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Saturday, December 20, 2008

A one and a two and a...

Christmas vacation has started here at the ecole, and very soon I'll be on a train to go meet the younger, cooler sibling in Paris. Posting will probably remain thin, so here are a few things to indicate what is going on in my life:

-I finished Slaughterhouse 5 and am now all excited about WWII and seeing all that WWII related stuff all up in Les Invalides.

-I have borrowed a diatonic accordion and--after a crash course in accordion--have been practicing polkas in the quiet of my apartment. Slowly, I am becoming some wierd American-French-Breton hybrid that will never fit in anywhere.

-I discovered that another American is living here in St. Pol. I had coffee with him and his mother the other day. The conversation was mostly about their travels and where they had lived. It was all very 'Auntie Mame' with a French accent.

Joyeux Noel a tous!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Hardest Part

It is just 3 o'clock in the afternoon here in St. Pol de Leon, which means that just across the Channel, it is 2 o'clock. And that means that somewhat north of here in a town on that infuriating Island, there is one very nervous American, standing before her jury, no doubt sweating and probably wishing she had just stayed in equine therapy (horses don't write much, whereas Candaian/Jamaican eugenicists do).

Good luck sis! You are more brilliant than you think!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Up the sleeve

I just got in from un stage. I can’t think of how to translate un stage into English besides, “a general waste of one’s time.” In the spirit of being discrete, I will try to remain vague and say only that this particular stage covered foreign language teaching in primary schools. While I appreciate the time and effort of the people who conducted it, it was a tad—pardon the pun!—elementary. Perhaps I’m being arrogant but some of the points covered were things like, “make sure the kids keep their notebooks neat,” and “with children, you must be repetitive.” Um, yeah. Also, ALL of the games, ideas, classroom management phrases, themes, worksheets and websites proposed or handed-out by the speakers were in or for English only, even though 3 of the 4 participants present were not English-language teachers.

To be fair, I did pick up a few new little games and phrases, which perhaps will gain a lot more value someday when I realize I have seven minutes left in a class and have finished all the things planned for my lesson. (Additionally, to be even more fair, these negative comments could stem from the fact that this stage—comme d’hab—was over 2 days which means I had to spend the night in some drafty, empty high school dormitory outside of the city, with only another assistant for company who recently married a Frenchman that owns what sounded like an astounding piece of property complete with original, yet newly-restored farmhouse AND who spoke of her recently acquired life with all the excitement of someone who merely found an abandoned umbrella on a public bus. That is to say, she could have probably seemed more excited. But I don’t know, maybe in her country she’s a princess or something, and this is a step down. )

All of this makes me think about how my father insists that the French have this odd tendency to take lots of time in order to explain something that you already know. I personally am still researching this theory.

However, the above makes me thing about one of the things the French have mastered: being personal.

Let me explain. My boss lady’s husband came to pick me up after the stage. We crept through rush-hour traffic but were only on the expressway for an exit or so when Mr. Bosslady muttered, “Oh shoot. I wanted to take the scenic route home along the coast.” So, he turned off at the next exit and proceeded to drive through every tiny town and roundabout along the very Northwestern edge of La Manche, stopping along the way to buy us each a pain au chocolat and then later to see the dunes of Kermerra. The whole scenic drive around bays and inlets, through medieval town centers and up and down gentle Breton hills peppered with black and white vaches added at least 30 minutes to the journey, and was solely for my benefit.

And then! later after he had dropped me off and I entered my apartment I immediately noticed that something was a little different. But, since I’m paranoid and think something has been moved in my apartment no less than a dozen times a day, it took me a few minutes to realize that something was indeed different. Someone had let themselves into my apartment and dropped off an extra mattress, sheets and blankets (unfortunately they had to move my drying rack full of clean underwear in order to do so….) AND had fixed the broken handle on the refrigerator.

A few days ago, I had mentioned to the Boss Lady that my brother would be visiting in a few weeks, and that the fridge door handle had cracked but that it really didn’t bother me.

Despite the slight creepiness of people having keys to where I sleep and keep all my stuff, I would count today as a "good" French day.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The prettiest girls

Incroyable. I got stood up last night. By someone who casually invited herself to my house. Quelle audace.

I am not exactly…diurnal. This fact has of late been only aggravated by my over-enthusiasm for the election, which I stayed up very late to watch. Bref, I’ve been keeping weird hours, and as I was walking out of the school after my first (and last) class of the day at 9 am, I was all ready to take just the tiniest of naps before I properly started my day. (sidenote: this is a lie us night-people frequently tell ourselves, and no amount of waking up sweating and way behind on work at 5 in the evening after sleeping for 6 hours will make us see the truth. Sorry.) I got no further than the courtyard, when I was stopped by one of the surveillantes. How was my vacation? Did I have any other classes for the day? No? “Oh, well,” she said, “How about I come by around 6 tonight?” Excuse me? Did I hear that right? “Where do you live again?” she asked. Gesturing towards the apartment facing us across the playground, I marveled at her rapidity.

Of course, my tiniest of naps turned into, well, a larger nap and—compounded with the fact that I am an unapologetic procrastinator—it was soon only a few hours before 6 when I realized that my apartment was a dump, there was nothing to eat and I had no clean clothes. (Wow, somehow seeing this in print, I’m realizing what a wreck I am most of the time)

Anyway, after cramming all my piles of crap into cupboards and closets, I ran out to do laundry and buy apéritif supplies, as I figured this is what would be expected this evening. Or maybe it would be tea. Certainly not dinner, she had invited herself. Right? Okay, so, some fruit juice and those weird snacks the French have for apéro, and some tea things. Just in case.

I dashed home to finish whipping up l’apart into shape (bank statements, shoes, books into closet, stack dirty dishes in sink so as to look less bordelique, hang wet laundry discreetly in bathroom, etc). Miraculously, by 6, it looked like a normal person lived there. So I sat down to wait. At 6:05 I went outside to check if she was stranded downstairs outside the building, reminding myself that she did spend a lot of time in the South for a few years, and they have a wacky sense of “time.” Heck, when I went to hers the other week, I showed up right at 7 like she said and we sat staring at her new kitten running around for a full 20 minutes before the next guests even came. 6:07, hm, phone seems to be working, but no call or sign; maybe I misunderstood? Maybe I was supposed to be the guest at her house? Maybe she was still getting ready because tonight was supposed to include dinner as well? What could it be?!

Inexplicably, the later it became, the more momentous our rendezvous seemed to become, and by 6:13 when I had come back after searching for her again outside I panicked and had convinced myself that dinner certainly would be involved. Apéro, dinner, and then coffee. (Coffee! Press has 4 day old grounds in it!) A full evening.

I dashed to the kitchen and flung open the cupboard door, hoping there would be something more in there than what I suspected. A quick inventory revealed the following: cocoa powder, honey, and some Happy Halloween paper plates my mother recently sent me. I closed the door and opened it again. Still nothing. Happily, I realized that if I cut away at the lumpy, moldy ball on the table, there was tomato underneath. Ah, progress! Now, a tomato is nearly dinner! Found a few other things in the fridge and proceeded to rapidly and nervously make dinner for two. Still no sign of her.

Completely confused and convinced that this evening was supposed to be at her house and despite desperately not wanting to accidently commit some sort of horrible French faux pas and reveal myself to be a square, at 6:37, I texted to ask her if I had tromped myself, perhaps? I immediately got a call back from her and in a very sleepy voice she apologized but was just much too tired after her day at work, could we do it another time?

Oh, fine. Tomorrow it is then.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Morning After

I suppose it goes without saying that today, I'm pretty disappointed. I stayed up all night to watch this slow train wreck, knowing that all those Americans out there were voting for the wrong guy; and all for the most ridiculous, unsubstantial reasons.

I feel the tiniest bit of relief about one thing though: for the next 4 years, whenever someone near me complains about some stupid policy of the president's, I won't have to anxiously think of a rebuttal. I get to complain along with everyone else. Because it's not my fault that he's in office.

A piece like “Winter Skin Tips” doesn’t just happen again

Alors. Yeah, so there you go; proof of blog theory:

exciting and continuous happenings in one’s recent life=infrequent and dull posts^2

I’ve just not had time to post, what with all the apple-tart-eating and girly-talk to be had as of late during this vacances de Toussaint. Plus I had to plan my holla-ween disguisement. That took some time.
Since I am the lone foreigner in St. Pol de Leon, (of which I was reminded yet again today after being pursued on the sidewalk in an awkward, shuffly, slow-speed chase by an old Frenchman who had seen my photo and accompanying article in Le Telegramme and wanted to verify my identity) the assistants in Morlaix were kind enough to take me in on various occasions this vacation. (I even got my own room. Quelle classe.)

Highlights of Toussaint include:

-a valiant effort by the assistants to celebrate Halloween despite frigid, dickensian weather, a nearly empty pub which had posted a sign in its window announcing an—evidently—non -existent costume contest (and first prize bottle of champagne), and the fact that Halloween is just not actually a holiday in France.

-happening upon legitimately interesting bar with good music and enough costumed Frenchies to act as balm to wounds of the two Americans who had been forced to support indignity of wandering from bar to bar earlier in the evening, nervously wondering if they were the only adults in Morlaix wearing costumes and also being denied this aforementioned bottle of champagne. (even though we clearly were the winners by default, as there were no other entrants to competition. Or patrons in bar, for that matter. )

-Lunch on Saturday with an English woman and her French husband who insisted on directing all his queries regarding Indian culture and fauna to assistante from Trinidad, and who was, as a result, repeatedly reminded by his wife that ‘yeah, again, she’s not actually from India.” The couple lived in an old farmhouse that had been used to billet German officers during the war. The house had marks on the stairs left by badly-raised Germans who did not think it necessary to remove their heavy boots while indoors.

-Lots and lots of dialogue about the books people should be reading, the phrases you can employ to fool French people into thinking you speak their language well, and how to fix the world.

And finally, I’m nervous about today's results. I hardly start researching the election on the internet before I have to switch it off and go take deep breaths into a paper bag.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Curry and some Yoga

I made a curry today which is much less impressive than it sounds since I just bought a packet of ready-mixed spices and then added some pieces of chicken. BUT, I did get to chuck in a few dollops of the most domestic and fashionable of all ingredients...creme fraiche. Look at me with my tub of left-over creme fraiche in the fridge, I'm such a grown-up. Also, whilst cooking I opened as many of the windows as I could in the hopes of avoiding all those knowing looks people exchange around you when you go out after having eaten a large quantity of Indian food and are wafting stale saffron and tandoori-smell about the room, in manner similar to my college Chem lab professor. I thought I had succeeded but as soon as I let myself into the building, I could smell it straight away even though my apartment is on the second floor.

The evening proceeded in a similarly eastern fashion as I then went to a super-wierd yoga class. I had pictured me becoming flexible and bendy. This class, though, wasn't so much down-ward dog as lots of lying on one's back breathing deeply, vigorous rubbing of one's stomach and intestines (the Puritan in me was mortified, and talk of chakras (more Puritanical chagrin). We laid down on our backs for 90% of the time. I think I fell asleep at one point. No, I know I fell asleep. We were all lying down, wrapped up in the blankets that we had been using to work on, and we were just laying there still as she talked about picturing our insides or something and I was centering my energy somewhere in my diaphragm, but then the next thing I knew she was moving onto sitting up already. It's okay, I don't think I was the only one, and at least I wasn't the lady who farted really loudly in the middle of one of the breathing exercises. La pauvre.

Later, I had to rub the back and legs of the lady next to me while she rubbed me. (Luckily not the one who farted, I think.)

Yeah, it was just strange and not what I expected. Although the first class was free, I have to pay for the rest. Which puts me in a bind because I don't think I really want to do it again but the instructrice was really very kind and attentive. She knew I was foreign and seemed excited to have me and was keen that I got right the few moves that we did. Eh bien, on verra. But maybe I will just stick to swimming laps.

Okay, I have to make name cards now that my class can stick to their foreheads and then miraculously learn English, somehow. That's the game I have planned, don't mock it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Books are like watching television, only better."

I have been without Internets since I arrived in St.Pol and this whole time I just kept picturing all the stuff I could get done once I had that lovely golden Internets. Pictures to be posted! Friends to chat with! And Skype! Oh the Skype! My livebox arrived today and I even figured out how to hook it up and switch the "off" button to "on," thus telling the keepers of the Internets that I would like some.

But suddenly I can't really remember what the Internets is for. Sure I checked the facebook, and then my email. And then, after staring at the laptop wallpaper for 30 seconds, checked my facebook again, and sadly became that friend that posts things on everyone's walls like, "Eating an awesome sammich! Haha! Wicked!" every five minutes. I'm lame.

Am considering linking this site to my facebook. But then I have to behave.

Also, I went to this Yoga class last night (which wasn't really yoga at all because I forgot I was in France for a second and thought I would be actually doing something instead of just sitting on the floor in a circle discussing yoga theory, which was nice but I don't think it will make me limber.) and as the head lady was winding down the discussion, she asked me to introduce myself before everyone left, as I had snuck in late. I had just gotten my name out when the lady next to me turned and said, "Oh you're Wini. You're the language assistant, aren't you. My daughter came home talking about you today."

And then I realized that- petit a- there are only three schools in St. Pol and I teach in two of them- and petit b- that means that scientifically, there is a ginormous chance that if you have a kid in St. Pol, then I teach your kid and am thus somehow connected to you.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Artichoke Capital of France

After only one tiny, tiny minor freakout early last Sunday morning (further proof of why I should not be expected to get out of bed before noon on any given day), I'm all settled in St. Pol de Leon and ready to take on this year. Lying in bed, in the dark, staring at the ceiling at 4 in the AM last Sunday, I was swinging between feelings of extreme doubt and zen calm; content to be in France, nervous that there were no other assistants in this town, etc etc. I was managing somewhat to calm myself down, (Ah! Im 25! What am I doing?!) when the boyfriend called to check in (jerk) at which point I just exploded all over the phone. Of course, me being me, and thus it being necessary that I constantly exist in polar opposite emotions, within 24 hours I was gleefully wondering why I had wasted so much of my life not living in France and was postulating a highly Gallic future for myself. (Here's hoping) Alors, tout va mieux.

So, overall, things are going so well here in The Artichoke Capital of France (thanks to my sister for discovering this bit of St. Polian trivia...) that I'm almost waiting with bated breath for the bad news, as I do. (What was that? The tap water glows because of the nuclear power plant just outside of town? Assistants will not get paid this year? What?) But so far, the teachers and the boss lady in charge of me remain as friendly as always, and the town is still just as close to the ocean and as delicious-looking as ever.

Spending this weekend with the French FAM in Rennes so's I can go to my visite medicale on Monday. (Yay! Another x-ray of my lungs for my collection!) Also attended an assistants meet-up on Saturday, but didn't 'meet-up' with anyone placed close enough to St. Pol. Boo. However, on my way to the creperie, I nearly literally ran into this girl that I knew from last semester. She was still in Rennes studying. What odd luck to run into someone I know, even though I'm only here the weekend. Odd luck.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Familiar Stomping grounds

Hm, cliche as it is to say, the days do fly, don't they?

I have safely arrived in Paris, and am moving on to Tiny Coastal Village, Bretagne, in just a few days, where I will be teaching.

Okay, mind pile of mush. Still jet-lagged and goofy. Thought had made a mistake yesterday, but ate a chocolate pastry and bought a book today, and so, obviously, feel worlds better.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Benjamin Franklin started the 2nd one, not the first one

As I mentioned two posts back, last saturday I attended a concert that was designed to simulate an Ipod set to shuffle; the "Philly Song Shuffle." As expected, it was equal parts lameness and awesomeness. Besides biting off Apple (oh, that's funny, I didn't think about the pun), the concept of the show was pretty original (life imitating art imitating life! Ahhhh!) with each artist playing just one song as another artist set up his kit to play just one song creating a continuous stream of live music.

There were 50 artists that played and while all were 'decent' to 'good' musicians, I found it astounding how many people in the Philly area alone believe themselves to be adequate lyricists. I'm estimating that only 10% of the people we heard, did not get an enormous, sarcastic eye-roll from the boyfriend or I. (And that 10% was solid. Those were some truly talented people we heard) So, 90%--utter crap. Yes, okay, they were not professionals, nor did they get financially compensated for their time, but it leaves you wondering if some of these people have friends.

It was as if they filled in a page from "Madlibs: The Break-Up Edition" and set it to music, only instead of witty, fresh verbs, nouns and adjectives, they just kept writing "leave," "baby," and "cool." Ick. There's just only so many times you can listen to yet another awkward college freshman awkwardly warble a two-chord song about her awkward first sexual encounter without having to order another G and T, please. Of course, I am by no means a lyricist and even less so a musician of any sort. However, I did pay admission to the show...

Oh, I almost forgot. I also went to the zoo on Wednesday. The zoo is not my favorite place. It always seems hot and humid, and smells of ape poo, and the whole schtick just seems like an elaborate scheme to get you to buy an adorable, over-priced plush jaguar the proceeds of which they claim will save the rainforest. But, apparently the Philadelphia Zoological Society is super-big and important and gets all their endangered animals to mate etc, etc, so one is supposed to go. I ended up spending more time in front of and taking pictures with the little out-door collection of prarie dogs than anything else. (Okay, and the chameleon. Chameleon! Why are your feet so ridiculous?!) And when I got home my dad was all, Prarie dogs? Really? You know they have those in Kansas, right? Not giraffes or okapis or pythons? Just prarie dogs?

Whatever, I know he likes the chameleon just as much as I do.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Go USA

I like seeing evidence that Americans everywhere are still making a big deal about today, seven years after the fact. It reminds me that despite what the media fobs off on us as a truthful representation of the state of the world, there are some people somewhere who might actually have an accurate sense of the direction in which this world is headed.

Friday, September 5, 2008

So good, yo’ tongue gonna jump up and smack yo’ brain out

I think that the last time I visited Savannah, I must’ve seriously underestimated the heat. Inexplicably, the fact that I wore a tank top on the beach at Thanksgiving was not enough to convince me of what my brother has been insisting for these 3 years: Lucifer himself would feel quite comfy in Georgia. (cue that folksy fiddle tune referencing the devil and Georgia…)

What was meant to be a weekend spent helping the older brother move out of his Sweet Historic- District Pad, turned into me mostly laying around in the air-conditioning, and then loudly protesting and walking hunched over, arms hanging limply by sides whenever asked to go out to retrieve a screwdriver or similar from car. (Luckily, my mother fuels herself on a steady diet of coffee and crystal meth so she was able to pick up the slack. You think I’m kidding.) I’m pretty useless in hot weather (okay, and cold), so it’s futile during the summer to ask me to do anything beyond getting up to put pants on so I can lie down again. And that’s just me in normal summer temperatures, which do not actually exist in Georgia. The heat and humidity are so high, they actually weigh you down and make it difficult to breathe. I’m pretty sure in a few years they will discover that Savannah is not in Georgia at all, but actually at the center of the Earth. What really astounds me is that no one really seems to notice. People were walking about in normal summer attire- some even in PANTS!- always fully clothed, and never naked (as I had tried…) getting the mail, drinking coffee, working (?!) I could hardly be persuaded to pull on a swim suit (excruciating!), drive out to the beach , and lie around for the afternoon on Saturday with my mom, to take a break from the weekend of packing.

Speaking of which, I didn’t realize how jaded I had become about the beach just from growing up in a Mid-Atlantic state. The shore of choice for the Philadelphian is, obviously, New Jersey. For those who do not frequent North Eastern beaches, the Atlantic up here is Arctic. In August. So, when I stepped into the Atlantic alllll the way down south, at Tybee Island, and did not instantly get hypothermia, I was flooded with an unfamiliar sensation. One that confused me and that I could not quite vocalize until I looked over at my Ma (who spent her childhood swimming in Lake Eerie) bobbing next to me and she said with a little resignation in her voice, wrinkling her nose, “It’s, um, nice, isn’t it.” With ‘nice’ said in such a tone as if to indicate that anyone can like a beach where the water is bath-temperature, but it takes real class and determination to voluntarily drive back to a beach every summer that gives you frozen-foot.

Besides the beach, (and sleeping on a ridge rest, laid over banana boxes after they gave away the reclining chair I had been sleeping on )the other highlight of this very fast and fatiguing weekend of packing and cleaning, was the barbeque we had on Saturday night. My brother took us to this actual hole in the wall place called Angel’s, and over mouthfuls of sloppy barbeque and the sound of old-school punk music blaring from the speakers, we debated two things: does the mild-mannered, tattooed owner of this establishment have the best job ever (yes, his job is to get up in the morning, and then make sauces. Bam, coolest job right there. Makin’ sauces.) and, What is the point of that clear plastic bag of water hanging over the doorway? (we came up with something like, “De fly, he see de debil in de waduh. You no see de debil, but de fly, he see de debil. An’ he stay away….” etc. Oh, yay, homespun Southern wisdom.)
Okay, this post is huge. Besides it’s late and I need my beauty sleep as am going to some sort of Ipod shuffle-esque concert tomorrow night. As one band is playing a song another sets up to play one song and so forth, thus simulating an Ipod. Can’t tell if it’s going to be really neat or just lame.

PS: Two things actually. One, I thought the first post ever of a blog would be most difficult. I find this to be wrong. The second post is much harder. (So, I , just….like, write, about, my….life?) Second, the title of this post refers to something that my mother was told by a local on an earlier trip to Savannah. He was referring to the barbeque that my mother was about to eat. Apparently he felt it was pretty good.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wasteland

Why is it that 12 seconds after I click the ‘Create this blog’ button, I realize that I actually don’t have anything to blog about? Why?

Well, no hiding or shying away from it now; no longer lurker, I am BLOGGER!

I spent a painfully long time debating with myself about whether or not to set up one of these, which is odd considering I’m always looking out for new things to add to my “To Neglect” list. Other recently added items include: organizing teaching materials, reviewing French grammar and getting room in order for The Big Leave (aka, raison d’ être of this blog…)

Oh, yes, the Assistantship ‘08. I’m all kinds of ready…

More on that later.

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