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Posts Tagged ‘Medieval Dancing’

I admit that I have rather limited experience with the Atlantic Ocean as a destination. This is partly because I come from the Mid-West, and well, let’s face it — we don’t do oceans there. Lakes, yes; oceans, no.

But when I finally decided to make a move on my first out of class story assignment for my Writing About French Culture class, I decided to hop on a train, go somewhere I didn’t know, and write about the experience.

I chose Trouville-Deauville, a seaside resort about 2 hours from Paris proper, and the experience was absolutely lovely. It made me feel like I was back in Mackinaw City — touristy  shops, closed out-of-season hotels, kitschy food shops galore (crepes here, not fudge) and an endless expanse of water just beyond the shoreline. Except of course, this particular expanse of water was one of the world’s largest bodies of water, and not the Straits of Mackinaw.

My day began early, as I took the metro to the Gare St. Lazare, one of several large train stations in Paris allowing residents to come and go as they please to wherever they might please. After a two-hour train trek, including a quick transfer in a town whose sole existence as a stop seemed to be to allow train passengers to switch between lines, I found myself in Trouville-Deauville, a sleepy little resort town in the Basse-Normandie (Lower Normandy) departement of France.

I spent the day wandering along the beach, hiking up narrow hills, eating delicious pastries, drinking tasty coffee, writing, reading and generally being alone and pensive. It was my own, personal, one day vacation of sorts. Forget euro-tripping. I went to the ocean today. And it was splendid.

Looking across the water, it was fun to imagine that just beyond the horizon was my home in the states. I quietly said hello to all of you back there, so if you get a funny little tickling around your ears in a few days or so — that’s my voice finding you and making itself known.

I have a pretty good idea of the direction my story is going to take — the voyage out, the sea, the climate similarities, the quaint town, etc. — and I even talked with a little old man on a bench while I ate a pain au chocolat and he smoked a cigar.

“You know,” he told me, stubbing out his mini-cigar, “I will smoke this 3 times while a cigarette smoker will smoke many, many cigarettes. I am quite useful like that.”

“Ah,” I told him, “How nice.”

“You smoke?” he asked. I told him no. Soon after, he figured out — by my lack of smoking and my unusual accent — that I wasn’t French. Story of my life in France.

But this trip to the sea was the perfect end to a lovely week. I had a great dinner on Monday with two Cranbrook friends and my Outward Bound friend — odd reunions/meetings over honey-balsamic salmon, baguettes and butterscotch — and another delightful dinner on Tuesday with some SciencesPo friends — balsamic butter pasta, baguettes, and more butterscotch (!) — and a movie night.

Tuesday also saw me going to the Palais de Justice with a friend to watch a circuit court hearing for one of her SciencesPo classes. It was a strange event. The lawyers and judges in France are required to wear long, black robes and a funny little white ascot tie thing — I kid you not. The entire effect is rather odd, aside from the fact that the panel of three judges asks the questions and not the lawyers. I think maybe the robes are meant to instill confidence and authority, but for me, an outsider, they inspire laughter and silliness.

Wednesday was homework shut-in day, while Thursday was another lovely day, with me playing baby sitter for my friend Lauren from Cranbrook days, in town visiting Victoria. We wandered around the city, eating falafel and visiting a delightful store called “La Maison du Miel” which is, as it says, a house of honey.

And what honey it was (we were given a free sample of the French forest honey that Lauren bought for her parents). I didn’t buy any, but you can be sure that I will return there soon to purchase some of the delicious, tasty spreads.

Thursday night saw me taking part in perhaps the strangest night out of my young life. You see, there’s this bar close to the Place de la Bastille called “Les Caves” — roughly, “The Caves/Basements/Dungeons” — and it has the unusual and distinct theme of “medieval dance hall”.

Victoria and her French friends are real big fans — she’s been at least 6 times, including a visit on her 21st birthday in the fall — and they all have their own costumes. I did my best, and managed to look relatively pirate-esque, if not like a gallant knight of yore.

For a moderate cover charge — and an additional costume rental, if you aren’t Middle-Ages inclined — one enters Les Caves and heads downstairs to the elaborately constructed dungeon.

And it really is a dungeon. A well-lit, happy dungeon with no prisoners and a well-stocked bar, but still a dungeon. While sitting down in our booth, I had to move aside a rather large ball and chain hanging on the wall next to a lit torch.

After we all enjoyed our various medieval beverages — spiced wine, mead and other such treats, some in actual drinking horns — the band started up and we all headed over to the dancing hall, where bagpipes, flutes, drums and other musical delights awaited us.

Now, these dances aren’t any dances I knew. But somehow, there was a rather large group of what appeared to be “regulars” of Les Caves who knew all the dances and then some. The dances varied — some were simple line dances, where everyone held hands and moved back and forth around the room in a snake-like twisty pattern — and some highland jig and jumping numbers that were too fast and too complicated for us newbies to try.

But Lauren and I did manage to teach ourselves a moderately complicated partner dance, taking part in a lovely little number with box steps, jumps, spins and leaps. In another dance, I was made to pick up and cast aside alternating women on other side of me. I did not know these women, and I still do not, but I did throw them many, many times.

There was also a rather confusing dance where the patterns changed frequently, at one point consisting of the men and the women taking turns jumping up and yelling something about peas in French — at the time, we had no idea what we were supposed to be yelling, so we just made noises that sounded like the noises that everyone else was making.

Around midnight, we decided to call it a night — Lauren had a noon flight from Charles DeGaulle to Detroit, and I had my early morning train trip — but it was certainly a night of peculiar amusement.

And although I pretended to be skeptical when Victoria announced our plans, I absolutely loved it. I’ve even told some other friends about Les Caves, and I am certain that I will be back there soon.

Besides, I know a lot of the dances now, so I can pretend to be a regular. Although, if I ever go enough times to be an actual regular, we might have a problem.

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