Siner Says

A blog about journalism, food, shoes and other random thoughts — essentially, a way to casually exercise my writing muscles. If you’re looking for my actual radio work, see my on-air portfolio.

Language barricade

Gelato: some things need no words

I’ll be honest: Before I left for Rome and Barcelona, I was feeling pretty pessimistic about my ability to speak French. I was listening to myself stumble over my words in every verbal interaction I had, saying “Comment?” (“What? Repeat?”) just as often. I was experiencing that intense frustration of creating a thought and not being able to express it in words. In my mind, every conversation was an oral exam that I was barely passing. Talk about putting pressure on myself.

Then I was in Rome. As my boyfriend Matt and I were looking for our friend’s apartment, we stopped inside a small cosmetic store to ask for directions. This is what I thought in my head: “Where are we? We’re trying to go here on the map.” I thought it in English. I thought it in French. And I realized I didn’t know any of those words, not a single one, in Italian. I settled on using gestures, and we received a similar response giving us directions. I’ve experienced a language barrier every day since January 27, but this was more than that — this was a barricade. Continue reading Language barricade

Off to Rome!

I’m going to Rome and Barcelona this following week! It’s the first time I’ll be seeing familiar faces of people I love from home. I’m so excited. I’m also looking forward to traveling to Barcelona completely alone — it will definitely be an adventure staying in a hostel and navigating a city I know nothing about.

If you have recommendations of things to do in Rome and Barcelona, please post them here!


Hiding places (Des cachettes)

A street in Aix

I am convinced that if I were to live here my whole life, I would never be able to discover all the shops in the city. I spot new ones all the time, even on the walk to and from school, on streets that I’ve walked on dozens of times already.

Chat Rêveur

The reason, I recently realized, is that they have an uncanny ability to stay discreet. For one thing, they’re packed into the city streets the way diners are packed into tiny French restaurants (it’s intimate). You could sneeze while walking down the street and miss a shop or two by the time you open your eyes.

But timing plays a role too. Some shops are only open in the morning; some are only open for dinner. Some are certainly closed for lunch; some between lunch and dinner; some on Saturdays, or Sundays, or Mondays. And when they’re closed, the storefronts are covered with a metal door, so they’re almost impossible to notice. You walk past them like a Muggle walking past the pedestrian entrance to Diagon Alley: You’ll only see it if you have a reason to stop and stare at it. Continue reading Hiding places (Des cachettes)

A photo-shoe-t

Let’s say hello to two new pairs of shoes in my wardrobe!

I stumbled upon a vintage clothing store while lost in Aix and saw the coolest burgundy heels with gold accents. I tried them on — and they fit me perfectly, Cinderella-style. I was, if I may make a pun, pumped. (Get it?) I wore them recently to the Monte Carlo casino in Monaco and felt very vintage classy the whole night. However, it turns out that these dream-come-true glass slippers become vices on my feet after a few hours. I’ll have to find some French Dr. Scholl’s insoles before I wear them again… Continue reading A photo-shoe-t

Lost (Perdu)

There are 360 streets in Aix’s city center. I know because I counted last night on a map of the centre ville while I was watching “Miss Congeniality” dubbed in French.

Here’s a map. That tangled web north of the Cours Mirabeau is the old city. My school is on Rue du Bon Pasteur. Can you find it?

This may explain, perhaps, why I’ve gotten lost every single day in different parts of the city.  Continue reading Lost (Perdu)

New boots (Des nouvelles bottes)

I’m not sure if the French have major sales before Christmas, but all the stores have end-of-season sales until Feb. 14. (Does it end of Valentine’s Day for a reason? Maybe love is associated more frequently with extravagant gift-giving here.) If you know me, you probably know that I love sales almost as much as I love, say, cheese. Therefore, I have decided that I must shop as much as possible before then to get the best prices for the long list of items I want to buy. It’s only sensible.

A word about stores in Aix: They are literally saturating the city. I’d guess there are at least 1,000 businesses in the old part of Aix alone, including dozens upon dozens of bakeries, cafés, bars, restaurants, and boutiques. In a city of 150,000 people, I don’t know how they all stay in business.

Yesterday, the weather was chilly and dull, and I had a dangerously convenient gap between two classes, so I went to look for boots. That wasn’t particularly difficult to find them, because there’s a shoe store on almost every tiny winding cobblestone block. But they all differ in price and quality. I ended up finding one pair of genuine French leather boots, light brown, 50 percent off. C’est l’amour.

Click to enlarge the photos.

In a coffee shop (Au café)

On the plane ride over, I could practically feel the minutes ticking away until my life was going to be completely different. So I knew it was coming. But when my French host mom picked me up at the airport in Marseille today, I was still sort of in shock, especially because the last few minutes of non-French Emily disappeared so quickly. I was expecting to have to go through tedious customs and then transported to Aix in a bus full of other nervous students. Instead, I walked straight out of baggage claim into the waiting area, where my host mom was waiting.

I couldn’t even get my thoughts in French quickly enough to remember how to say “nice to meet you” — for future reference, it’s enchantée, DUH — but I did get the French cheek kiss right on the first try (left cheek, right cheek). She asked me if I spoke French, to which I replied dazedly: “Oui, un peu. Mais pas maintenant.” (Yes, a little, but not now.) I think that sounds much ruder than I intended. Hopefully the French judge people on their second impressions as well as their first.

We walked outside to her little red car. (I decided she has to be a good person if she has a red car).  Anyway, on the car ride back to Aix, there were already a few evident cultural differences:

  1. As we passed under “la gare,” the train station, it looked like cars were stopped in traffic on the highway exit — but they were actually just parked on the side of the highway exit.
  2. Drivers don’t seem to use turn signals unless they’re actually turning. Otherwise, they just sort of weave between lanes. But the cars are so little that it’s almost cute when they do that. Teensy weaving car!
  3. We passed a large group of serious bikers on the side of the road, which was a little odd at first but of course makes sense. These people don’t just bike the Tour de France out of nowhere.

Although I was pretty self-conscious about my French, I asked her some small talk questions — where does she work (Air France), does she have kids (yes, two, both grown), how many years has she lived in Aix (I didn’t quite understand the answer to this). She speaks some English, so I was able to ask her about certain words…although I generally just stuck to basic vocab and grammar. Maybe in a day or two I’ll get fancy with the subjunctive or something.

When we got back to her cute little house, she gave me some espresso, bread, Nutella, and a clementine. She asked if I would like this for my breakfasts. With some cheese, she added. Fresh coffee, fresh bread, fresh fruit, fresh cheese, and a honking huge jar of Nutella? Let’s be real — this is all I have ever wanted to eat.