Friday, December 24, 2010

It was Christmas Eve babe...

To kick off my first Christmas vacation away from my family, I decided to ditch my boring old flight and take a roadtrip instead. My friend Sam and I took off on Friday evening and headed north, into the best bad weather France could conjure up for us. We were trying to make good time in order to catch the ferry from Dieppe to New Haven, so we were forced to take the toll heavy autoroutes instead of the scenic route. As Sam's car is a British model, I lounged out in the left hand seat, garnering many a strange look from passing cars. I think I proved myself to be an excellent wingwoman, opening bottle caps, passing food items, and scrolling down the window to pay the tolls. Though French weather tried to break our stride, we made it to Dieppe and the ferry. Luckily we were armed with a bottle of wine, which made the four hour boat trip across the channel a lot more fun.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dreams of Christmas Past

As promised, here is a post about Christmas traditions with my family - since it will be my first Christmas away from my family.

In Christmas' past, my father, who works for the Forest Service had a permit and we'd trek out into the Nat'l Forest to pick out our tree. The five of us would load into the truck with our hats and mittens and a thermos of hot cocoa, and once we found the perfect tree, Dad would take the saw to it and voila. These days, we pick out our tree pre-cut and cart it home. Our ceilings are ten feet, so our tree is always massive. In the days before any of us girls went off to college, we'd take one of the early weekends in December to decorate the tree. Each of us three have a hallmark ornament for each Christmas and we'd cover the tree in ornaments, lights, ribbons, and candy canes. The cats drink the water in the tree stand, they do love their pine water. We'd also take the weekend to bake cookies and breads while listening to Christmas carols. We hung up the stockings and wrapped garland around the house.

On Christmas Eve, we eat a big dinner. Usually we have salmon and shrimp, while my dad always has some oyster soup...blech. Then, we get ready for midnight mass (which is usually at 9/10pm) and afterwards, we drive around looking at Christmas decorations and lights around the the town.

Then we snuggled into bed and waited for Santa. In the morning, we snuck downstairs and saw the tree all lit up and in the dark morning, it cast the living room in a warm glow. Our stockings, crocheted by my grandmother, were laid in front of the tree filled with little goodies. When our parents came downstairs, we all got a pastry and cup of coffee or cocoa and settled around the tree to open the presents - one gift opened by each person at a time. When this was done, the cats would play with the wrapping paper and we would try out our gifts and play any CDs we had received.

We had another big meal in the afternoon with turkey and salads and such, and then would relax and do nothing for the rest of the day. It was magical. I'll really miss the traditions this Christmas, but I'll also be making new memories, and having new explorations.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I'm sitting in the teacher's computer lab on this chilly morning, taking advantage of the cheap coffee machine and free internet. I would normally be typing this on my laptop (with the english keyboard) in my apt, but well, there hasn't been any heat there for the past ten days. The building is also rather old, so there is no insulation in the walls, and that added to the broken furnace = it's like I'm living and sleeping outside. One of my teachers was kind enough to allow me to eat and sleep at her home three nights and I've spent other nights at friends' places. The FJT has also given me a temporary room in the main (and heated) building, so at least I have a warm place to sleep. On tuesday, they said that it would be finished and working on wednesday, and then yesterday afternoon they said it will be fixed today (thursday Dec 2nd). Le sigh.

I'm also cruising on into December and the end of the first semester teaching in France. I suppose some reflection is in order. I've gotten a bit into the swing of things, I've had a few really great lessons, a few terrible ones, and lots of mediocre ones. I teach the equivalent of 6th - 9th grades. Honestly, it hasn't been as difficult as I had imagined, luckily I'm something of a novelty and thus a special treat, so the behavior when I work with them reflects this. And for the first time in my life, I feel like an adult.

Technically, I've been an adult for the past four years, but there are times lately when I feel old. haha. I attribute a lot of those feelings to the fact that I'm working with children, children who are between eleven and seven years younger, but the gap seems so wide. One student died at the end of October, and though I had only seen her a few times, it was quite a shock, a horrible one at that. I started to understand that horror that adults feel when young people die. One of my teachers also shared a little about the backgrounds of some of my oldest students and I was shocked by some of the stories of terrible parenting. Granted, I don't even know if I want children, but I've developed some rather strong attitudes on the subject seeing students in class that are not having the childhoods they should be.

In this holiday season, I'm also starting to miss my own family rather acutely. It was my second Thanksgiving away from home, but it will be my first Christmas away. I think I'll devote my next post to memories of some Christmas traditions.

Hope all is well with everyone.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Toussaint continued...

Thursday, Oct 28th,

I opened the windows in the morning and looked out on...rain. Well, that threw a wrench in my planto bike to the chateau that day. Instead, we took a bus, a cheap one at that to Amboise. Not only is Amboise home to a royal castle with some pretty gory history, it is also Leonardo Da Vinci's final resting place and his home there is now a museum dedicated to his life and his many inventions. The castle itself wasn't all that spectacular. It's chapel houses Da Vinci's tomb, and it does have a nice view of the Loire River, but the most exciting part of the visit was probably getting scolded forcefully and unnecessarily by some museum personnel for eating at a wooden picnic table in the entrance courtyard. Now if we had been spreading out our picnic lunch on the centuries old dining table of Henri III, I could understand. Maybe it was our youth, or our ostentatious amount of packed lunch, but that lady was pissed off, telling us that it was not a restaurant, and just look at all the grease marks we were getting everywhere (though we weren't eating anything remotely greasy). We had fun grumbling about her for days after. Da Vinci's residence and museum, however, were much more exciting and engaging. We had to jostle with mobs of children to try out the full sized replicas of his inventions, earning some admonishing looks from parents along the way, but it's not every day you get to spin around in Da Vinci's "tank" which greatly resembles a wooden Gravitron carnival ride. That night, we wandered around the old part of Tours with the rest of the city's bustling student population until the rain and closing time forced us back to the hotel.

Friday, Oct 29th
The next day, thanks to greves and our own late rising, we missed the train that would have taken us to Chambord, the most extravagant castle in the Loire Valley. We were flexible planners however, and settled for taking the train to the smaller yet more intricate and whimsical castle of Chenonceau. Known as the "ladies' castle" in French, it has been blessed with female ownership and design for centuries. When Henri II purchased the castle, he gifted it to his favorite mistress, Diane de Poitiers....the original cougar. When they met, Henri was only a teenager, but Diane, twenty years his senior was already heading into her late thirties. Needless to say, Henri's wife, the devoutly Catholic Catherine de Medici was displeased not only with his extramarital affairs, but more importantly, since such affairs were commonplace, his uncommon devotion to his mistress. After his death, the Queen decided that she fancied Chenonceau for herself, and displaced Diane to a smaller and less regal castle. Later, the next female owner, and wife of Henri III spent the last twelve years of her life in mourning at the castle. She had her bedchamber painted black, and all of the decorations somber, sparse, and heavy. She passed her days wearing white, queenly mourning attire, and immersed in prayer and quiet contemplation. That for twelve long years? thank you.
I managed to take quite a few photos, but the weather was dull and grey, so they aren't as lovely as those taken in bright sunlight. Overall though, it was a nice visit, and well worth the train and ticket price.
The next day, Saturday the 30th, I bid adieu to my traveling companions and headed over to the apartment of my second couch surfing host. Myriam had set the bar high, but Kevin was just as good, providing me with enough company and alone time as I preferred. He's an excellent cook and hanging out with him and his friends was a lot of fun. I experienced Tours nightlife with a group of real Tours natives and it was a really great time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I do apologize for the lateness of this post. I could make up some excuse about being overwhelmingly busy or something, but that is a boldfaced lie, so I must chaulk it up to laziness instead. I bet you're all dying to hear about my vacation. What? You didn't know that I had one already? Well I did. This is, after all, France.
The first vacation "scolaire" of the school term happens right around Halloween. So, I had a holiday from Oct 23rd - Nov 2nd. Even though the good majority of les francais are non-religious/atheist, they still have enough saints for every day of the year, sometimes even having to double up. And because of all these saints, they need one big communal feast day, and what better day to have All Saint's than right after that devilish of all days, that pagan Halloween - much like Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday. Party! then REPENT. What Catholics do best.
Since we were encouraged by the program to stay in France proper during this first holiday, I decided to visit a part of France I had yet to see, the Loire Valley. Home to beautiful scenery, lush countryside, wide, still rivers, and of course, les chateaux. I thought combining two of my favorite things, history and pretty stuff, would make for a great vacation.
And it was, with many adventures...and misadventures along the way.
I left Monday the 25th, boarding a train from Beziers to Montpellier, where I would catch another train to Tours, via Lyon. Too bad the greves (french strikes) had another idea. My train had been cancelled, so I waited patiently in the line for the ticket office that stretched out the glass doors and meters deep into the waiting area. Fortunately, things turned out in my favor. Without any extra cost, I was reassigned a faster train to Tours via Paris. Arriving at Gare du Lyon, however, I realized that I had about 45 minutes to get to a different train station to catch the train to Tours. 45 minutes sounds like enough time, but Paris is large and even if you're like me and are familiar with the Paris metro, you will find yourself scrambling. I ended up running through Gare Montparnasse, barely making it in time. whew.
It was smooth sailing after that. I was picked up at the station in Tours by my couch surfing host, Myriam. She very graciously put me up for two nights in her adorable apartment, feeding me and showing me around the city. She even called a hotel for me, setting up a triple room for my two friends (arriving wed) and I at a fraction of the price of a single room elsewhere. Thanks Myriam!
Wednesday Oct 27th:
Elaine arrived in the late morning and together we got impulse buy hair cuts. Yay! Mine is shorter that it's been in a long time, but I really like it. Then, joined by Colleen, we settled into our cute and cozy hotel room at Hotel Foch, in the heart of the 'old city', and home to the friendliest old man concierege ever.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Clothes Shopping in France...not fun here either.

I had several hours between classes today so I decided to go on an adventure to the outskirts of town. I'd been told that's where one goes to find the best deals on just about everything. So I set off on bus number 5 and braced myself against the gusty wind to find some bargains.

I've been in need for a new pair of skinny jeans, and am not sure what my pant size is here in France. In the U.S., I'm about an 6/8/10 short and that's always different in every store. I wandered into a Euro trash boutique outlet thingy where most of the items were mutilated with rips, bedazzled, or uglified with fake fur. I did find some jeans that looked alright and the price was definitely right (10-20 euros) so I snagged a 38, 40, and 42 and stepped into the cramped dressing room.

I couldn't get the 38 over my thighs. I couldn't button the 40. I couldn't get over how much my stomach bulged over the top of the 42. Maybe it was just that one style?
Nope. I tried on four more different styles and the only change I saw was that the 42s were about a foot too long. Apparently the pants in this store were made for tall skinny girls. and all the pants in the next store, and the next. I was starting to feel like I was shopping in abercrombie and fitch everywhere I went...where else am I the largest size in the store? I'm not a waif, and heck I'm not even skinny, but sheeesh, I'm average sized. When I tried on a dress labeled large and could barely fit it over my chest, I knew I was done for the day.

Better luck next time....after I lose about twenty pounds. yeah right.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What I've Been Up To

After lots of shifting and emailing etc, I finally have a schedule for my twelve hour a week teaching stint. I have met all of the English teachers I'll be working with (there are 7 of them, three at one school, four at the other) and I have sat in on and introduced myself to all of the classes. So far, French middle schoolers are much like American ones; rambunctious and curious. But at least I don't sense any really bad attitudes, and most seem pleased by my presence....though I sense it's partly because it disrupts their regularly scheduled programs. I work mostly with 13-15 yr olds, so the older end of the spectrum, but they are the ones that benefit the most at this point seeing as how they have exams before they head to high school. The teachers also have been kind enough to not use me as a baby sitter to the bad kids (as I've heard some other assistants have been used). I have no complaints. My schools are in easy walking distance, the teachers are genuinely friendly and helpful, and I think the students and I will get along just fine. So far I've stood in front of the classrooms and allowed them to fire questions at me - mostly the basics, but a few "what's your phone number". I have to chuckle. This coming week, I'll be taking a few groups aside at a time, getting them to talk, telling them more about me and the U.S. and increasing their comfort level with me. The goal is, if they are too intimidated to talk in class, hopefully they will open up and practice English with me. Otherwise, I've been hanging out with friends from the program, and working on meeting some more French people our own age.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Weekend In Bezi - the re-cap

Wasn't the greatest weekend ever....but there are plenty more weekends ahead of me.

I also learned a little bit more about the city from several of its citizens. Apparently a few years ago the middle class fled the city and lots of the money for the area was invested in Montpellier, leaving some of the other cities in the area with less. With increased immigration and racial tensions, and the economy,...a lot of people left the city for the outskirts/other cities. Now, Bezi is smaller, dirtier, and poorer than its larger sister Montpellier.'s also much if living here means more money for travels, then it's a fair-ish trade.

On thursday I went to a classicaal music concert in the centuries old Cathedrale in Bezi! It was a really cool setting, but I was the youngest person there by oh...30 years.

On friday night, we went to a german film hosted by Bezi's cinema was, well, a spirit crusher. After we went out and discovered Bezi's non existent night life.

Sat. we went out to our favorite watering hole, only to discover that the bars in the city are taken over by 17-18 yr old high schoolers on saturday nights. ....

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dear Miss Screamy McScreamerson

Warning: this entry concerns the sexual escapades of the young woman living on the floor below me and my thoughts on her rather inconsiderate screaming. Stop here if you do not wish to read.

Here is the letter I'd like to write (in english) to this gal.

Dear Miss Screamy McScreamerson,

Hearing your cries of passion at 10/11pm at night while I was reading in bed were rather comical, but just last night, those screams woke me from my sleep at 4am and well; that just ain't cool. Therefore, I have a few words for you.

You live on the floor below me, and not even directly below me. There is no reason that I should be able to hear you. And if I can hear you, then everyone in the building can. I am clearly not the only person you are bothering.

Also, who the hell sounds like that? What's with the screaming kiddo? Is your partner really that good....or are you taking the faking thing a little too far. You start off with the regular old sex noises: the panting, the moaning, but then you just start screaming. Seriously, stuff a pillow over your face. People are trying to sleep.

And last, but not least. We get it. You are getting sexed multiple times a day. Good for you. Hope your tiny bed doesn't break. But for all the rest of us not having screaming orgasms on a regular basis, please stop rubbing it in.

Thank you and have a pleasant day

Monday, September 27, 2010

I have a phone, a bank account, an apt, and some friends...

Life is a bit better these days.

I have a phone and a bank account, my studio is growing on me a bit, tho I am still a bit peeved about not having internet in the apartment. It's ok though; I guess I needed to wean myself off of constant wi-fi access anyway. I've done a fair bit of exploring and as soon as I figure out, I'll post some photos. I promise.

The apartment building has been just that, an apartment building...not a ton of people milling about meeting each other. I've met two other people who live there and they seem nice, if a bit reserved. Oh! and I just had my first nun sighting! Score.

I'll be heading back to my apt soon, where a really good book is waiting for me, I just hope that the girl in the building who is ummm...very very loud with her boyfriend won't be there. I can hear her from inside my apartment, and I don't think she's next door to me. oh dear.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Beziers....Je suis Ici

Here's the scoop everyone.

I'm in Beziers. I have a place to live, I have a phone. I have money and thus I can eat. I met up with another girl last night and we wandered over to the token "Irish pub" in Beziers. More on that in a bit.

I feel like an idiot a lot of the time, and the not having internet in my apt has been a bummer, and so far I've been taking advantage of the internet cafes near my place. I asked the office at Montibel about the internet situation, and they told me that I don't have it! But, they told me there is a girl downstairs from me who does and who also speaks I guess I'm just supposed to knock on her door.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

First Post in France

I am writing this on a French computer, so the keys are all switched around...but I will try my best to make this post make sense. I apologize if I fail; I am a bit jet lagged. Here's what's happened so far in the world of Becca:

I flew from Minneapolis to Iceland no problem. I sat next to a young couple on their way to London who had their 7 month old son in tow. As the other infants on the flight screamed and cried, he just smiled, giggled, and cooed. Good baby. I did run into my old 4th grade teacher while waiting at the gate before the flight. small world.

I unfortunately didn't get to see much of Iceland, since I had only an hour stop over, but their coffee is good, and the mountains that I saw in the distance from the air port window looked pretty. Anyway, I was too busy. Off to Paris! This flight was baby free, and after a 20 minute delay waiting for the folks coming in from the Boston flight, we took to the skies. I was nestled between an elderly woman from Fridley, MN with her husband. It was her first visit to Paris. On the other side of me was an older French gentleman from Mass. who I soon found out was a retired French professor @UMass heading to France to visit family. We chatted during the flight and he was patient with me and corrected my French like a good prof would. I joked that though he was retired, he wasn't done with students.

Both of my suitcases joined me at Charles de Gaulle, and then it was off to catch a bus to the train station. CDG is huge, and not much fun to navigate with two large suitcases and a carry on in tow. Nevertheless, I managed to find the bus stop and waited, and waited, and waited some more for the bus. I sat next to a 20 something French gal named Julie who, like the professor on the flight was kind and patient enough to chat with me. We stayed with each other all the way until her train arrived (mine came 30 minutes later) and she offered me a place to stay next time I was in Paris. I offered her the same in Beziers.

I really do prefer traveling by train. Such pretty sites to see from the window, sand colored stone farm houses with red tiled roofs, villages nestled in small valleys between rolling hills, sheep and cows, and vineyards, and sun. This time I sat next to a French woman who chatted with me even though I warned her that my French was even worse than usual due to jet lag. She got off in Nimes where the Feria was still going strong, and I continued on to Montpellier, where I was picked up from the train station by my cousin's wife's sister, and where I am staying right now. I owe her and her husband a huuuuuge thank you for putting me up for two nights. Their daughter will probably be my wake up call in the morning, but I don't mind cause she's a total cutie pie. I'm on to Beziers tomorrow and more adventures!

à bientot!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Life is is Traveling.

I have my only (thus far) concrete travel plans cemented.

I will be flying out of Beziers to London on December 21st.

I will be flying out of London to Montpellier on December 26th.

-Getting to London cost me 27.31 USD

-Getting back from London on the day after Christmas cost me 117.00 USD.
(and that was the cheapest option)

I guess it had to be done.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Is This Really Happening?...

I leave in two days! It feels surreal, but it's happening. My suitcases are packed, my plane ticket is printed out; yes folks, it looks like I'm actually going. 8 months, in France. Will you miss me? Cause I know I'll miss you. I'm getting some butterflies, but I wonder when the realization will hit me in full. In the car on the ride down to the cities? At the air port? On the plane? When I land in Ice Land? When I arrive in Paris? Who knows! Right now, I think I should get back to packing; my suitcases are done, but I've left quite a mess and would feel badly leaving this for my parents to sort through.
Here's hoping for a pleasant enough flight to France!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

This Has Nothing to Do With France.

I decided to surprise my parents this weekend by coming home unexpectedly. Only my little sister knew my plans. So, I packed up my car with stuff to take home (moving next week) and headed out onto the freeway. I was cruising like the lead foot I am and making good time. I was giggling like a demon when my dad called to say I had some mail, and he had no idea that I was on my way up. I stopped at a gas station about 45 minutes south of Duluth and had the unpleasant surprise of seeing my keys sitting on the passenger seat....while all the doors were locked. Damn and blast. I ended up having to call my parents anyway, surprising them with the request to drive down with a spare key to unlock me. So my dad told me he was on his way and I settled down at a table inside the Little Store gas station with a Glamour magazine and a book of crossword puzzles. I also did an neat bit of people watching, and seeing as how I was at a small town gas station just off the freeway, it was rather entertaining. My favorite characters were these two scruffy guys, probably in their early sixties, looking a bit greasy and ratty. The two of them each had two frozen pizzas under one arm and their favorite nudie mag under the other. Well, boys, looks like you're going to have one hell of a crazy friday night. Enjoy that Penthouse.

Don't worry, my dad arrived in record time and unlocked the car for me. The rest of the drive home was rather uneventful, tho, my mp3 player died on me and I was forced to listen to 'Delilah' on the radio for about 30 minutes. This guy's new wife took a knife for him,...wielded by his mental unstable ex-wife....and Delilah paid tribute to her with the song 'Bleeding Love' ... wow.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Main Concern

Housing. Housing. Housing.

Everyone has been asking me where I'll be living once I get to France. A few weeks ago, I'd answer I don't know yet and not feel stressed about that status...but now. I want to know that I'll have a place when I arrive! It's not really a big deal. Plenty of people have said that they didn't find housing until after they arrived. But, well. I don't want that to be me. It would be easy to live alone, but would probably be more expensive and lonely. Plus, I'd like the chance to work on my French speaking! I cannot live with my host family in Montpellier, but I wasn't counting on that, and I'm still welcome to visit them. A couple of gals in the program have mentioned something about living together. So we'll see what happens. I'm going to send a message to a gal from Roseville who will also be in Beziers. I'll get it figured out! But for now, I have to get a ticket on the mega bus for Chicago!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Mid-Summer Butterflies

I fly out of Minneapolis/St. Paul, and the U.S.A. entirely on September 17th. I'll land in Paris, and head straight down south. At this point, I have over two months to prepare, but there's so much to do already! I have my official acceptance letter; I'll be teaching English twelve hours a week in a city near Montpellier (where I studied abroad). It's called Beziers - look it up! it's gorgeous. Now I have to book visa appointments and travel down to Chicago twice before I leave. I have to contact the school and get some more information, open a French bank account, and find housing! EEEk! No wonder I've got a few little butterflies flopping around my stomach these days.

I just emailed my host mom from my study abroad days, and hopefully she'll be able to help me a bit with any questions I might have. For now, I'm enjoying the hot, humid weather of Minnesota in July.

Je suis ravie (I'm estatic).