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Layers: of cake, of paint, of understanding

February 3, 2019

The days, and now the weeks, continue to be filled with new discoveries, mishaps, laughter, delicious cuisine, and furious note-taking. From the morning walks to class to the IES Abroad community we have to the vulnerability in walking into a classroom as the sole American, growth and appreciation is at every step.

Some days when I walk to class, the sky is purple and the street lights are still the brightest light on the sidewalk (for my 8:30 am class, for example). Other days, it’s the bright blue sky of midday, with the construction workers across the street in full motion. One of my favorite things about the morning walk to class is the plethora of scooters. It is by far the most popular transportation choice of kids, after walking. Yesterday, I saw a mother with a large, adult scooter accompanied by her son wearing an oversized backpack, riding a small, 4-year-old sized scooter. They were efficiently scooting to school for the day, and also made a small part of me envious of the speedy agility they possessed.

Back at the IES Abroad Center a few days ago, we had an IES Abroad-wide meeting to vote for the student representatives and celebrate the January birthdays in the group. TJ and Matthew are our new student representatives. Then, Eugenie presented a dessert specialty for the birthdays of four of our friends, Fiona, Matthew, Kylie and Jonathan. The dessert was a royal au chocolat, which is comprised of a light chocolate mousse, a layer I believe is called dacquoise, a layer of praline paste, and flakes on the top. It was absolutely decadent and absolutely delicious. We accompanied it with tea, and the small sugar cubes that are always offered with tea. I tried to do some research on what the layers were exactly, and my hope is that this is correct. I also hope to make this in the future!

I attended my first drawing class this week at the École des Beaux-Arts. After a slightly graceless first attempt at attending an art course there, this course was relaxing, supportive, and enjoyable. The first time I went to Beaux-Arts I was late due to a disrupted bus-schedule, re-routed around a construction site, and needed directions once in the building. All is to say, there was some force very determined on making sure I didn’t get there, but I did. Looking back, I maybe should have read all these interferences as a sign. Unfortunately, that specific course was very involved in a year-long project, so I found another course that works better. The class is comprised of about ten other older individuals, and a friend of mine from IES Abroad. The other people in the class were happy to welcome a new person. Thursday’s lesson was a type of collage in which you paste a landscape photograph of your choice in the middle of a large white paper. Then, you use acrylic or gouache paints to match the colors in the landscape, to the best of your ability, and paint around the surrounding image. It was a practice in color theory, precision, and mélange or mixing. In trying to match the colors perfectly, I added many, many layers of paint. The teacher walked around and provided suggestions throughout the class, and told me my painting was pas mal (not bad) at the end, which is positive French affirmation. All is to say, I look forward to this course every Thursday evening!

In the Art History course, we delved deeply into the material from the first day, learning about David and Neoclassicism. That class is fast-paced and exciting. On the first day, Mme. Molteni projected Jacques-Louis David’s Le Serment des Horaces or Oath of the Horatii, one of his most renowned paintings from 1784. She tasked us to figure out the structure of the painting. It took a few brave individuals to make their guesses, until one of our classmates nailed it in saying that there is a rule of ‘three’. There are three triangles in the painting, three sons, three women, and three archways. The structure of the painting is the ‘bare bones’ of the painting, or what exists organizationally before you consider any of the specific details or lighting. It is often a challenge to deconstruct paintings in such a way in our minds. I find that to be the case for me, at least, who has always appreciated paintings yet never scrutinized them in exquisite detail. Now, we are learning how to do just that, beyond the color and subject. In fact, we were provided a two-page sheet of important terms, such as “atmospheric”: warm colors in the 1st plane contrasted with pale and bluish colors in the background, often contrasting. I’m really looking forward to learning more in this class.

Last week we were all very occupied with the discovery of new classes and new schedules. Many of my friends are taking at least one course at Université de Nantes, the largest university in Nantes with about 38,000 students! Some are taking literature classes, history classes, or psychology classes. I’ll be taking a history course. There are a lot of offerings, and we are encouraged to try many and ‘shop around’. One day, I was so inclined to experience all the courses I could (for fear that if I hadn’t gone it may have turned out to be the best course ever), that I sat in lectures for eight hours. I was able to narrow down my search of courses, however, so that helped. Making decisions has never been my forte, particularly when all the offerings are intriguing.

Being a small part of the University of Nantes also gives us all the privileges of being a college student in Nantes. For example, the other day I bought two things: a book and a burrito. For each, being a student here provided an awesome perk. Clutching my book at the checkout line, the woman asked if I had a student card and I proudly reached into my bag to display my UNantes student card. She gave me a discount. At the burrito place, the young man at the register asked me the same question and after showing my card, he gave me a free cookie.

Next weekend we take a trip to Normandy!

Jusqu’à la prochaine fois, I’m Genevieve in Nantes. À bientôt!

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