France is a very interesting place. There are plenty of similarities between France and the US; after all, we're all human beings, and as globalization continues to intensify, we're all becoming a little more similar. But then, there is a truly different atmosphere here; something...je ne sais quoi...
One thing I would like to report to appease all the nay-sayers out there is that I have yet to meet a mean French person. Everyone I've talked to so far has been amazingly nice and patient when I ask them to please repeat what they just said, and a little slower if you don't mind. The people working in shops are especially friendly and competent, and extremely fast. You go to the bakery to get a half-baguette, and despite there being a long line in front of you, you'll be in and out within a minute. And even better, I haven't encountered lines at the post office yet, even though I go by every day to mail letters.
On Saturday I went to the open-air market for the first time, and it was amazing. Anyone who knows me knows that I love farmers' markets in general, but this was in a different league altogether. I have heard stories about French markets and how they sell pumpkin by the slice (a stroke of genius; if you've ever bought a pumpkin to roast, not for pie but just for serving by itself as roasted pumpkin, and you're not serving 15 people, a whole pumpkin is rather cumbersome) and whole rotisseried chickens, but until I saw these glories for myself I had no idea.
Fruits and vegetables of all kinds (some vendors even sold already roasted and peeled beets), spices, honey, sea salt (from local sources if you can believe that), eggs, cheese (yay, fromage!), breads and pastries, meats of all kinds both raw and cooked, patés, fish, fish, and more fish, oysters so fresh you could smell the seawater on them, shrimp still jumping around, olives, local wines, flowers, plants, orange trees (!!!)...it was at least three blocks long and extraordinarily busy. People pulled rolling suitcases through the streets to carry home their market bounty. Of course, I couldn't resist the flowers, so I bought a tiny bouquet of yellow and pink roses for my room. I can't wait to go back next Saturday.
Since my last post I have also had the opportunity to visit the chateau of Angers and the chateau of a nearby suburb. I think every French town must have a chateau. Maybe it's obligatory. The chateau of Angers was built in, get this, 843. The year 843. Of course, it was added onto until the 13th century, as if 400 years really matter with something that old. What amazes me is how well it has held up to time. Sure, it's weather worn and covered with moss, but it's still there, intact, and gigantic. I think I was right not to take any photos of where I live to show them to my host family--I don't want to embarrass myself any more than I do anyways. I really admire things that are built to last. That is how France strikes me. A lot of the architecture here is pretty simple (except, of course, for the chateaux and cathedrals and things like that--and there are a lot of them), but there are very few buildings here that look flimsy or faddish.
I promise I will post photos as soon as I can get connected to wireless internet. I have some lovely photos of the chateaux and the cathedral and some fish heads I saw at market. Lots of delightful little trouvailles for you in the weeks to come.