallibility). I like that quote. It seems quite French to me.
I've mailed a few letters, bought a wonderful little brioche chocolat, and made a trip to the supermarché. It has been amazing to see how different everyday errands are in another country. It's that little aspect of the unknown--foreign currency, foreign language, less-than-obvious means of flushing the toilet--that makes everything interesting. I'm already finding the language aspect easier than anticipated. I imagine that within a few weeks I'll be humming along in French.
Another thing that has interested me is the compactness of the city. The streets are very narrow, the cars are small if not tiny (and the only oversize vehicles you see are oversize because they have to be--delivery vans, garbage trucks, etc.), and everything is within walking or biking distance. I love the way there are individual shops for everything. Obviously, you can get everything at once at the supermarché, but the fact that all these little shops still exist in the face of mass-production is incredible to me. And they aren't like our specialty shops in the US: everyone goes to these; in the mornings you can watch lots of women with their paniers (baskets) going from shop to shop, picking up a baguette here, a chicken there...
There are pedestrians and cyclists everywhere. You have to pay for plastic bags at the supermarché if you don't bring your own bags (which most everyone does). But even more fascinating is the way all these things that seem so progressive in the states are completely integrated into the French lifestyle out of necessity. In the states, everyone at Food Lion can pin me down as a treehugger because I bring my own bags, but here it's just what you do. People have small cars, walk, or ride bikes here not necessarily because they're thinking all the time about the environment, but because Europe is small, France is smaller, and Angers is a speck on the map. There just isn't space to park SUVs or trucks, and even if you have a car, you walk a lot because there's no guarantee you'll find a parking space where you're going. Students can rent bicycles free, and there are bike lanes and bike racks all over. It's amazing to me how something that takes a veritable crusade in the states is just a way of life here. More later...à tout à l'heure.