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 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.