Of Rugby, Popes, and Duck Burgers
When I signed up to study abroad in Toulouse, the concept of staying with a host family was definitely something that made me a little bit nervous. Not only had I not taken a French class in an entire year, but also, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Even further, what would they expect of me? Would it just be a place to eat and to sleep? Certainly, staying in a French household is intended to be culturally enriching experience, but would I have to change my lifestyle? How would I spend my free time and my weekends?
Luckily, those questions were answered pretty quickly, and it was clear that I been worrying far too much. Of course, my host family provided a place to eat, to sleep, to practice the language, and all those things, but the cultural element was greater than I ever could have expected. They make extraordinary ongoing efforts to expose me to French cuisine, to teach me the nuances of regional wine, and foremost, to bring me on trips around the region to witness the richest cultural monuments. And this weekend was perhaps the best example.
The son in my host family had a rugby game a few hours away in Montpellier, so the parents decided to bring me to the nearby city of Avignon in the south-eastern region of Provence. Not only does the city itself have a unique medieval vibe, but it also is home to an incredible monument: the extraordinary Palais des Papes. Without delving too much into the history, seven successive popes resided in Avignon in the 14th century instead of in Rome, and they built a stunning palace to call their home.
After grabbing lunch in town, where I ordered a duck burger (magret de canard, a regional specialty), we did a tour of the palace and walked all along the medieval walls. Afterward, we explored the gardens briefly before my family stopped in a little shop to buy some genuine Provence olive oil, which would be served to me in carpaccio for the next week and I can confirm that it lives up to its famous reputation. Before leaving for the evening to meet my host father’s parents in Orange, we stopped in another little store to buy cheese and honey with truffles inside, a taste that I had never really been exposed to, but found to be spectacular. We later had dinner with my host father’s mother in a little West African restaurant and I got a taste of a whole new part of the French world.
The next morning, we drove back to the Montpelier suburbs to watch the son’s rugby game, and a few hours before it kicked off, all of the players’ parents met up to host a big picnic. When not being handed cups of pastis, the other parents were eager to meet me and make food suggestions to help deck out my cultural understanding, and some others just enjoyed probing my French. Though I know nothing about rugby, the game was incredibly exciting to watch, and luckily, they won to move onto the next round of playoffs.
But that's just the beginning of my travels in Southern France; stay tuned!