It is my first day in Tournai, la ville de 400 cloches(the city of 400 bells)! We arrived last night around 7 PM after an hour’s drive from Brussels. It has been so hot here! The sun was shining in Brussels all during our orientation and the students from the north nearly melted while the kids from Mexico and Ecuador thought it was cool out. It was fascinating to meet so many people from around the world at the orientation---so many of them speak very good English! I had a nice chat with people from Italy, Latvia, Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia, Malaysia, Portugal, Norway, and many others that I have forgotten. The Italians said that parties and Coke are the first thing they think of when they hear America. The Norwegian boy asked me one thing: Palin. Our hotel had posters of Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin; America is global. The downside of the orientation was that everyone was dog-tired. We Americans were the first to arrive, at 8 in the morning, without any sleep, and then we had to stay up until 10:30 PM before we could sleep in our hotel rooms. Some of us fell asleep sitting up during dinner. I got to meet Julia (pronounced Yooliah) and the other girl from Iceland. They tried to teach me to say one or two words in Icelandic, but I have a hard time remembering all the sylables! Luckily she speaks flawless English.
We met our families and gave them roses. Gilles was one of the volunteers at the orientation, but we didn’t talk to him until we were actually supposed to meet him. Marianne has a big smile and a strong character. Gilles helps us a lot because Julia can’t speak French yet and Marianne can’t understand English. He will only be here for the weekend, and then I will have to help. I am thanking heaven for Madame---I am usually able to pick out enough words of a conversation to guess what people are saying in a group, and understand most of what they say directly to me. After we put our suitcases in our rooms, we left for a friend’s house for a barbecue. We kiss everyone to say hello here. I think I like it; it is very warm and friendly. We ate outside by candlelight after the sun went down. The food here knocks my socks off---it is positively wonderful. I don’t know how I am going to avoid obesity here! First we had aperitifs, appetizers, (chips, little mini cheese rolls, and barbecued sausage) for about several hours with champagne(my first). Then we had grilled ham, salad, some kind of carrot dish, some other kind of grated vegetable, an amazing cucumber dish, cooked tomatoes, and baked potatoes. I was amazed by how many different dishes there were, and all of them were sublime. I especially liked the cucumber dish; it was very unusual tasting. Then there was dessert---three kinds. I can’t remember the name now, but I had some kind of chocolate brownie-like thing that had soft chocolate in the center. Then they got out the photo albums and talked for another hour or so. We left around midnight and were the first to leave. I guess this is normal for the weekend.
This morning I had my first tour of the animals. It is truly amazing. Most of the animals belong to Marianne permanently, but she also runs a small kennel that boards dogs. Several dogs are allowed in the house, but most of them are kept in half of the kitchen by a gate. Then there is a door that lets them go out into the garden area. I also saw the clinic, where the older and young dogs live, as well as the dogs who aren’t as friendly and chinchillas, guinea pigs, and rabbits. On the other side of the clinic, I also saw the fields and stables where the ponies, chickens, peacocks, sheep, and pigeons live. All of the animals are very well-mannered, happy, and like people. Touchtou and another little dog whose name I don’t know how to spell (it sounds like pewpeet) are sitting on the bed with me to keep me company. I am in Jade’s room for now, because the other room is being renovated.
I also met the artists who live in the apartment here, Marianne’s goddaughter(Clara), Gille’s father(Jean-Pierre), Gille’s boyfriend (Jean), Marianne’s best friend and director of the Pony Club (Celise), and several cats. They are all very welcoming and friendly.
This afternoon we went into Tournai to see some of the sights. Julia and I climbed the bellfry and looked out over the town. There were a lot of spiraling stairs, but the view was worth it! Then we went into the Cathedral and saw the ‘trésor’ (treasure). Everything was gorgeously crafted and so old! We also ordered drinks at an outdoor café. I had an orangina and felt very French.
In short, a wonderful first day!