Monday, August 28, 2006

Musee d'Aquitane - Day 6

On my sixth day in France we just stayed in the city as my cousin and her husband had planned on taking Ashley and I to dinner that night before they left for their big trip to the Pyrenees the next day. My cousin suggested our going to the Musee d'Aquitaine in the afternoon, which we were looking forward to even though we knew that we would not be able to understand the artifact/exhibit descriptions. Incidentally, we solved that problem when we each got an audio guide in English which, thankfully, were available*. We then started out on our afternoon adventure with the first exhibit in this fascinating museum. It stared with what was the first known human settlement in the Aquitaine region and ended up in "modern day" 1800's. What an extensive history the people of Bordeaux have! From it's first settling by an ancient Celtic tribe, to Roman rule, to English rule and finally French rule. And through it all were the amazing threads of an ever changing human population and way of living. Their beliefs varied and changed from generation to generation: from paganism, to Protestantism, to Catholicism to present day agnosticism. Thousands of years of human history, and the Musee d'Aquitaine was by no means exhausting the region's history, even though the museum did feel at times as though it would never end. Just when I thought I had nearly done with it, I noticed that the "modern" history continued on a second floor. I was very much fascinated by the exhibits and stopped at nearly every artifact to study and view it, but had to cut the second floor short due to time constraints. My cousin had remarked that the musee was a "great, small museum" and so I had expected it to be just that. I was unprepared for the amount of historical artifacts and history in that building and was surprised that my cousin had thought it small, but then realized that I, coming from the USA, (and Texas at that) was completely unused to any museum with a local history that extends beyond a more recent 500 years ago. :-) One of the best parts of the museum was being able to view ancient Roman civilization artifacts: mosaics, statues, building remains, etc.,. and most of them were inscribed with ancient Latin words, a few of which I could translate. These things I could never have seen other than by a small, traveling exhibit in a local museum or by traveling to Rome itself, so it was quite a treat for this history lover to be there.

After our quiet afternoon in the museum and just before catching a crowded tram to get back to Merignac, we stopped at a coffee shop near our tram stop to order some caffeine-er, coffee-to give us a perk as we were going to be out very late that night**. I stepped up to order and started off with my practice-perfected sentence that my cousin had drilled me in before letting me loose in the city: "Dezolais, Je ne parlez pas Francais". The woman behind the counter nodded and said in English "I understand". I was so relieved to hear it that I then asked her if she spoke English. Suddenly she seemed to get a little panicky and began to call out for a translator, much to my embarrassment. After all, who needs a translator when you are just ordering an espresso beverage?! A British man and his lady walked up and asked what the problem was. I must have been tongue tied with embarrassment, I could only get out that I wanted a cappuccino. I really wanted to tell him that his help was not necessary, but I just meekly let him take over. He ordered, then turned to me and said "That wasn't difficult to order, was it?"and taking his lady companion by the arm, they walked out. By the tone of his voice and look on his face, he obviously thought me to be another stupid American tourist. I wish I had been a little more like an American tourist at that moment and just taken charge of the situation before I was so humbled in front of the Europeans, but oh well. I comfort myself with thinking that it was the idiotic French woman that started the fuss in the first place! :-)

On arriving back in Merignac, we only had to wait for the babysitter to arrive before we left again for dinner. We went back downtown and tried a restaurant on the babysitter's recommendation. It was very tiny with only about 6 tables, and small ones at that. One waitress was sufficient to serve everyone, and she was my first encounter with a snobbish, stereotypical French person. I hadn't really encountered any before her, but she was very put out to be serving us and she made it obvious. She waited on her other customers with a smile and even flirted with the men. She sighed at us if we asked for water (which she should have served us as it is customary in all restaurants to receive a free carafe of water with any beverage you order), she was impatient with our ordering and she made it obvious that she was just plain put out to serve us, even though we were able to communicate with her easily through my cousin's husband, who is fluent in French. She was never out-right rude, just a snob. It is people like her that give the French a bad reputation, just as it is our obnoxious American tourists that give us a bad reputation to Europeans. People just never stop to think that someone from the same country could possibly be different! I say that for the Americans as well as the French. If you were to take that one disagreeable waitress and classify all of the French as being like her, that would be very unfair to them. The same applies to Americans in Europe, and although some Europeans will look beyond the stereotype, there are still some who treat Americans as all the same, which is unfair to the rest of us. Especially those of us who are on our best behavior while abroad so as not to give our country or, more especially, Christianity a bad name. I digress from the subject, however, and will now proceed with my tale...
It was a fixed price menu and we were given about four options for each course. For my salad I chose the goat cheese and honey salad, which was served warm and soft, and I spread the extra cheese and honey over delicious bread that the French are so adept at making. For the main course I had salmon and roasted vegetables, then for dessert a lemon tart which was garnished with whipped cream on the side. Ahhhh, satisfaction was never so palatable. It was worth all of the French snobs in Bordeaux just to eat their food and partake of a new way of living - the kind of life that Americans long for but never can achieve with all of our hectic, busy lifestyles. It was absolutely delightful to linger over dinner for two or three hours and never be rushed. The food was fresh and tasty as so many of the restaurants in Bordeaux rely heavily on their local farmers and fishermen to provide them with their food needs. Believe me, it makes all the difference in the world.

I wish that I had taken the camera along that day, but it was unfortunately left in Merignac both of the times that we went out, so no pictures of the museum or dinner. Just use my words and your imagination, if you desire, to picture a very eventful day in the life of this American abroad.

*They were nice to have but not really much help when it came down to it, as in every room there was only one object (sometimes two) which we got info on from the guide. Nice for that one object, but every room had so many artifacts that it was quite frustrating not to know their historical significance, and so we concluded that the guides were a waste of money and that it is better by far to either 1)know French, or 2)have a bilingual person follow you around the museum. :-)

**The French eat dinner between 8 and 10 o'clock pm

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