Saturday, April 30, 2011

Thoughts at the end of an adventure...

I'm done. How strange it is to write those simple words, but I really am finished with my work in France. Last Friday, the 22nd of April was my last day teaching, so I've taken a few days (ok, a week) to contemplate my feelings about all this and come up with some final thoughts.

I think my feelings towards a lot of my classes can be summed up in the manner I was bid farewell during my very last week teaching.

Monday: I had an early morning class with my 4ieme Euro students at Paul Riquet. Half of the class were still coming back from a school trip to Germany, so I only had half the class. I really liked this particular class (Euro students are those that volunteer to take an extra hour of a language course) so they were always eager and fun to work with. I only saw them every other week however, so it was hard to build any kind of close rapport with them.

The other class I saw on Monday was the 3ieme 4 at Paul Riquet. These students barely noticed that it was my last day etc, and I admit that working with them was oftentimes difficult. - so no real surprise at this goodbye.

Tuesday: I saw the 3ieme Euros at Paul Riquet, and chatted with them about their recent trip to Germany. This class gave me a better farewell than the two on monday, since I saw this particular class more often throughout the year. These students were the highest level of students that I worked with, and I really enjoyed class
time with them. Some of the girls even made me cards!

-I'm skimming over a few classes-

Wednesday: I said goodbye to my favorite class of all: the 6ieme 1s at Paul Riquet. I was with this class of 11 and 12 year olds since the start of the year, and they held a special place in my heart for my entire stay. I couldn't have asked for a sweeter, more enthusiastic, and more intelligent group of students. They all really liked the last lesson that I did with them, and at the end of the hour, most of the girls lined up to give me the French bisous and homemade cards. My heart just melted! I'll miss them.

Thursday: I saw the 3ieme Euro at Henri IV for the last time. This class turned out to be a pleasant surprise for me. At the beginning of the year, getting these 14 - 15 yr olds to talk was like pulling teeth. They didn't participate with me, and they seemed woefully behind. By the end, however, they were much more outgoing and comfortable and were genuinely sad to see me go. In truth, I'll be sad to see go as well!

Friday: I said goodbye to my little class of dragueurs (male flirts) in the 4ieme 1 class at Henri IV. This class was one that I saw every Friday, and though they were often too talkative, they were a fun, and sweet class. The girls all expressed genuine farewells, but the boys in the class seemed heartbroken by my departure.
Oh boys...

For the most part, I really enjoyed my 7 months working in France. There were days when I was tired of everything, or my classes were uncooperative, but looking back, I will keep so many more good memories than bad from the schools.

The city etc that I lived in, Beziers, was admittedly not the best, but there were some beautiful parks, charming cafes, and friendly people to distract me from the lack of nightlife, and aggressively harassing men on the streets.

I hope to keep in touch with my teachers and perhaps even visit the area again someday.

At the moment I am on vacation (again) in Portugal, so stay tuned for some vacation posts!

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Sudden Pang of Melancholy

It was the warmest day of 2011 so far - in the 80s in the sun! Of course I took advantage - or as the French say "profiter". I went down to my favorite place, the dock by the river at the Jardin de la Plantade, laid out my towel and sunned myself for a little while. I watched some ducks mating; it looked really unpleasant for the female, being jumped on and held under water while thrashing about. At least the mating begets some adorable babies. I saw thirteen little duckling fluff balls the other day on my walk.

I also finished up my third to last week teaching, a fact that hadn't/still hasn't fully set in. Just two more weeks and I'll never see these kids/teachers again. It's such a weird feeling and not very pleasant. I've become attached to the two schools I work at, and just when I finally start to feel like I'm fitting in with the staff and building a rapport with the students I have to go. I'll be especially sad to leave the 6ieme classes I have - the equivalent 6th grade. They are always so sweet and enthusiastic and two days ago, on my birthday, a small of group of them made me happy birthday cards. awwwww.

Then, tonight while sitting by the window sipping on a glass of wine, I decided to pop up on the window ledge and lean out over the railing a bit. The air was so warm and mild and the tree near my window was in full bloom. When I craned my head to the right a bit, I could even see out over the city a bit. I realized then that despite its faults, I will miss this place.

Monday, March 21, 2011

That Time I Pretended to be a Real Snow Bunny

Just a little over a week ago, I returned home triumphant after a vastly improved second week of vacation. As you might remember, the first half (Lourdes) wasn't one of the finer points of my time abroad. This time however, I had company and good weather! Oh and the Alps!

After a few days of downtime in Beziers, I hopped on a train at 5:30 am and chuga chuga choo chooed my way to Sayoie (the region of the Alps I was in). Sam's family has a little efficiency apt in a small resort village there. After a very curvy drive up the mountainside in a shuttle van, I made it to the apt and a nap. Very important those are! The view from the small balcony was magnificent. Clear blue skies, bright sun, and snow capped mountains. Just breathe that fresh fresh air!

The next day, we explored some of the nearby resort villages, walked along the ski trail, traversed differences in elevation - as much as 200 meters, and stopped for a crepe and hot cocoa in view of Mount Blanc. Not bad eh?

Friday was our big hiking day, and since lots of snow at the lower altitudes had since melted, the trails were mostly clear, albeit a bit muddy. We went down the mountain a bit in one of the people lifts that Sam called the yogurt pots. Then, we walked along the road a bit before finding a trail to the 'Site Nordique,' the area for dog sledding, and cross country skiers. The view of the mountains from there was really spectacular. From there, we found a sign advertising a 45 minutes trail walk from where we were back to the apt. We were a bit dubious looking at the ascent that loomed before us, but we bravely set out. The trail was a bit steep of course (this is the Alps after all!) but it was surprisingly dry and reminded me of childhood hikes with the fam. We got back to the apt a bit sweaty, but otherwise feeling fit and refreshed.

Saturday was the big day. I finally let Sam strap me into the ski boots and heel-toe it over to the lift.
Step 1: Get on the chair lift. check
Step 2: Make it up the hill. Would have been check, but the lift broke down while we were 2/3s of the way up. So we dangled in the air for several minutes.
Step 3: Get off the chair lift. Fail. Someone slipped and fell.

After that, I was embarrassed and disgruntled, and soon after had a minor hissy fit (Sam's words), so we took a break and warmed up with hot cocoa. I put my big girl panties back on after that and took a few runs down the bunny hill. About an hour later when I finally had the hang of it, we tried out the long (still flatish) trail through the woods. It was lovely! and I didn't fall again! When we got back my calf muscles were aching from the stiff boots and the snow plowing, so I relaxed in a nice bubble bath. Hmmmm, life is rough.

The next day we had to head back to southern France, but now my interest in the Alps is sparked! But maybe I'll stick to hiking.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lourdes, oh lordy

I'm writing this entry from an incredibly overpriced internet cafe in Lourdes, France. I'm technically on vacation, but 2 1/2 days in Lourdes hasn't been very vacation-y. I don't want to be too much of a complainer, but let's just say this has been less than ideal.

Why Lourdes? you might ask. I understand your surprise since I often tell people that I'm recovering from Catholicism. Well, although I'm not here to partake as a pilgrim of faith, I do still find the idea of pilgrimage site fairly fascinating. The city is in the foothills of the Pyrenees and thus offers some fantastic views and hiking opportunities (or so I read). I'm also here to get some Lourdes holy water to bring back to my aunt Mary. A few clicks and typing later, and I had my train tickets and a two night stay in a cheap hotel booked. Off I went!

The views are spectacular, when you can see them. Unfortunately, the weather has been downright crummy since my arrival. It's been rainy and grey and chilly. I could handle that just fine, if it wasn't all so foggy. I bought a ticket package at the tourist office for the fortress castle/museum as well as for the trolley ride up a mountside for the best views of the city and Pyrenees for miles around. To add to the debacle, I realized only this morning that the trolley opens March 26th. It being March 2nd doesn't bode well for those plans. I wouldn't have been able to see anything anyway, but I pretty much paid 13 euros for a cold, viewless tour throught the Chateau Fort and museum. Go me. I suppose I could try to go back to the office and say that I wasn't aware the mount view was closed until late March when I bought the tickets, but I'm sure they would say that they told me that, and no refunds blah blah, as well as the fact that I've been trying to avoid the stupid tourist label. So I guess I'll just be stupid silently.....and instead hang out in the mediatheque and internet cafe until it's an acceptable time to go for dinner. I'd go back to my hotel room, but it's freezing and heated by a little electric thing that barely churns out warm air when turned up to the max. Luckily, I'm a veteran in cold room affairs. At least they're really nice there, and on the bright side I had a really lovely meal last night at a charming little couscouserrie.

Yesterday I checked out all the religious sites and felt like a intruder among the small throngs of international and devout worshippers. Lourdes is second after Paris for the most hotels per square foot in all of France. It's also probably first for religious souvenir and junk shops per square foot. It seems like there are ceramic figurines of Mary and made in China rosary beads on every corner. I stopped into a few of them on my wanderings and yes, I couldn't help myself. As well as the holy water, I will be bringing my Lady of Lourdes shot glass with me back to the U.S.

Oh Holy Mother keep and protect my blasphemous drunk soul. amen.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Some Things I Knnow About France

First of all,....I'm sorry, I'm sorry. It's been a month since I last wrote, I know.

Here are some things I know about France:

Pain au chocolat is cheap and delicious.
Ordering coffee at a cafe will get you a tiny and very concentrated cup.
The French love their dogs.
And most let their dogs shit all over the sidewalk.
Aside from cafes and some grocery stores, most places are not open before 10.
Aside from restaurants and some grocery stores, most places are not open past 7pm.
France closes down on Sundays. Stock up on groceries etc the day before.
If you didn't stock up, try to find the 1/4 of the cafes that might still be open.
If Sunday off wasn't enough, many stores/cafes also take Monday off as well.
People smoke, a lot.
Bars close at 1am.
Discotheques/after hours bars/boites are your only option after bar close and they are guaranteed to be a. skeazy and b. overpriced.
Tip is included in tab at eating places.
Schools are closed Wednesday afternoons, but open Saturday mornings.
French women are skinny.
I love cheese. therefore, I am not.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Day Trip to Limoux: the birthplace of sparkling white wine

Just this past Sunday, Sam and I decided to venture over to a new French town, one that isn't far away, but as of then yet unexplored. The name of the town is Limoux, and its claim to fame is, in keeping with the French style, booze. I suppose many would list the three month carnival-like festival as the premier reason to visit, but then, that doesn't begin for another couple of weeks, so I will leave that for a later post.

The sparkling wine of the region is called Blanquette, which basically means white, and doesn't sound very inspired, but then Champagne is just named after a region, so it appears the French weren't being overly creative hundreds of years ago. The Blanquette of the Limoux region dates back further than the creation of Champagne and is said to be the first sparkling white wine ever made. The good monks of the local abbey apparently discovered it by accident, but after that the idea stuck. Legend states that good ole Dom Perignon stole the secrets of Blanquette and hightailed it over to Champagne, and there the bubbly beverage was given its most popular name. Some experts, however, note that certain Blanquette varieties are just as good if not better than it's more famous cousin. I had a couple glasses of the sweeter version, and though I am no aficionado, it tasted pretty damn good to me.

Limoux also boasts the “longest carnival celebration in the world.” I have no idea if another town somewhere can claim the same, so I'll just take their word for it. It runs from the end of January (sadly we missed it, but are planning to go back) through February and March and into April. I'm not exactly sure what's involved, but costumes, parades, music, and wine must be included. Count me in!

The two of us wandered over on Sunday, and unfortunately the local wineries (so, wine tastings) were closed. Without the carnival on the town was quiet, but still brimming with the charm that comes with old French towns. We stopped by the main square first and stopped into the local cafe for a giant cup of cafe au lait and a couple yummy French pastries. After that, we wandered around the winding stone streets and eventually made it down to the river, the Aude. The sun was shining for most of the morning so we took advantage. As the sky started to turn grey, we went inside, specifically inside the home of a married teacher couple that Sam works with in Carcassonne. They were friendly, welcoming people, with two very cute and intelligent children. We spent the rest of the afternoon with them, eating and conversing in French.

The bus ride home, like the ride there, was lovely, and I can't wait to make it again when we return during carnival time!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Les Catastrophes de Beziers

After witnessing another fine specimen of the Beziers population, I have finally decided to devote an entire blog post to the "catastrophes de Beziers".

Last Wednesday, my friend Colleen, our new French friend Sylvain, and I were at O'Sullivans pub for the weekly quiz night. We won by the way, though we do have to think of a better team name. Any suggestions?

Anyway, at about 10:30pm or so a woman entered the pub. I'd guess she was in her mid to late 60s, but who knows; some French women don't age gracefully at all, and a woman going into a bar already half in the bag a few hours shy of midnight probably hasn't been too easy on herself. Her face was rather pretty though, think Dame Judi Dench a la As Time Goes By. Unfortunately, she was rather plump and ample chested - which leads us to her biggest problem that evening.

She was resting on a stool just a few feet from our table, and as she took off her coat, I could have sworn I saw a flash of nipple. I couldn't be sure as she sat with her back to us for a bit after that, but as she turned back our way, I was, unfortunately, quite sure of what I had seen. She was wearing a sheer-ish hip length leopard print blouse, but under that, she was sporting a very low cut, black, lacy bustier-type top. and she was, without mincing words, 'busting out all over'. To say that I saw nipple would be a stretch I suppose, but a good few centimeters of areoles were present at all times. This attracted the attention and glances of more than one man at the bar, and in her favor, most of them were over 40. I still don't know if she realized, but I'm guessing she just didn't care. She was even joined by a gal pal a bit later, who apparently said nothing - to which Colleen leaned over and whispered, "I'd be a better friend than that. I'd definitely let you know if your nipples were hanging out." Thanks Colleen! but let's pray it never comes to that.

Our very own 'nipplegate' and her wardrobe malfunction stayed at the bar for as long as we did, - until midnight, and managed to chow down two plates of bar food (the smoked salmon plate and the good ole fried stuff plate) with her friend. There was no escaping the sight, as she was sitting directly in front of me, and I still don't know which part was worse - the ever present areoles, or watching her stuff her face with her chubby, be-ringed fingers, complete with long claw like fake nails. Whatever it was, it was too much. just too much. At least it makes for good blogging!

I post more updates on the 'catastrophes de Beziers' as they come up. And don't worry, they're never few and far between.