When I found out that my first weekend in Europe would also coincide with my birthday, I was rather disappointed. I was afraid that I’d end up spending my 23rd birthday all by my lonesome in my dorm room . Well, good fortune to the rescue!! The girl who studied abroad with my family 5 years ago, Lucyl, happened to be renting a house in the French mountains, along with her sister, Julie, for 3 nights and 4 days and they would be throwing a big party! I left after class on Friday and was driven to the house by Eléa, with whom I will hopefully be sharing an appartment soon. It was great to finally meet her and to learn more about EPFL, Lausanne, and Switzerland. The drive lasted about 4 hours, and we had many good conversations. I learned an interesting cultural tidbit as she corrected me when I mentioned Lake Geneva. She informed that only people from Geneva think that the Lake is called Lake Geneva. Really, the lake is called Lake Léman. Who knew!? Driving north from Lausanne, one will pass through German-speaking Switzerland on the way to France. It was weird to be surrounded by French for the first hour, then German for the next, and then French again. I am somewhat surprised that the cities along the French border in German-speaking Switzerland have been resilient to the implementation of French. Anyways, after an hour of driving switchbacks up the French mountainside, we finally made it! And behold!
I’m not quite sure from whom the house was rented, but I can say that it was beautiful, and to top it off, there were no other houses in sight (or sound, thankfully). Besides Lucyl and Julie, I also knew many others already from when I was in France 2 and a half years ago. It was so great to see so many familiar faces again! After many reunions and introductions, we all sat down for dinner. That night, there was nothing too far outside of the typical American palette, but just wait for what was on the table the next day! That night we danced, and then danced some more, and then ended the night with more dancing. Intermittently, there were also many great conversations, and I was really pleased to be surrounded by so many nice people. The first night there were probably 15 people. I think dancing went until 5 in the morning (or was it later?).
The morning predictably started with everyone sleeping in. Before too long people were making brunch; and this is were my culinary adventure in Europe began. First off was the brioche. I know that brioche can be purchased in America, which makes me wonder why do people ever buy ordinary bread! Brioche is similar to bread, but slightly sweeter, more moist, and certainly more flavorful. I made sure to pick up a loaf on my next shopping trip. The second food item was unusual not because of what it was, but because of the time of day. It was cheese, just cheese. There are many reasons why I love France, and eating regional cheese for brunch, just by itself, is certainly on that list.
Afterwards, we hiked from the house to Lac Blanc. The first thing that I remarked was that the landscape reminded me of Oregon. Green foliage and grasses everywhere with the exception of the brown tree bark and soil on the path. We hiked for about 40 minutes and emerged from the trees to find Lac Blanc calmly waiting for us to skip rocks upon its surface.
Lac Blanc ! Beautiful as could be.
This is quite possibly the most flattering photo ever taken of me. Haha. We took pictures, talked, and skipped stones for about an hour. We hiked back to the house and began to set up the table for dinner. No need to cook this time because Lucyl’s parents brought catered food! It was so wonderful to see them again, and, I couldn’t believe it, they even got me a little birthday present! We all (20 of us, now) ate dinner which brings my to my favorite of culinary oddities: pâté en croûte.
This is as fun to describe as it is to look at as it is to try to say properly. It’s a loaf of bread, hollowed out, with a pâté of duck and pork inside of it that is suspended in place by aspic, which, as far as I can tell from 2 minutes worth of internet research, is just a scary word for gelatin. This is an Alsacienne specialty, and, I don’t know if it’s because I am 1/128th Alsacien or what, but I could not get enough of it! Yep, I’m 1/128th French, thanks ancestry.com, dreams really can come true. On Sunday morning, I think pâté en croûte made up most of my meal. Anyways, also worth mentioning, I believe that for the most part, it’s pretty easy to judge how something is going to taste based on its smell. That is certainly not the case for me and certain French cheeses. We had a cheese this weekend called tomme. It was incredibly delicious. I could eat it all day, along with some pâté en croûte, of course. However, I could not very much stand the smell. I’d hold my breath, slice off a piece rather quickly, and then wrap it back up trying not to inhale too much of it. And yet, the taste is amazing. I’ve noticed this with other fine cheeses. I wonder if I alone have this quirk or if others share the same experience.
That night was what was considered the main event: a costume party! Back in the fraternity, we often held themed parties and would all become both passionate and extremely dedicated to making the perfect costume. I couldn’t help but think of those memories as I was cutting holes into one of my two pairs of dress socks that I brought to fashion black biker gloves for my Lance Armstrong outfit.
While not as controversial of a costume as the year when I wore a business suit with a calligraphic sign reading “We are the 1%” on the Halloween that the occupy movements were in full swing, this costume got close with the addition of a makeshift blood transfusion bag full of red wine to reference the method by which Armstong cheated. Poor chap. Anyways, certain of you will be happy to know that the bag leaked and I had to go the night without it at my side. Makes for more appropriate pictures, I guess. There were so many good costumes from everyone that evening. When it started getting towards midnight, I began getting very excited for no other reason than I was spending my birthday with such great people. They surprised me a little bit by counting down to midnight. Countdown for my birthday? In the French Mountains? With awesome people? And “Hello” by Martin Solveig playing through the stereos at the same time? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Well, that about made my night right there. Turns out I thought my birthday had peaked too soon: next thing I know, birthday cakes came up from the downstairs for Lucyl, Julie, and me! They all sang Joyeux Anniversaire, and then, as if ordained by Marie Antoinette herself, we ate cake. Lucyl and Julie surprised me by getting me a ukulele! It’s so much fun, and makes my little barren-walled dorm room feel pretty happy. Again, we danced and conversed into the early hours of the morning. I don’t yet know if it is a French thing or just the people I was with, but they have an incredible party endurance that I think would give the fraternity a run for it’s money.
The next morning, we slept and went for another hike. Most of the people left that afternoon, but the 8 of us that were most brave and willing to neglect sleep stuck around another night. The third night was much more tranquil and involved several games including cards, Jungle Speed, and Cluedo. I didn’t know what Cluedo was at first either, but look at the image below and I’m sure you’ll catch on:
Yep, it’s exactly as it looks, a French version of Clue! Even the names are the same (or, at least, French equivalents). We then played this hilarious game, that I don’t even know how I’d begin to describe, until we were all exhausted and had no choice but to go to bed. The next morning, I trained back from Colmar to Lausanne. All in all, I had an magnificent weekend and a marvelous birthday. I really couldn’t have turned 23 a better way, and am certain that this weekend was a sign for a good year ahead!