Chocolate, Wine, Cheese and More Chocolate!!

Cookies!

Cookies! (Well really they’re macarons)

Don’t be mistaken by their skinny figures. The French love food. We went to a French cultural festival at the convention center in Marseille, called Parc Chanot. Wine, cheese and chocolate makers from all over France came to introduce their products to the people of Marseille. It was indoors and when you walked inside there were rows and rows and rows of stands. It was very crowded with people and it was hard to get from one stand to the next. At first all I saw were cheese and wine stands. Being an 11 year old American who hasn’t really been introduced to cheese, I was very bored at first. Then I found my way to the chocolate stands, and that’s when it got interesting…

CHOCOLATE!!!!

CHOCOLATE!!!!

The stands for chocolate and cookies were MAGNIFICENT. They usually all had samples, so even though we didn’t buy very much, I think I ate an entire box worth just sampling the chocolate. I tasted caramel cookies, macarons (a cookie that looks like a hamburger with a frosting or jelly in the middle), chocolates in the shape of shoes, chocolates truffles, chocolate caramel fudge, chocolate nut fudge, 100 percent dark chocolate (THAT WAS DISGUSTING!!), milk chocolates. Jonah bought a chocolate lollipop that I tried. It was okay. This here is nineteen thousand five hundred Euros worth of truffle mushrooms (that’s $24,310.365 USD).

WOW!!! That's a lot  of money!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    WOW!!! That’s a lot of money!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Italy Wrap-Up!!

This blog is a special edition, brought to you with my younger brothers who are twins. A few words about Tuscany: Tuscany is scary, Jonah says, because of the scorpions. Zander and I both agree. On our first night, we found a scorpion on the wall over the bed that I was supposed to sleep on. It was great that my dad found it, and not me, because I would have freaked out. Scorpions are common here, and they sting but they don’t kill you. People say a scorpion sting is like a bee sting. Jonah says to write that it’s harmless.

In Tuscany, we did an art class. IMG_4499Zander expected to do some techniques on drawing and sketching, and Jonah and I expected to draw people. It turned out the artist that was teaching the class is an abstract artist, and he taught us to do abstract art, which I thought was really cool. He showed us pictures from a book, and then told us one of the best techniques of abstract art is to be free and not to stress about perfection. Even one line can be a work of art.

The next day after the art class, my brothers and I took a class riding horses. It was fun because we had to ride our horses through obstacles. One of the challenges was to ride in a zig-zag formation around poles. Another was to pick up a stick out of a cone and move it to another cone. The object was to lean to one on your horse while steering with the other hand. I liked the class, but I didn’t like my horse that much because he was hard to control.

On the last day, my family went to visit a very old castle that was up on a hill. It looked over all of Tuscany and was used as a fortress in the past. It was really cool. My brothers and I decided to look around the castle for archeological findings. Jonah started digging big holes, which got kind of annoying, but he found nothing. I on the other hand was just looking through the grass and found a rusty old nail, that looked a lot older than today’s nails. I kept the nail as archeological artifact from that castle and a memento of that journey to a land far far away.IMG_4629     IMG_4627

Pizza e più (Pizza and more)

After a day in Venice, we took a train to Florence. We had plans to meet up with a friend of mine from preschool. His name is Zack, and I hadn’t seen him since I was three (almost nine years!). His family is doing a sabbatical in Germany for half a year. It was pretty cool that we ended up seeing his family in Italy for vacation. He has a new little sister that I hung out with. She’s really adorable.

photo-6Zack

One day we climbed the Duomo, a big church that has 400-something steps. The steps were almost straight up with no flat areas.IMG_4343 It wasn’t hard, but afterwards, my legs were shaking. The view from the top was pretty incredible. We went to the da Vinci museum that had models of his inventions. You could touch some of the replicas and make things move. One thing I found cool was a room of mirrors where you could see yourself 360 degrees around without moving your head. IMG_4391 Me and Cassie in the room of mirrors.

That night my two brothers, Zack, and I took a cooking class and made pizza and watched a demonstration of how to make homemade gelato. We learned that if you go to a gelato shop, your “pistacchio” flavor should be tan in color and not green. A green color means it’s dyed. Banana gelato should be white and not yellow. When you see the gelato in the display case, it should be flat and not look like a huge tower of gelato, even though most of the gelato stores have their flavors presented like that. A mountain of gelato means it’s old and has been re-pasturized. My favorite flavor I tasted in Florence is stracciatella, which is kind of like vanilla with chocolate chips. From my “extensive” research and taste tests, the best gelato in the U.S. is the worst gelato here.

Ciao Bella!

In France we have four two-week vacations during the school year. My family decided the first vacation would take place in Italy. We’re staying in the house of a family friend in Tuscany.IMG_3951

The house dates back to the 17th century, like most of the other building around here. Fields and woods surround the house. There are hills and valleys as far as you can see. Sometimes at dusk you can spot animals like deer and wild boar. Sometimes driving down the road you will come across a herd of sheep strolling along. This has happened to us several times.

IMG_4445 rolling hills and a crystal  lake in Tuscany.

A few days ago, we went by train to Venice, or as it’s also called, the City of Bridges, the City of Light, City of Water, Queen of the Adriatic Sea. There’s water instead of roads. Boats take busloads of people around. Even the taxis are boats. It’s so cool!!!!

We walked over a bridge and into the city.IMG_4081

And immediately we got lost. Truth is you really can’t say you’ve been to Venice without also saying you got lost. The streets are like little haunted alleys in a maze. You turn the corner and you say to yourself, I’m sure I’ve been here before, then you turn another corner and say, I was just here!! Being lost was fun in a way, but it was also getting cold and dark, and after a while I just wanted to get back home to the apartment we were renting for the night.

Venice is also called the City of Masks. Ah yes, masks. They are part of the history of the city. In the past, wearing masks was the way of keeping people equal, rich and poor, important and not important.

One of the many masks we saw in Venice

One of the many masks we saw in Venice

While we were there, my parents very kindly signed up me and my brothers for a mask-painting class. We started by choosing a blank, white mask from many different shapes and styles. Then the instructor showed us some techniques to paint the base two colors that blend in the middle. I chose pink and purple. My brothers chose different masks and painted theirs other colors. After that we dried them with a hair dryer. Then we painted another layer of details with black and silver paint. I designed a mask that had painted netting in front of the eyes and nose. I wished I could have been allowed to use more colors. After the instructor glazed the surface, I glued feathers to my mask.

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That’s my bag!!

Today I thought I would describe my backpack that I carry to school each day. What I carry is different from what I carried in the U.S., and my school supplies are different too.

My backpack is grey. I bought it in the U.S. at REI. I had no idea when I bought it how heavy it would be in the school year to come. Each day I carry four to six notebooks/binders filled with papers. Each of the binders has plastic sleeves that we put printed documents in (the documents without holes). I have many small notebooks, like one to keep a list of French vocabulary words, and one that’s an agenda. Another one is called a carnet de liaison, which has my picture and my schedule and which I have to show to get in and out of the school each day. In addition, I usually carry two pencil cases, one with pencils and pens (to be described later) and the other with paints, paintbrushes, and colored pencils for art class. I carry an umbrella because it rains a lot in fall in Marseille. I carry a locker key that is attached by a hair-binder to my lunch card, which is a magnetic card that gives me access to the cafeteria. (If you forget it, you have to eat with the last group of kids. That means waiting an hour and a half to get lunch.) I have a water bottle and a purse (it’s pink and I love it). In all, my bag probably weighs about 15-20 lbs. Crazy, right? ;D

Here’s my pencil case.

IMG_3707 It has items that I never knew existed.

First, my fountain pen.IMG_3696 which is called a stylo.

How often in the U.S. do you walk into a school and see everyone writing with a fountain pen? NEVER. Those things are for movies. We don’t use pencils here, except for first drafts and math exercises or questions that are going to be corrected later on in the same class. Here, the fountain pen is the most common writing tool. When you write with a fountain pen, it’s really nice. It has a flow to it. The ink comes out very smoothly. If you make a mistake with a stylo, you have to have an erasing-rewriting pen with you. You use one end of it to erase the fountain pen ink, and then the other side is a pen that writes over the erased part. (The fountain pen can’t write over the erased area.)  The funny thing is the rewriting side of the correction pen doesn’t erase. So you can’t make two mistakes! Actually, there is a way to erase your second mess-up. It’s a tape that’s white and you slide it and it sticks to the paper, like white-out tape. Everybody has one. IMG_3702

I also carry a compass.IMG_3695 My brothers each have one too. I used mine in math in the beginning of the year. Also the ruler is a very important tool in French schools. It’s used for precise underlining and also highlighting. We had a homework in science class, and we had to underline some words in a text and then put those words in a graph. I underlined them with a pen, and the teacher wrote in RED underneath my work, USE A RULER. I’m not really used to using it, so sometimes I’m a few seconds behind everybody, as I keep remembering, Oh yeah, ruler! I also carry four highlighters, yellow, pink, orange and green. I use them in German class a lot to highlight new vocabulary words.

Glue is very big here. In the notebooks where you don’t have pockets or folders, you glue your documents to the pages. We don’t use glue quite as much in the U.S. (My glue stick that we bought in the supermarket is Scotch Classic Glue, by the way, which is made by 3M, which is in Minnesota.) IMG_3698

 

 

The Calanques

Last weekend we went to one of the many Calanques on the coast. They are small inlets surrounded by large rocks and cliffs. To get there, we took a bus and got off in Luminy, which was the end of the line. We got off the bus and hiked for about 45 minutes.IMG_3502 It was really hot, and first we walked through trees, and then we walked on a fire road. Then we hiked down small, rocky paths to the water. When we got there, it was almost like a painting or like scenery you see in movies. The water was this magical blue, not murky or polluted, and sparkling in the sun. If you looked at the scene from a distance, you couldn’t tell the difference between the water and the sky. IMG_3535Then we sat and had a picnic, and my brothers and I changed into our swimsuits (which were under our clothes) and waded in the water. IMG_3549The water was pretty cold, but there were a lot of people who had come to swim and jump off the cliffs. It got pretty crowded at the water and on all the rocks.IMG_3607 There were lots of families and young people. There were teenagers with their boyfriends. There were a lot of people in bikinis, which was kind of surprising for how cold the water was. Something else that kind of surprised me was how many older people, like in their 80s, were out swimming in the water, even far out in the deepish water. IMG_3602

Expect Respect

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At my school, respect is highly expected The rules are stricter than at my elementary school in the U.S. You must be on time in the morning. You must show a late slip even if you are a few minutes late to class. You are not allowed to talk out of turn and must wait to be called on. You must raise your hand (actually one finger) if you want to speak. If any adult, the principal or a cafeteria worker, walks into the room, you must stand up until you are told to sit down. Never say the word “oui” with the slang pronunciation of “way,” which is like saying “yeah” instead of “yes.” The teachers look down on that word. You may not raise your hand during class and ask to go to the bathroom. The bathrooms are locked during classes, and you must wait for one of the four or five recesses. Parents have to sign all tests and communication from teachers. The teachers reprimand the kids who misbehave, even the ones who daydream in class. If you forget your lunch card, the one that gets you into the lunch room, you have to eat last, with the very last group of kids.

Don’t get the wrong idea. It’s a wonderful school, and I love the experience I’m having there. The teachers are very helpful when I don’t understand something. The students are quieter than in the U.S., but they aren’t as quiet as mice. In some ways, the teachers are not as strict as they are back home. You don’t get sent to the principal’s office for everything (not that I ever have). Today, someone in my class took someone else’s finger and put it through a hand-held (not electric and not grinding) pencil sharpener. The kid’s finger was bleeding and needed a band-aid, and the teacher had to write a note to the parents. She talked to “the sharpener” (that’s what she called him, as opposed to one she called “the sharpened”) in front of the class and asked why he had done it. Other people said it was because the pencil sharpener supposedly didn’t work. She said, “Do you think that was a good idea?” I was astonished that he wasn’t getting sent out of the class!