Austin's Psych Fest has had its sights on Angers, France for some time - and now, Psych Fest will officially go global with Angers' independent music venue, Le Chabada, doing a French twist on Psych Fest as "Levitation." The festival is September 20-21, 2013.
It also just so happens that Austin and Angers are “sister cities” since 2011.
If you're heading to Angers for Levitation, and you've never been to France before, some basic tips to streamline that adventure follow. Those tips include practical advice on purchasing train tickets in the web-based world we live in. The train tips are included, in Part 3, because you'll most likely be taking a train from Paris to get to Angers. If you've never been to Angers, some of my current favorite things are described in Part 2, along with more general information about dining out, including wine and beer ordering, and some of my favorite places to eat in Angers.
But before heading to France to get your reverb vibe on, with such stellar groups as the Black Angels, at Levitation over at Le Chabada, some sister city vocabulary is in order, including how to pronounce "Angers": The r is silent; the s is silent; the g is soft (like "awn-zhay") (disclaimer: this is just a close approximation).
ville jumelle - “sister city” ; but literally, “twin city”
un jumelage - the “sistering” or more a propos in French, a “twinning” of the two cities
l’Anjou – the name recounting the historical origins for this former province, ruled by powerful counts in the Middle Ages, then annexed to the French crown in the 1480s.
les Angevins – like we are called Austinites, the folks that inhabit this beautiful region of vineyards, rivers, and châteaux are “angevins”
l’ardoise – Angers is one of the principal regions in France for this dark blue-gray rock mines for centuries in the area: Anger’s distinctive tiled roofs are of this material, inspiring a local delicacy, the highly addictive Quernons d’Ardoise, a nougatine covered in blue-tinged chocolate—a not-to-miss crunchy sweet sensation.
Why Austin and Angers? It's a good match. The capital of Texas and this town in the heart of the Loire Valley have much in common.
- A keen interest in sustainability: Angers is the European Capital of sustainable development
- A large student population: Angers has 33,000 students — in a city of 283,000 — at 2 large universities on 4 campuses; and it has a very young population: 48% of the population is under 30.
- A rich cultural life full of museums and music, art, and film festivals: Angers hosts an international European film festival in January - les Premiers Plans; a music festival “Tempo Rives" (in its 50th year) in the summer – with free concerts along the Maine river; a magical Christmas festival, “Soleils d’Hiver,” November 29 to December 29 this year (artisanal regional crafts, Christmas trees, carousels, hot mulled wine); and perhaps the most festive community-building festival of all — les Accroche-Coeurs, a huge city-wide cultural arts festival where les angevins participate in plays, theatre of all kinds throughout the city — ranging from serious to silly — a festival attracting 100,000 visitors each year.
- An emphasis on outdoor living: Angers has 350 kilometers of backpacking and hiking trails; bike trails start in the heart of the city and then run along the Loire into nearby vineyards.
- Recognition for a unique quality of life: Angers took the number one spot as best quality of life for large cities (between 200,000 and 300,000) in France 2012 and was featured on the front cover of L’Express, a news journal, in a special May 2012 edition. (Angers has an ambitious multi-year master plan to bring nature right up close into the city by removing the traffic lanes from along the scenic Maine river to create parks, islands, public art spaces and installations.)
- A river runs through them: Angers has the Maine, which turns into the Loire; Austin has the Colorado, also known as Lady Bird Lake and formerly known as Town Lake.
- Well-known local libations: Angers is the home of Cointreau (margarita ingredient!); Austin has its home-grown adult libations, such as Tito’s, Deep Eddy Vodka, Dripping Springs vodka.
But like all relationships, the differences keep things interesting….
- Angers has a 13th-century medieval château right in the middle of town.
- Angers is located in the Loire Valley—a UNESCO World Heritage Site (along with other such sites as the Great Wall of China and the Statue of Liberty)—which boasts some 21 châteaux.
- Angers has high speed rail: thanks to the TGV, Angers is a short 90-minute comfy train ride to Paris.
- And, well, les Angevins speak French.
The stereotypes about France are not going to hold up well when you get to Angers. If you have been to Paris and had a bad experience, or even a good experience, know that getting out of Paris and into French country side of rolling green hills, rivers, and vineyards will show you what all of the rest of France knows is true and repeats often: "Paris is not France." So take everything you’ve heard or thought about “the French” and throw all (ok, just some) of that out the window for getting to know Austin’s “ville jumelle,” Angers.
When I do boot camp-type classes for people going to France (mostly to Paris), a few of these tips on customs and rituals have proven to be helpful. Knowing a few customs should go a long way toward making your visit a good one. (And remember, the "first floor" in France is what we know in the US as the "second floor." The ground floor of any building in France is not the "first floor." The first floor has a special word: rez-de-chausée.)
Yes, the French are very polite. Greetings of “Bonjour Madame/Monsieur”; “Au revoir Madame/Monsieur” are critical to your being culturally fluent and making any experience anywhere in France much more enjoyable. These greetings are customary when entering a restaurant, and even when entering a retail establishment of any kind – be it for clothes, bread (at la boulangerie), or pastries (at la patisserie). It does not have to be a big production. It’s just about acknowledging the person. It's just the way it is there.
Relationships are very important in France—in business but also just the everyday tasks of daily life. Be prepared to just patientez-vous (patient yourself/be patient) when the woman or man in front of you in line for your pain au chocolat for that morning, or a baguette for a picnic, is carrying on a nice little conversation with the person behind the counter. These types of relationships are critical to an individual’s quality of life. So let those conversations unfold and take their time. Patientez-vous and wait your turn.
More Politeness Issues (Eating out)
Dining out is a very different experience in France. We will leave out for the moment the distinctions between what in French culture is a "restaurant" (generally more formal, structured dining ritual with more "rules) and a café (less structure, informal, quicker dining experience).
For the American visitor, the difference in the French attitude about the eating out experience can be shocking, and easily misinterpreted for bad, rude, or terrible service. Sure, any restaurant or café at any time may provide a bad service experience, in Austin or in Angers. But the experience that is the ordinary and typical ritual of dining out in France should not be interpreted as “rude” and “inattentive” just because it’s (very) different from the US.
L’addition, s’il vous plaît…
Do not expect a server to check on you, much less keep checking on you, for whether everything is ok with your meal or your experience. This is considered patronizing in a gastronomic, self-help culture such as France, and just plain silly. The philosophy here — and a major cultural difference — is that your experience of enjoying the company of friends, or your solitude, should not be interrupted for a gratuitous inquiry as to your well-being. If you want something that has not otherwise been provided to you (which is typically already done), just ask for it. (And, no, it's not the 1950s or 60s: no one calls a "server/waiter" garçon anymore...it's "Monsieur" (or "Madame") for your server). Otherwise, you can rest assured you will be enjoying your meal, coffee, or apéro, pretty much uninterrupted.
- What this means: You will need to ask for the check (“l’addition”) when you are ready for it. It will not be handed to you, unless you are perhaps at a café and just ordering a coffee or apéritif and the café is busy.
More details on meal times and libations to follow in Part 2.
Just remember: If you really want to profiter (benefit) from your stay, get to know the terroir: Drink Local (wines)!