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Published:August 6th, 2009 14:40 EST
Adventures in Cheese Snob Land: A Smattering of Medieval and Monet

Adventures in Cheese Snob Land: A Smattering of Medieval and Monet

By Christine Stoddard


To say that France is full of churches is an understatement. During the drive from Paris to Lisieux, my group visited two cathedrals and went inside yet another in Lisieux. Just in the vicinity of Hotel Esperance, where we stayed in Lisieux, stood three separate cathedrals. You could spend an entire vacation church-hopping in this country, though your sanity might suffer. After seeing ten of them, you would start spotting Jesus in your Nutella. 


The first church, called Collégiale Notre-Dame in the historical town of Mantes, was my favorite of the day. I took photo after photo after photo until my finger started to hurt from pressing the camera button. I also liked how "Un guide détaillé en couleurs est en vente au bureau d`accueil" [A detailed guide in color is for sale in the reception office] was printed at the top of the flyer. Even churches try to sell you things these days and not just in separate boutiques, either.


In addition to touring cathedrals, we went to Monet`s house and gardens, as well as a museum that features impressionistic paintings. In case you`re not familiar with impressionism, it`s a style of painting where the artist depicts the effect of lights on things instead of all the fine details, kind of like he`s a bat with a paintbrush. Take off your contacts and squint your eyes at a flower and then you`ll see like an impressionist sees. The most amusing part of Monet`s house was the random box that read "Fresh Eggs" in a room that looked nothing like a kitchen or dining area. I like to imagine Monet storing eggs in that box so he could paint them full of lilly pads every morning. 


The best part of the day undoubtedly involved eating. Food almost always makes me happy, especially when it`s delicious (and yet I`m not morbidly obese!). We had a picnic lunch that showcased ham, chicken, turkey, two types of chicken, ice cream, avocados, apples, bananas, tomatoes, tabouli, and, of course, baguette. It`s not a French meal unless bread and cheese are included; I didn`t need to come to France to learn that. We sat down on a patch of lawn beside a river, a stone castle, and yet another Tudor style house full of pigeons on its roof. Somehow our conversation turned to ferrets` kleptomaniac nature, and a spider bit one of the boys in our group. I just appreciated being able to sit down and bite into gouda without being in a hurry.


We spent the evening in Lisieux, a medieval town. Though we were scheduled to eat dinner at seven o`clock, the hotel staff was definitely on Frog Time; they didn`t seat us until about 7:20 p.m. or so. After devouring the ham and cheese quiche they brought us as an appetizer, however, I let go of my grudge. That quiche was a Godsend. I also had pineapple juice, which I could`ve done without, considering that it cost three Euros. I enjoyed the beef and green beans they brought out but the potatoes were far too bland. They tasted like boiled paper. I skipped them after one bite and concentrated on dunking my green beans into the beef broth. The conversation with the three other students at my table revolved around everything from "Michael Jackson the Artist vs. Michael Jackson the Weirdo" to the irritating qualities of tourists, specifically at the HIlton in Virginia Beach. Needless to say, it was an entertaining conversation, so chocolate mousse could only improve the experience. Maybe I should have demanded an extra cup of mousse to compensate for the potatoes.


A couple of the other students and I went walking around Lisieux after dinner, but were shocked by how empty it was. We saw several tour buses but none of the tourists. Only the bars were open, which doesn`t translate into much entertainment for a non-drinker like me. It`s not like they were playing music, either. So my classmates and I wandered and wandered until we had enough of admiring the same style of historical homes over and over again. Everything began to look the same, even if it was a pretty sameness. Only two things seemed amiss in the haunted setting: a giant bagpipe and a giant watering can. They were probably made out of fiberglass and inhabited a median each at the opposite sides of town.

I slept in the same room as my professor, just the two of us, which wasn`t as awkward as I had anticipated.


 Correction: it wasn`t awkward at all. Neither one of us sleepwalked or revealed humiliating habits or blackmail worthy secrets. Instead we talked about harmless things (computers, French, the town) and read. I fell asleep with my book, still exhausted thanks to the time change but excited to sleep in a real bed. At the Kellermann, I had stayed on a rickety bunkbed positioned much too closely to an armoire. Every time I climbed down the ladder, the hangers in the armoire shook around violently. It made me feel like the stereotypical fat American instead of some lithe French girl in a striped shirt and beret small enough to fit a toy dog. Also unlike the Kellermann, Hotel Esperance featured true bathrooms with bathtubs not in any way controlled by the sink. I even had counterspace for my contact lenses. I don`t ask for much space in this world, but the Kellerman was too minimalist. Hotel Esperance was much more understanding about letting me put my whole body into the shower. Thanks for the accommodations, ghost town.