Ok, so I admit it, I apparently had the date wrong for the End of the World. It just appeared so much more logical to me that it would fall on 12/12/12, but today is, according to the same individuals who got all excited about Y2K, the end of the Mayan calendar and thus, obviously, the end of the world. So far the signs haven’t quite materialised, but I do live in Picardie and am thus used to random spurts of rain every thirty minutes.
Bref, what I actually wanted to write about was celebrating Christmas here in France in a strange combo European/commercial way (since I don’t celebrate it as a religious holiday). But I thought la fin du monde would be a catchier title ;)
Here in Amiens, as elsewhere in Europe, little chalets are set up at the end of November for what is known as Le Marché de Noël, a monthlong Christmas market. So far, I have only visited Paris’s and Amiens’s respective Christmas markets – Paris has white chalets and Amiens red.
In Amiens the vendor stands run along the entire length of the main throughway that was designed to serve pedestrians only – La rue trois cailloux. You can find holiday fare such as Alsatian choucroute, tartiflettes, vin chaud (mulled wine), chichis (churros), gaufres (Belgian waffles), crêpes, and a variety of other specialities, including Vietnamese nem. I personally spent some time at the French-Canadian stands, where I bought the best maple syrup I’ve ever tasted and an assortment of cranberry infused items (all at outrageously expensive prices, which, if it weren’t for the encouragement of the Québecoise woman and my nostalgia for all things cranberry, I would have refused). I haven’t done much shopping myself, due to my incredibly restrictive budget, but I ogled many a display of leather bags, perfumed soaps, French cheeses, and wood carvings. I’ll probably benefit more from the Marché de Noël next year, when I have a real job (fingers crossed), but I still have two days to do my Christmas shopping.
At one end of the street you come to a large Ferris wheel erected specifically for the Marché de Noël, and at the other end, you find a miniature roller coaster and a darling carousel, probably the same one that sat in front of my apartment until the end of August.
I’ve got to admit, I’ve been programmed to love the end of the year that accompanies the changing of seasons and the coming together of family members. The way Hedi recounts it, this time of year in Tunisia is more characteristic of the end of the summer, when all the expats come home to the pied-à-terre where their grandmothers or aunts and uncles live, basking in the heat and the relaxed way of living that is even more détendu than the French. For me, it was so important to come home this holiday season as I begin living abroad for an extended and indeterminate amount of time. I wasn’t sure when next I’d see my three brothers and parents, and I hoped to take advantage of a short trip to the U.S. to touch base with a few of my friends. Nothing helps more in creating enduring friendships than meeting face to face every now and then.
I have been blessed by the generosity of my family, which will allow me to head home on December 24. I have to pass through Brussels and then multiple airports, but it will be worth arriving the evening of Christmas Eve in order to share some of that togetherness that is so sacred at this time of year.
Here in Amiens, I have been so fortunate as to build a little family, a community of friends and colleagues, that have helped me readjust to living abroad, through times of homesickness and all the difficulties of grad school in France. I am hoping and praying that I will have succeeded in passing my first semester, but whatever comes, I am grateful to have spent a beautiful, full four months thus far in Amiens.
Besides working on my various papers, I’ve been organising with my friend Anna another atelier de cuisine for my locavore group, Les Tombés d’la Charrette. This entailed visiting the Saturday farmers’ market for the past few Saturdays and doing our best to come up with a palatable recipe for winter root vegetables. We ended up with galettes au panais (parsnip pancakes), which, although sometimes difficult to make, turned out great, complimented by my dégustation of various underused vegetables – including purple carots, turnips, celeriac (also known as celery root), and a rutabaga – roasted in the oven and tossed with olive oil and herbes de provence. Yum!
Last Saturday, to celebrate the last weekend where my group of six friends would all be together, we had an evening for making German and American Christmas cookies. It was slightly chaotic, as we attempted to make six different varieties of cookies along with a black sticky gingerbread (see 101 cookbooks for the recipe), but we managed to successfully finish mere minutes before being kicked out of the Residence hall kitchen (which technically closes at 11 pm).
Merry Christmas to all those celebrating! I’ll see you on the other side of the ocean to update you on my travel adventures…