Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday September 30, 2007
Today I woke up entirely too early for a Sunday, but with unavoidable tasks. I went to the train station, which is a 30 minute walk (ugh), to buy my train tickets for the various orientations I have in two different cities. Hopefully they’re the right times. I know I’m getting into City #1 well ahead of time, and Madame Mouty has told me it’s probably best to take a taxi to the place (IUFM, which is kind of like a teachers’ college). Other than that, if it doesn’t work, no big deal. Those three tickets cost me a total of ~20E. Um, thank you Carte 12-25. Between the ages of 12 and 25, you can buy this 49E card that gives you discounts on virtually all trains, and often the discounts are near 50%. It’s a good deal. My other errand this morning was to purchase a small bouquet of flowers for Madame Mouty, because if you’re invited to someone’s house, it’s traditional and polite to bring something like flowers, chocolate, or if possible, some regional specialty. I’m fresh out of regional New York specialties (I gave away the two bottles of maple syrup that Mom picked up for me at the Farmers’ Market), so I got a small 10,50E bouquet. It was really pretty and that is going to be my florist from now on. This is the second bouquet I’ve purchased from them since I’ve been here (that says something, doesn’t it), and they are so patient and helpful and the bouquets are absolutely beautiful. And inexpensive.
So anyways, I bought the bouquet for Madame Mouty to whom I still refer as Madame because she hasn’t corrected me yet because she invited me over for lunch today. She, as mentioned before, is a music teacher, and Olivier is a musician as well. Olivier has obviously studied some English as well, as he kept trying to translate his (very very very verbose) conversations into English even though I completely understood what he was saying and demonstrated such by my responses. They have a hyperactive 5 ½ year old daughter named Camille who is obsessed with princesses and fairies. She’s adorable and was fascinated with my presence. She is just learning how to write and also the syllables in preparation for reading. She was a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be teaching her class English, and showed off the only English phrase she knew: “My name is Camille.” Soooo cute! Can all of my students be that precious? Lunch was a small aperitif of pineau, a liquor from Ile de Ré which is off the coast of La Rochelle. It’s super sweet. Also there was regional sausage which tasted a little tripe-y, but still decent. Thank goodness for peppercorns. Dinner consisted of an entrée of this casserole of lard, bits of ham, egg, potato, and prunes. I tried my best but did not do very well. The main dish was crêpes (yay!) à l’usseloise with ham and cheese. Oh thank goodness. Then there was the cheese. I LOVE cheese. It smells pretty bad but it tastes awesome. Then we went to the Point des Millevaches, which is not “Thousand-Cow Point” like it immediately translates, but is a standard French approximation of some Occitan (south-central France) word. Olivier explained it but I forgot. Basically it’s a lookout tower on top of a huge hill/tiny mountain where you can see ALL of Corrèze. Wow. I just couldn’t articulate how incredible it was to see so much of France, how pretty it all was, how friggin picturesque it all was, and how beautifully mundane. Like there was nothing special to see, just France. But that’s beautiful. It looked a lot like the view from on top of the Ski Hill behind the house at home. And that made me sad. Or homesick. Or lonely. Then we went back to their house where Olivier and Madame gave me a little recital of traditional regional music on bagpipe-like instruments, a vielle (kind of like a violin crossed with an accordion that has a crank), and Madame’s violin. Really neat stuff. Olivier is off his rocker – he makes wind instruments out of ANYTHING, including plastic drinking straws. He also talks a LOT.
It was really nice of Madame to invite me over. When I thanked her, she said “Well, I just try to put myself in your place.” I guess I see her point: the hardest part about this trip, I can tell now, isn’t going to be French bureaucracy or teaching (although that should prove immensely challenging), but rather the lack of familiar faces. I miss my family and my boyfriend and my friends a lot. It’s nice to see the new people here in France like Madame, Françoise, and the English teachers so much because they’ll become familiar and even comforting. I find Ben to be immensely comforting, just his presence, because we at least have a mildly similar background (we both understand the love-hate relationship of WalMart, etc). And yet I hardly know Ben.
My train tomorrow morning is at 6.30ish, and it’s a half hour walk, and I want to be there early, so I have to wake up stupid early. Ugh. Rocío and Ben left today for the orientation, but I had the invite to Madame Mouty’s and also I just didn’t want to go today. I’m sincerely hoping that my questions regarding my residency card, social security/health insurance card, and classroom management will be answered in these next two days.
I also hope this week will provide some answers to the communication embargo I’m under at the moment. While it’s very nice that the high school has offered the computers in the library and the teachers’ room to use whenever we like, Ben and I both have laptops with webcams for a reason, and the library and teachers’ room close. I want to TALK and SEE people – it’s possible in this day and age, and in this country that friggin invented the jumbo jet (see Airbus).
I should go to bed. I’m not tired, but being awake makes me lonely.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Saturday September 29, 2007
Today is Saturday which means not a whole lot happens, especially in a quiet town like this. This is a touristy place, at least for the French, but more like in the summer when the nearby lake (Lac Ponty) fills up. After August, this place returns to its regular pace. Everyone keeps telling me it’s “tranquille” here, which basically translates to “quiet and lonely.” No but really, it’s an adorable town that has all I need, oh except public transportation. I’d look into a car but that would be RIDICULOUS because I’d have to (1) trade in my New York drivers’ license for a French one, (2) take driving lessons, (3) buy a car which is prohibitively expensive, (4) register it which is prohibitively bureaucratic, and (5) always find someplace to put it which is prohibitively annoying. So I’m looking into a bike. The walk to the grocery store is only fifteen minutes but that’s a half an hour round-trip, and one way is with food. And Rose likes to eat. I did buy a lot of tea, which I’m hoping will help me calm down a bit. I’m terribly “stressée”, and everyone keeps asking me if I’m ok. No, I’m just naturally “stressée.”
Things that have happened lately:
Ben has arrived and the awkward “Do we speak English or French to each other, and in which circumstances?” phase has begun. Ben is nice. He’s from Indiana and studied Latin (!!!) and French, so he’s obviously got a brain. He studied in Rennes, which is in a part of France I haven’t seen yet, and has traveled significantly more than I during his stay (and you thought that wasn’t possible…) so there’s definitely some travel stories to exchange.
Rocío, Ben and I have arranged our stay here together in such a way that everyone shares the cleaning and shopping in ways that everyone is satisfied and comfortable. That was a fun meeting.
Last night (Friday), one of the English teachers, named Blandine, invited the three of us to her house for dinner. Let me make this perfectly clear: She. Lives. In. The. COUNTRY. Ok, the train station of her town is down the street, but wowww I could not believe how far out we were going. But anyways, it was REALLY nice of her – she insists that we call her Blandine and not my immediate default of Madame, and that we use the familiar form of “you” with her (French has a familiar you and a plural/formal you, and the usage of the two depends on age, familiarity, and respect). Her 14 ½ year old daughter Marine was also there. Her husband (I think?) François was not there. She served us raclette, which is a tray of deli meats like ham, various salamis and other delicious meats. On top of the meat you choose, you put a slice of cheese that is melted in this contraption that I just cannot explain – like an EZ-Bake oven with slots for your cheese melting tray. It’s almost like individual fondue. Also there was salad. Ben, with Blandine’s suggestion, tried a regional speciality called “pied de veau” – veal’s hoof. It comes with a sauce that is AMAZING – oil, vinager, about five pounds it seemed of parsley, mustard, hard-boiled egg, capers, and probably some other things. I enjoyed the sauce, as did Ben because he said that’s all he tasted. Apparently the texture was a bit out of the ordinary but hey. Good for him. I tried another regional specialty for dessert called a Meymaquoise (oh spelling whatever) which was two little cookies sandwiching a walnut and coffee cream. YUM. My personal quest to taste-test all patisseries in France is progressing nicely. It was a really nice dinner and just really kind of Blandine to invite us over. The other two English teachers I know of, Karine and Karine, and her are just so kind and sweet and really make a point to make us feel welcome and help us out in any way they can, like going grocery shopping. Blandine also suggested we should take a trip to the Jacques Chirac museum. Chirac, the former president of France, is from this region and has a castle not too far away! In fact, there is a police barracks here, and one of the reasons for it is for the state police to protect his house (castle). How cool is that! Chirac was a good guy, really. He did well for the country, and I’m really interested in how things progress with the new center-right dude they’ve got in there now. Sarkozy or “Sarko” as he’s known, has some serious changes in store for France. I would have voted for him, mostly because he had clear ideas of what he saw for the country whereas the other lady running, Segolène Royal who was from the region that La Rochelle is part of, was really wishy-washy and never directly answered a question during the debates.
I digress.
I must also note that the three woman who are in charge of me, in various aspects, have been immensely understanding, kind, PATIENT, and so so so sweet. Marie-Christine Renson, whom I will meet Tuesday (right?), has always been in contact with me. She put me in touch with Marie-Claude Mouty, whom I am meeting on Sunday for lunch. Madame Mouty is pretty much my district supervisor here, in that she is technically the “pedagogical counselor/advisor” for the elementary school music programs in this neck of the woods, but since there doesn’t really seem to be a “pedagogical counselor/advisor” for the elementary school language programs, she gets to talk to me! She’s super nice and has done a lot of work on my behalf, such as picking me up at the train station in Brive, driving me to Ussel, driving me around the town, bringing me to the three elementary schools I’m working in and introducing me to the teachers and principals (called directeurs/directrices here). And then we’re meeting up tomorrow for lunch. She is so sweet. Madame Mouty, upon driving me to Ussel, put me in touch with Madame Françoise Varrieras, who is like the school’s business officer. Françoise, as she insists I call her including use the familiar you, let me stay with her for two days, gave me a key to her school apartment, let me pretty much do as I pleased in her home for those days, and has said “You could be my daughter” in a really motherly way, not like “I’m so much older than you” way. She has been so. So. So. Helpful and has offered grocery store trips and help with pretty much anything I could ever need. She’s amazing.
This past week would not have been nearly as good had it not been for the welcoming people here – the English teachers, Françoise and Madame Mouty. It must also be said that the other teachers here at the school are also very welcoming and friendly, and the librarians! Wow what nice ladies. I did also meet the principal (at a high school they’re called “proviseurs”), who just stopped by today to see how the three of us were doing. No, I don’t remember her name. She’s short and kinda looks like Judi Dench.
So I don’t have internet yet, so I’m typing this on Word in the hopes that someday I’ll be able to post it. I don’t know if it’s still jet-lag, but I’m feeling this weird fatigue. It’s a combination of physical fatigue of walking everywhere and pushing my body to do things at weird hours (I haven’t the foggiest idea the time anywhere), mental fatigue of conducting my entire life in French – and I don’ t just mean the language , and also the fatigue of anticipatory emotional fatigue. It’s like my body and head knows that I’m going to be really homesick and lonely despite being surrounded by kindness and even a like-minded compatriot, and so I’m sad already even though I shouldn’t be. I really should unpack. I do have pictures of Mom and Dad, Peter and Nicholas, and me and Andy unpacked. Those make me feel better. I really am doing well here – there isn’t anything that hasn’t gone as it should. I have bought a French cell phone, doing that pre-paid thing so I don’t have a contract to break whose number I haven’t memorized yet and so far, I haven’t found it to cost more to call the States than to call France. I also have a ridiculous number of text messages, so look for those. I have opened a file at the “Sous-Préfecture” (I don’t know what the equivalent is, but it’s like the DMV, county, state, and city offices all rolled into one) to apply for my residency card (carte de séjour) without a hitch, and all that I need is an “attestation de domicile” which, because I don’t officially live in the apartment reserved for the high school assistants, is basically a letter from Françoise saying that I live with her, and also I need a carte vital, which is like a social security card and health insurance card in one. I’m hoping to find out more about that on Monday and Tuesday. Ben and I are seriously looking into a wifi box for the apartment, as the wifi that exists in this building does not work. The IT dude, Rodolphe, is all over the place but I’ll catch him yet. I have also opened a bank account with no problem at the same bank Françoise is with. She told me to ask for a Mr. Dazin, but he was busy so I got to talk to this lady Madame Brugière, and when I told Françoise how it went, she was like “Oh that is SO not who should have spoken to…she’s kinda bitchy.” But I have a bank account with online banking that I have yet to access, a Visa debit card coming next week, and also a checkbook I may not use but good to have anyways. Let’s see if I keep this one balanced. So yeah. So far, no hiccups. I guess there wouldn’t be in such a tiny little town where this is the ONLY high school for miles around and the three of us are pretty much part of about a dozen foreigners altogether. I mean, everyone has been expecting us and has prepared for our stay, and traditional French hospitality is really something Americans could look into.
Oh, Dad, because one of the questions you always ask us kids when we’re out of the house is “How are you eating?”, here you go. Monday lunch through Friday lunch, I have a card to eat at the high school cafeteria; Tuesday and Thursday lunches I eat at the school I’m at for that day; breakfast I do myself in the apartment, and weekend meals I do myself in the apartment. Dinners Monday through Thursday are at the high school cafeteria. And before you get nervous and think “Ew, school cafeteria?” don’t worry. For the less than 1,50E price for a meal, you get bread, appetizer (veggies, salad, one day it was cold cooked fish…), main course (meat, veg, starch), cheese, fruit or dessert depending on the mood of the chefs, and because we’re not students, we can ask for changes like more of the main or more cheese or more dessert. It’s pretty institutional food (think square pizza), but it’s a LOT and I have yet to finish a whole meal. I haven’t eaten at the elementary schools yet but I imagine more of the same, as this format was exactly what I found at the University Restaurant in La Rochelle. For breakfast, I do it à la française – tea, toast and jam or Nutella. I also have instant soup, pasta, rice, yogurt, and butter. I’d like to get some frozen foods like stir-frys and whatnot because those are easy and nice to change things up. Unfortunately, the nearest bakery is about 10 minutes away so fewer baguettes and patisseries. But I’m eating quite well. Ben made pasta for dinner, which was nice. I cleaned. Rocío didn’t want anything.
So I’m ok. I’m a bit lonely and sad in anticipation of the oncoming homesickness and not seeing any family or friends for a few months.
I have to take some more pictures of this town – everyone keeps asking me how I like it and I always reply that it really does remind me of home. It’s hilly, there are lots of trees, it’s not very big but it has everything you need, and it’s a tight community. Mom and Dad, you would love the houses. They are just so cute and “just so.”
I miss everyone a lot.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More of the same limbo.

So today I woke up pretty late because I could NOT sleep last night. I think I had a migraine - splitting headache and nausea. Luckily I was able to sleep it off, but not the side effects of too little sleep and not enough appetite to eat anything.

This morning I met back up with Madame Francoise - where I am also staying tonight because she is the world's nicest lady - and bugged her for a bit. She gave me a little tour of the high school, which in terms of the size of the campus, is similar to American high schools of the same student population, but there are different buildings for the cafeteria, classrooms, various offices (the French love their offices), and dormitories as many high schools in France offer housing for students who live out of town.

The Mexican assistant arrived at lunch. Her name is Rocio (which apparently means soft rain, like sprinkles I guess) and she is from a city called Leon, north of the capital of Mexico. Her French isn't that good, spoken or comprehension, and she was visibly tired by the end of the day. She's all about me sharing the place with her and the American dude, whose name is apparently Ben and from Indiana. Oh Facebook, you are such fun. She had trouble understanding people talking to her, and I really am not the person to ask for translation help; I just get really fatigued and annoyed. Hm. Remind me not to go into translation and interpreting. Hopefully Ben will agree and I will have lodging for a temporary time. Temporary because Ben leaves Ussel at the end of December for a different town, so it would only be me and Rocio. Rocio's contract is until April 30, at which point I would not be allowed in that apartment anymore. At that point, Madame Francoise has told me that we'd look for a studio for the last two months. See? It all works out.

Anyways, the apartment that she and Ben are entitled to is huge. There are three bedrooms, and it is FULLY furnished thanks to the former assistants, two of whom were Argentinian and apparently enjoyed entertaining. I think we'd only need a TV. There is also wifi there. I may not get a landline, but a cell phone may be helpful especially if I plan on travelling. The apartment is also incredibly cheap - last year, for four months, it cost less than 900E. And that was divided by the two assistants who lived there. Um, doable. If I lived there, I wouldn't be eligible for the housing subsidy because I am not technically allowed to be there so the federal offices wouldn't recognize my request, but it wouldn't matter because it's sooo cheap.

Tomorrow I have a meeting with Marie-Claude who will show me around to the three (four? who's counting...) schools and maybe even give me my schedule (emploi du temps). Woohoo!

Also, it's still raining. Have I mentioned how much I hate rain.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I'm in Fraaance.

So after weeks of silence, I actually did make it to France with absolutely no fanfare. Well, except for Mom making 80 chicken wings and every available family member coming to see me. But maybe they came also for Oma and Nicholas' birthdays. But anyways.

Things I have done in the past ~72 hours:
1. Play hurry-up-and-wait game.
2. The Syracuse-Newark flight was 45 minutes late at take-off but somehow we made it to Newark on time. Figure that one out.
3. Ate horrible awful no-good airport food.
4. Quasi-puked before we landed in Paris.
5. Wait, I mean we landed in Belgium. There was a bus to take us to the terminal.
6. It's raining in France. All over.
7. Taxi ride to the hotel. I gave him like 5% more tip because my bag was ENORMOUS.
8. Crappy overpriced hotel but it was clean, the door locked, I had my own shower, and it was close to the really ugly train station.
9. Bought a phone card. Called the lady in charge - Marie-Christine Renson - and let her know when I was coming to Brive-La-Gailarde. Called Mom and Dad. Called Andy.
10. Watched a lot of TV. I like the news and the commercials. I do not like dubbed Cold Case, The Shield, or Dora the Explora.
11. Took a 4 hour train ride to Brive-La-Gaillarde where a Madame Marie-Claude Mooty (cannot figure out that spelling) picked me up. I waited for her to be done with her job at the district office (they were scheduling supervision visits of elementary choral classes) and then we went to Ussel.
12. Arrived at the Lycee Ventadour Intendance (Business Office, essentially) and met up with Francoise Verrieras, kind of the school business officer. She offered her apartment to me for tonight. Um, yes please.

So that's what's happening right now. I am in Madame Francoise's extra bedroom which is bigger than my own at home, on her internet connection. I am showered, fed, and very tired although my head is not entirely convinced that it is 9pm.

Tomorrow, I will (1) call Madame Renson to let her know that I'm here; (2) find out if the other two language assistants - a male American and an unidentified Mexican - will let me share the three-bedroom apartment that is reserved for them. I cannot, under the cadre of an elementary assistant, apply for a room in the high school dormitory, but I may if the other two assistants agree. Yeah, I don't get it either, but just go with it. If they say no, then we work on the other options. We being Madame Francoise, Marie-Claude M, and Madame Renson.

Marie-Claude M also informed me that I would be teaching at three elementary schools in Ussel. All three: La Gare, La Jaloustre, and Jean Jaures. I figured as much.
Then on a tour of the town - which by the way is friggin GORGEOUS and so cute, I can't wait to get pictures - Madame Francoise showed me a fourth elementary school, Ecole de la Ville.

So far, doing ok. I still maintain that France is silly but I'm really doing well so far. Yay!