Sunday, December 30, 2007

Vacances de Noel: Clermont to Lyon

Today I woke up, ate my last breakfast at my hotel and caught the bus to the main plaza to walk around and wait for McDonald’s to open up. Over a delightful coffee and an awful hamburger (France! You are not allowed to destroy McDonald’s!), I updated my blog, downloaded my photos, and bounced around online. I got to about 65%-ish battery power and already the Toshiba was significantly slower. Which is understandable. I’ve never taxed the battery like that before. But he behaved well. Then I caught the bus back to the train station to Lyon. I read some of my book and listened to the iPod. Oh my goodness I love the iPod. It saves me from total boredom.

I got to Lyon. I knew I was going to have a tough time finding the hostel, and I did because I got distracted by the funicular, which is a vertical version of a subway up a hill. I thought it would provide good sights but it was in a tunnel. Anyways, I did see the beautiful Basilique de la Fourniviere which should provide entertainment for tomorrow. I finally found the hostel. The dude at the desk could use charm lessons. What a pill. So after discovering that the hostel’s wireless internet connection is unavailable for guests (how rude), I went back up to my room.

To my room, where there is one other girl, I’m guessing from Australia based on her Qantas Airlines baggage tag, and where I plunked down to listen to my new two CD set of traditional French songs. Oh my goodness this stuff is amazing. I love Josephine Baker and Charles Trenet and probably Maurice Chevalier. This is the stuff Madame Ponterio tried to show us but I couldn’t get it. Now I’m listening to it myself and I LOVE it. Ah. I’m also playing solitaire.

Tomorrow I will probably look at the Basilique and do other silly things on this hill and then head down to centre ville to do that double-decker bus tour I promised I’d never do in Paris. Mira and Shannon are supposed to arrive around 3:00pm. I cannot wait to meet them!! There is so much stuff to do in this city and due to our timing, I’m not sure we’ll be able to do enough…but I’m sure we’ll have fun in any case. Yay for travel buddies!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Vacances de Noel: Clermont-Ferrand Day 3

The news tonight is saying the Clermont-Ferrand tested as the second-most intelligent city in France (after Lille) according to an unscientific British survey. They interviewed some people in the street, and some old lady said, “Well, I read. I play Nintendo!” Also they’re profiling a “snowscoot.” It’s a scooter with snowboards for wheels. And the oldest woman in France turned 113. She does not look good. Sarkozy wants 25,000 illegal immigrants deported but there haven’t been enough lately so there’s a little crisis. The town where the Marquis de LaFayette was born celebrated his birthday by getting dressed in period costumes. And some dude sits on hills in the region with a radio and tracks thunderstorms – specifically the lightning. France is silly.

Today was adventure day – the day to do things outside of Clermont in order to find other things. First idea was to find the Museum of Resistance and Deportation and Internment in one of the “suburbs” called Chamalieres. Chamalieres was a delightful little bourg with a lively Saturday market, a very pretty church, and generally cute and sweet. I found the museum with little difficulty. However the door was locked. The lights were on. I called and the call was ended. Very confusing. I realize it’s Saturday of New Year’s weekend, but…I was very confused. And disappointed. So I took pretty pictures of the inside of the church and the park.

Then I went back to Clermont to look for some place nice to eat lunch. I found a chain restaurant called Garden Ice Café (real French, guys) and ordered a steak with a “blue cheese” sauce. It was ok. But I enjoyed sitting and eating a real meal instead of silly sandwiches.

Then I went to another “suburb” called Montferrand. This is where the big Michelin factory is. They don’t give tours. But I went to see the fine arts museum! It started with seventh century art and moved up through the centuries. I truly enjoyed the art. There was a series of twelve huge paintings illustrating the Song of Roland, maybe the first example of French literature. I really liked that. Also religious art is fascinating. There was a book in the giftshop about Christian (ok Catholic) saints and how they are portrayed in art and I would have bought it except it was super heavy and super expensive. However, throughout the regular collections was this temporary exposition of commentaries and double-entendres and parallelisms to current events that was just really sophomoric and silly. I really disliked it and said so in the guestbook. Leave me my seventeenth century portraits without the supposedly “deep” connections to today. It wasn’t art; it was a series of complaints. It interrupted (I totally spelled that in French first) and distracted from the permanent collection which was well organized, well grouped, and well explained. Someone had obviously done a lot of work to put together this exhibit and it was just spoiled with the little cartoons commenting on the paintings and sculptures.

When I was finished with the museum, I had two options: go back to the hotel or find the botanical gardens. It was threatening rain, it was already 3:30pm, and I wasn’t really looking forward to figuring out an area that just didn’t look very inviting. So I went back.

Tomorrow I’m going to McDonald’s to drink a cup of coffee and mooch off their wifi, go to Lyon, and find something cute to eat for dinner. That’s the plan. Go me! I can’t wait to meet Shannon and Mira…I really am at the point where I need a travel buddy. I’m tired of being by myself!

Also I think there’s stand-up comedy on TV hosted by the actor who played the retarded guy in Amelie. In French même! Who woulda thunk.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Vacances de Noel: Clermont-Ferrand Day 2

Today I bounced around downtown for two hours. I bought some bus passes and some postcards. I went shopping. When I say shopping, I really mean window-licking. I love Galeries LaFayette. I love the perfume department. So much fun, and so out of my reach. Ah euros. Anyways, if anyone’s interested, my favorite fragrance is Dior J’adore eau de toilette. And if Andy liked cologne, I’d get him LaCoste Essential eau de toilette. Also, French lingerie is disappointing. I am so not a C here…more like a large D. Hmmm. I’m still looking forward to trying some on!

I broke down and had lunch at Quick. It was ok. Tasty but not a lot of food. But still nice. I’m still just really tired of French food. Hopefully I’ll be able to find something more interesting for tomorrow.

I did two museums today. The Musee Bargoin has an archeological museum which highlighted prehistoric artifacts found in the region, and has a textile museum which had an exposition on Syrian textiles. So amazing. I was really glad I went. The second museum was Musee LeCoq, a natural history museum. French natural history museums have a history of scaring the bejeezus out of me thanks to the stuffed animals and other artifacts of fauna. there was also an exposition on insects, which was more historically interesting to me than biologically. Just really neat stuff. Too many stuffed animals still.

I bought some Clermontoise treats today. This city and region is known for dried/conserved fruits and fruits made out of almond paste. I bought chataignes glacees and a brochette of almond paste fruits. Not bad. Sweet but nothing I’d buy again. I still like chocolate.

Tomorrow I plan on hunting down the last two museums and a botanical garden. These sites are not in the city but in two outlying “suburbs” easily reached with my bus passes. I’ll let you know if I survive.

My spoken French is deteriorating. I’m worried.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Vacances de Noel - Clermont-Ferrand!

Today is my first full day in Clermont-Ferrand. I timed things well in terms of getting up, eating breakfast, and deciding things to do. As usual, I have about a day longer than I need in this city, but luckily there’s a MALL! Ok, I’ve already been there but I saved Galeries LaFayette for a day when I’m bored silly. I love French stores…such pretty clothes and so cute. I really like one of the looks: skinny tight pants, pointy flats or ballerinas, and a turtleneck with a smock-like top. It looks so cute and I know I would look so good in it. Ah I cannot wait for the January sales to get underway.

Today I went to the tourism office – the “i” always saves you, Aunt Karla! – to get any information about a concert, opera, or play shown in the days I’m here. Unfortunately, it’s vacation, and the week-long limbo between Christmas and New Year’s. So no such luck. But the tourism office has a mini Romanesque art museum, complete with a thirty minute-long video detailing Romanesque religious sculpture and architecture. My historical architectural knowledge is deepening. Slowly. I also went to the Cathédrale de Clermont-Ferrand, a foreboding and hauntingly beautiful structure. It was built with volcanic rocks, so it’s black. Unlike other ancient urban structures that turn a dark sooty color after centuries of urban pollution, this one is already black. It’s really pretty inside and outside. I found a door inside that advertised climbing up the church’s tower to see a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding mountains. However it was locked and I can never figure out where to find whoever’s in charge of churches. They are such rich places, and they’re usually always open. Anyways. It was a beautiful place to spend the morning.

I then found a place for lunch: 11€ Vietnamese buffet! Thank you for something other than traditional French food. It’s great stuff, really…but I was really itching for something different. Luckily the biggest city in central France has a strong non-native population. So that was delicious. And the French idea of spicy is not. Not at all.

The rest of the afternoon, I shopped. I bought a two-disc compilation of traditional French songs from singers like Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet, and Maurice Chevalier. I also bought a CD of French Christmas carols, complete with instrumental and karaoke versions! Also, I found the Michelin store! Michelin is a FRENCH company, if you didn’t know, and it’s based in Clermont. So all your tires are French. The company also produces well-respected AAA-style road maps and travel guides. And the Michelin Man – the big round dude – has a name! His name is Bidemon or something like that. I bought a little stuffed version of him. He’s going to be my “traveling gnome.” Hey, I need something to entertain myself!

Then I went to Jardin LeCoq. It’s named after some famous Clermont person. I dunno. But it was a really nice place. To get there, I passed all the university buildings, reminding of Cortland and La Rochelle. The garden was very pleasant. The pond had been drained due to the season. I saw a beautiful Classic sculpture of a woman crying in a grotto, and I took a picture of it. It reminded me of a sculpture I saw in Toulouse last time around. Anyways, I liked the sculpture and the topiary in the shape of a seal with a ball. That amused me.

Then I went to find the Basilique de Notre-Dame de Port, a Romanesque church profiled in the Romanesque art museum in the tourism office. Unfortunately, it was en travaux so I couldn’t go in, but I was able to follow signs to climb some stairs where a teenage couple was hanging out to take some great pictures. It’s a beautiful church, but unfortunately many of the cool architectural details are best seen inside the church, not outside!

Then…I said I’m tired and my feet hurt so I went back to the hotel. Which is very nice, a good price, has a very nice breakfast buffet, and the most helpful and friendly concierge. I like it a lot, except for the fact that I’m thirty minutes from the stuff I want to see!!

Tomorrow I’m doing museums. There are at least two, one of which is two-in-one, so it’ll be like seeing three. Sort of. I would also like to find a really cool place for lunch that serves food I’m interested in eating and not plain boring French food.
I was woken this morning at 6:30am with a phone call. I didn’t recognize the number, but something told me to answer it. It was Ben. He wanted to know where I was. Once I said I was in Clermont, he said never mind, thanks, and left. He sounded really pressed. Obviously something was wrong, but if I can’t help him…I worried about him all day. His vacation plans were to visit his old host family in Rennes and then head to Krakow (you know, Poland) to visit a friend from home who’s studying there (I know, right?). So after not hearing anything all day, I texted him. No response. I texted Rocio. No response. I texted Blandine, who was sure to know if Ben was in trouble. Apparently he had forgotten his passport and Rocio brought it to Limoges, where I’m assuming Ben picked it up or something. I figured it was something about his passport. That’s so like him. I was just worried he was in trouble and got caught at Polish customs and was being detained or something. But apparently he’s ok. I’m just waiting for his text to say so. Another huge surprise – he doesn’t have any credit on his cell! Ah so annoying.

So vacation is nice because I forget how lonely I am. I realized something today. I need to stop thinking about how lonely I am, how sad I am that I’m away from my family, how homesick I am, because I still have six full months in France. That’s not going to change, so I better just get used to it. Suck it up.

I’m also starting my own personal French literature course. I’m about a third of the way through my first book. Hopefully I’ll have reason to keep reading it, if only wasting two hours in a café with a cute little drink to pass the time in between touristy things.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007


A few years ago, I had an online journal through LiveJournal. I still have the account but I don't post in my own journal anymore. I just use it to follow some communities.

I was reading through my second year of college because I'm avoiding real work like the plague. I was a very high-strung little girl then, completely fascinated with boys, overachieving, and fairly conceited.

Did I know who I'd be now? Did I have any idea what I'd be doing now? Did I know that those missteps with those silly boys led me to a wonderful relationship with a strong, intelligent man who loves me? Did I know that all those hours spent in the liberry would land me an awesome job? Did I know that all of those tutoring sessions and TA-ing credits would teach me what works in a classroom? Did I know that I'd still lean on those same professors for support? Did I know that some friends don't last forever? Did I realize that those years at Cortland were some of the best years of my life?

I'm proud of where and who I was. I'm very very proud of where and who I am now. I still have no idea what the next years will hold for me; I only know what I want.

I could really use a hug. Or a Star Trek transporter beam.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Saturday where I actually did stuff!

I went to the post office to ask about the packages that Andy and Dad sent. The lady there, in classic French "I don't give a damn about your problem and will do nothing outside of my immediate job description to help you out" fashion, sent me to the Point Courrier or postal depot to ask them. Luckily the depot isn't terribly far. So I speak to a lady who was trying her best to help me understand my options, but apparently my confusion called the attention of the office manager. He had me write down my name, phone number, real address, the address that was marked on the package, and promised to call. I doubted that, highly.

I bought yogurt, kiwis, bleu d'Auvergne cheese, gout exotique flavored water (I love France!), bread, and a thank you gift plant for Blandine on Christmas Eve. Shopping is dangerous. Also, I bought cookies. France, could you please make a box of cookies more expensive so I wouldn't be so tempted to buy them. I love cookies.

I also got a sammich from the sandwich shop down the street. Same place made the awesome pizza from Wednesday night. It's called Chez Sandrine and I think Sandrine is the only person who works there. Good for her.

I planned four of six lessons for the first week of school after vacation, and prepared materials for two of those. My fourth graders are going to do a family and personal description unit. Usually, these kind of lessons focus on the British Royal family. One of my fourth grade class is fascinated with England and the royal family in particular. I'm going to do the Bush family instead. Go USA! Hahahaha.

Having been hand-held through the absolutely most basic workings of BitTorrent and MiniNova by Shannon, I am now downloading entirely too much American TV. Seriously. I do not need this but it gives me something to do. It is entertaining.

The doorbell rang at about 1:30. Nathalie, one of the surveillantes or guidance counselors or resident assistants here at the high school who lives upstairs, said that I have a package. The truck was outside waiting for me. Um, ok?? So I go outside and the dude is waiting outside the garage under the building. I sign and it's ANDY'S package! I miss him a lot. Thank you baby. I love you.

Hopefully I'll hear something about Dad's package. The man at the postal depot actually did call to say that a package was delivered today in my mailbox, which was actually one of the two ink cartridges I ordered online. Well thanks for calling sir, but that's neither of the packages I was concerned about.

I also got a Christmas card from Pops and Grandma today! I LOVE getting mail :-)

I still have sooo much work to do!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Recent happenings in silly France.

Silly just means that my fully American eyes sometimes look at what I see in France and laugh because it would never happen in the States.

There was a marché de Noël in Ussel. Now usually le marché de samedi is a good time, but lately in Ussel it's been waning. This Christmas market was utterly disappointing. I went looking for more Christmas presents and found none. It was held in the tiny covered market and it was all food-stuffs and none of it terribly appealing. Dandelion products? We're stretching it here. Luckily I discovered that the kebab restaurant is open on Sundays so that was delicious.

Three exhausting classes of written evaluations. They sober up quick when they know there's a grade...I wonder if I can do homework next marking period! Wouldn't that be great. They didn't do so hot. "Maitresse, what's the word for dog?" Well gee honey, if you don't know that after four weeks of a unit on pets, you should just skip that question. Eesh.

Tuesday: Four exhausting classes of written evaluations. After my last class at School Two, the district supervisor of visual arts - I don't know his name but Madame Renson arranged this for me - picked me up and drove me to Tulle. He dropped me off at the high school where Courtney from DC, Erin from California, Christina from Germany and Laura from Mexico are assistants. There we waited... for what to Courtney seemed like a long time but I personally think was just French and quite frankly, if you have no control over a situation, there's no reason to freak out. Anyways. We waited until Madame Renson came to pick up me, Courtney, Erin and Christina and we went to a wine shop where Madame Renson knew the owner for what we were told ahead of time would be a meal but actually turned out to be bottles after bottles of delicious wine and light snackies. All the primary English assistants and the high school German assistants were there. It was really fun. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and liked meeting and re-meeting and talking with the other English assistants. It was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the other girls I was with were peeved because they didn't know when Madame Renson was picking us up, the meal was not real food, and because they drank too much wine. It was bad news for them...and quite frankly, it annoyed me. You say you know how to drink...then show it. Be a lady and hold yourself properly. Anyways. It was a lot of fun. I woke up SOOO early on Wednesday morning and caught the train back to Ussel.

I arrived at home at 8:30am. I took a shower, rested, and then started the odyssey. I went shopping, had lunch, and did some massive and expensive mailing. The smallest pre-paid box to send things to the US is about the size of a shoebox and costs 30€. That's a lot. I did some work for my lessons and a ton of very depressing corrections of the evaulations. Dude, my students sooo did not study. It was saddening because I felt like it was my fault that they did so poorly. But Rhonda's voice came back: I am not 100% responsible for their failures; I am not 100% responsible for their successes. And when I did their marking period averages, the percentages did, in my eyes, match their acheivement and behavior. Yes, he's a goofball; yes, she's brilliant; yes, he's getting it; yes, she's clueless. So despite my disappointment with how their written evaluations went, I was pleased as to how the numbers showed their achievement.

Wednesday night, Rocio went to pick up her mom and brother David from the train station in Limoges. Due to prohibitive airline ticket costs, Señora and David will be staying with us throughout January. I understand that they just cannot afford to leave earlier and I wouldn't have them stay anywhere else, especially if we have the space here. It will be demanding for everyone but so far, I'm really enjoying having a mom here. David's really quiet so far. But with Rocio gone and Ben leaving the next day, he suggested we get a pizza, a bottle of wine, and spend the night in English - a novelty for us, considering we've spoken English to each other less than a dozen times. It was really neat. The wine was excellent - a little sweet but good - and the pizza was delicious. He's a really smart guy and I enjoy his company. No substitute for my Andy but probably the best situation I could have hoped for here.

Five exhausting classes of the same Christmas lesson. These kids just don't stop talking! But it went ok. At School Three, Luc and I traded third graders...although the class I taught seemed much older. But he said that my third graders are right on track - what's your name, my name is, numbers, age, colors, favorite color - and that they are a handful even though there's only ten of them! The kids I worked with also had strong personalities but they were very patient with me and seemed to be fascinated with my English. Cute.

Thursday was the high school's repas de Noël. Choice of appetizer: crazy looking shrimp cocktail (remember that they keep the animal whole for you in France) or foie gras; choice of entree: confit de canard or fish; choice of dessert: apple pie, bûche de Noël or some sort of custard; choice of many cheeses; and candy!! Delicious food with the delightful company of the English teachers Blandine, Marie, and Marie-Jo. Such good times. Also there was real wine at the table, not the regular table wine that doesn't taste all that good.

Thursday night we were invited to Monsieur Paillous' for an apéro which actually does mean wine and snackies. Apparently not only were me, Ben, and Rocio invited, but so were Madame Laugier, a high school teacher; Monsieur and Madame Menardi, a economics teacher and accountant and their middle school son; Madame le proviseur or high school principal; Marie, our buddy who is also the substitute English teacher. It was sooo much fun. Such good food and such good company. However, as most French soirées do, it lasted about an hour longer than my stamina and concentration could hold. I begged out about ten minutes earlier than Ben and Rocio did to go home, correct the last written evaluations and be frustrated again at their lack of studying, take a shower, and CRASH. Apparently Madame Laugier had gifts for us. She gave me this beautiful silk pink and black plaid scarf. I wore it today and got nothing but compliments. I think I've found my new accessory: pretty little scarves!

Friday (today):
So hard to wake up on Fridays but when I finally do get to School Two, I am instantly rewarded with warm smiles and bonjours from the teachers and "Hellos" from my students. I love School Two. The Christmas lesson went much better, as all of my repeated lessons do the next day, and my fifth graders especially rocked it. Sylvie, one of the fifth grade teachers, gave me such great compliments. "I really like what you do, and the students seem to really like you too. You do a good job here." Ok, it sounded much better in her French and her words and six hours ago when I was more awake, but really she made my day. Her and also one of the school cleaning ladies who is the mother of O*, one of my star fourth graders. I told her that even though O* sits in the waaay back of the room (in an awful desk might I add) she makes such an effort, does really really well, is really quite a good little girl and always participates. Her mother responded, "Yes, she is a good girl. She also really likes you." Awww!!! I have to add that O* has a really cute high-pitched voice. Did I mention that I love School Two?

Madame Cousty, the directrice of School Two invited me...or maybe it was the other the teachers' repas de Noël. That was delicious! Little cheesy puff pastries and mini mini tarts, veggie soup, and raclette, accompanied by two bottles of champagne and five bottles of Burgundy wine. Dessert was an Italian ice cream, but not gelato, Italian ice, or anything like was just delicious. It was prepared by the three male teachers - Christophe, Frank, and...I forget the other dude. Christophe is one of my fifth grade teachers, and was overly generous with the wine and champagne. Also he's a riot. And wonderful company. During dessert, I made a tiny speech that I'm kind of proud of, just thanking them for their generosity, their warm welcome, and that this is my favorite school. Hands down.

Later today I finished Andy's present, mailed that, and picked up Oma's Christmas package!! Thank you Oma! :)

Today is good. Tomorrow will be good. Monday is Christmas Eve with Blandine and her family and Rocio and her family. Tuesday is quietly Christmas by myself and the presents that have been mailed to me, and Wednesday starts vacation!!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Vacances de Noel

The last day of school before the Christmas vacations is Friday, December 21. I will not be leaving for vacation immediately because most tourist attractions won't be open and it would just be more money spent on hotels. Also I have things to do!

Christmas Eve I will be attending Christmas Mass at the Eglise de St-Martin in Ussel with Blandine, one of the high school English teachers, and her family. I enjoy church services in French because it helps my listening skills, and because I get to sing in French which is silly. I will also be spending Christmas Eve with her family. Hopefully there will be some bûche de Noël.

Christmas Day I will be opening up the Christmas presents Mom and Dad sent. I will also be doing video chats via Skype with anyone available. Hopefully this means Mom, Dad, Peter, Nicholas, and Oma and whoever else is around. Christmas is hard without your family around, but they're always in my thoughts. :)

Wednesday, December 26 - Sunday, December 30:
Clermont-Ferrand is the big city around these parts. It is known for the mountains, being central, a little Roman history, and bleu cheese that is too good even for Buffalo wings.
I will be staying at Grand Hotel du Midi.

Sunday, December 30 - January 3:
Lyon is the third-largest city in France and the gastronomic capital. It is known for puppets, silk, bouchon restaurants, and hopefully museums and churches and other historical sites. I will be meeting up with Shannon and Mira, fellow assistants from way up north with whom I've been in regular internet contact for a few weeks now.
For the first night, I will be staying at the well-recommended youth hostel. When Shannon and Mira get there on the 31st, we will be moving to Hotel Normandie. Hooray for wifi, private bathrooms, and all sorts of starred hotel goodness! And double hooray for travel buddies! We will, among other things, ring in the New Year together like mature intelligent young ladies, eat entirely too much, and brainstorm the future February in Spain trip.

January 3 - January 5
Dijon is known for mustard, beef burgundy, and Burgundy wine. Hopefully there are also museums, churches, and pretty things for me and Shannon to look at (Mira may not be continuing).
We will be staying at Hotel Chateaubriand with the most pleasant hotel concierge I've ever spoken to on the phone.

And then I come home for six straight weeks of serious elementary English as a foreign language. I'm so psyched!!!

I'm very tired of the internet.

I have opened applications at my three remaining graduate schools. That's about all I've done today of note.

At the risk of jinxing myself, I believe the magic internet box is calming down. As you recall from previous entries, the broadband modem thingy has to "reset" itself daily. However, my personal magic internet box is a bit rememdial, taking forever to find its new favorite satellite, and constantly changing favorite satellites. This resulted in poor connections, hours without connection, and generally not the service I paid for. However, I believe my internet connection now works without this constant interruption. Yes, I can see that the box resets itself daily, but the interruptions aren't as long or frequent. I wonder why but I'm not going to ask. I just don't have the patience, language, or basic knowledge of internet connections to figure out what was going on and why it's not happening anymore. I'm cautiously pleased.

I have a lot more things to do today, and it's already 14h. That means 2:00 pm in French.

Also, Happy Birthday Dad!! I miss you.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A good Friday.

My roommates left for the weekend. Ben went to Toulouse to stay with the daughter of Marie-Jo, one of the English teachers at the high school. If you ever wanted to meet a more Anglo-Saxon French woman, meet Marie-Jo. Her daughter Eloise has the baby son Thibault who loves magazines. They are fantastic people. So that's where Ben is. Toulouse.

Rocio's weekend plans evolved from escorting Marie, the substitute English teacher from Reunion who is super cool, to the train station to accompanying Marie to her real home in Limoges. So they're in Limoges this weekend.

This afternoon, I took a really French two-hour lunch break to eat lunch, bounce around online, and rest. Then I went photo shooting. Updated photos are online.

But now my roommates are gone. I was really looking forward to watching TV tonight with Rocio. But now I have 100g of chocolate from Celine (the bestest boulangerie - patisserie - chocolaterie - salon de the dans la Correze ou peut-etre dans le Limousin) and a bottle of wine that I am halfway through already.

Hahahaha Windows is checking for solutions to the 619 reported problems in the recent past regarding Internet Explorer. I use Firefox because Skype messes with IE. I don't know why. Skype messes with Andy's computer too.

Friday nights in Ussel are awesome.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

good days > bad days

Today was an excellent day. I did oral evaluations and written review in all of the classes, and will continue with it tomorrow. School One's fourth graders totally shaped up after Monsieur Modeste the directeur yelled at them. They were awesome, except that L* was farting like no other. Given what the typical French breakfast is (hot chocolate or hot milk, toast with butter, Nutella or jam) I think he could be lactose-intolerant and just not realize it. Anyways, it was good. School One's third graders were equally good. They just don't read or listen to directions.

School Two's crazy fourth graders did ok. Some of them surprised me!! I also ran out of photocopies. This is bad. I don't think I have any more photocopies at this school...and I'm not sure if it's for the période (marking period) or if it's for the year. Please be for the marking period!! Eeek!!! I really do like this school. Usually I eat lunch with the office lady I called Merci Madame because that's all I've ever called her, and the directrice Madame Cousty. I don't know why but Madame Cousty didn't come, but two stagiaires ate lunch too. These two girls are in their final year of teacher school and are basically student teaching. To teach in France, you need a licence which is basically the equivalent of a BA and then you go on to get your certification. You need to pass the concours which is an abysmally difficult certification exam. I haven't figured out if the concours is the CAPES or if the CAPES is something different. Anyways, the conversation started with Franco-American relations and comparisons, which I tire of easily, to education in general. It was very pleasant.

School Three is FINALLY starting to be ok. Luc, who teaches fourth grade English as well, and I are trading third graders next Thursday. I haven't a clue why. I met the wife of School Two teacher Christophe, Virginie, and whose son P* is part of the crazy School Two fourth graders. (Are you getting all of this?) Virginie was super sweet. My teacher at School Three is also named Virginie, and she let me play teacher! I got to herd the kids to récré (recess) and round them up afterwards. So awesome. I love this job, I really do. I hate hate hate hate hate it when I don't understand a damn word anyone says, when the kids are little devils, and when I feel lonely. But there are more good days than bad days, so I have to hold on to that. It must be said that a lot of what I do here is real teacher stuff, and that's not what a lot of assistants like about this job...even though it's a teaching job. I don't feel like any of the teachers ignore me, take advantage of me, or are rude to me - quite the opposite! While they may not entirely know how to approach me at times, that's ok because I don't know what to say to them either. It took me countable minutes to bring up the courage to ask the stagiaires at lunch even just one question. I walked up to Luc today to verify which set of nosepickers - I'm sorry, I mean students - we were trading - and I rehearsed the questions at least five times. I like that the teachers give me opportunities to assert my role as a helper teacher. I like that the students politely correct me. "Maitresse, c'est une faute, pas un, Well thank you S*! I like that people always ask me how I like Ussel, if I have anyone my age to hang out with, that I have a stack of phone numbers in my cell phone to call in case I get lonely. I like that I have a list of people here in Ussel to write Christmas-New Year's cards to. As I said to Merci Madame, I really feel at ease here. If it wasn't for my family being in the US, I could stay here. I exaggerate of course; France is ridiculous and I miss WalMart, real McDonald's (wtf is this nonsense), and toll-free 1-800 customer service numbers like you wouldn't believe...among other things. But France is a nice place and I'm fairly happy. Do you think l'Education Nationale could spare a couple few hundred euro more for my monthly salary? I'd really like to support the French economy...

I will probably post again tonight after doing more work. Agh I don't know how I'm going to do my révisions écrites if I don't have any copies!! They are going to get sooo bored if I just say "write fifteen sentences" or something like that. Also they can't write sentences. "I wearing is black pants" is close but is not going to get you full credit on the speaking evaluation.

I want to be home for Christmas so much. Sucks that it would take me probably 36 hours round-trip to get from Ussel to Camillus. Oh and $218,35,235 (which is still only 100€).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More lists!

1. I woke up today and ate breakfast. This is important because I've been having a hard time doing it recently. However, it's not a total WIN! because I got out of bed an hour after my alarm and breakfast in France is mostly chocolate. I really should add in some OJ.

2. I went to centre ville to do laundry, buy some cards, do some massive (and expensive!!!) photocopying, buy a very expensive umbrella that I'm debating whether I will and even if I am allowed to return, and some post office busy-ness.

3. I asked the laundry lady here at the high school how often I'm allowed to trade in my dirty sheets for clean sheets. Normalement, once a month but for me, every two weeks. Aww, thanks! I'm not going to do that though...I really don't like people going out of their way for me. I also asked if there was anything available at the high school linen office that would make my bed less Flinestone-y. No. Hmmm. Ikea?

4. I. Did. A TON OF WORK. Today. Yay!!! My evaluations and review packets are done. The next four class days are done. The last two class days of the marking period will be (shhh) Christmas and winter in New York and the US.

5. I cleaned some of the kitchen. This is also a symptom of Stage 2 of culture shock. You develop a heightened sense of cleanliness and are easily annoyed. Add this to my fairly inflexible attitude and the fact that I'm really fatigued of sharing my living space with others. But it's not my roommates' fault. They're fine. I'm just going slightly crazy.

Yes. France is so silly that it's making me silly. Cannot WAIT for this weekend - I have a bottle of Cotes de Rhone and a TV program waiting for me on Friday night. I am amazing.

Also, I love my boyfriend. I'm proud to be his girlfriend. Who else can make me smile that much with just his voice. I miss him and can't wait to see him. He doesn't read this blog often, but he knows. :) Silly Andy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I like lists. They're easier to read.

1. I woke up at a decent time today and ate breakfast.

2. I did a lot of really good work before my classes.

3. The photocopier at School Three was en panne; basically there was a paper jam that they couldn't figure out. The teachers there don't really know how to deal with my presence and I can't figure out how to approach them, so I couldn't tell them that un-jamming photocopiers was basically my summer job. So I couldn't use that photocopier. Not bad, just possibly...embettant. I don't know what the translation would be.

4. My classes ROCKED. School Three's fourth graders did awesome on their letters. F* didn't participate as usual, and when the class ended, he handed me a piece of paper with "SALU" (it's supposed to be salut) saying "Can you send this?" No, F*, you chose not to pay attention or participate. I gave you lines to copy and you didn't do that either. No. E* was really spacey today and I took away a point, which I gave back when he decided to focus on the work. It worked!! I'm starting to like these kids despite them.

5. Lunch at the cantine was nice. I sat with Blandine and Karine, the English teachers, and Marie, the substitute English teacher. Blandine invited me and Rocio to her house and to Christmas Eve Mass with her family!!! How sweet!! Now I have to find something to bring for them. Eek! Some brainstorming also created a little Réunion-Mexico-US soirée at our apartment next week for the high school language teachers and ourselves. Someone help me think of something uniquely American to make that does not require an oven. Oooh I have orange Jello?

6. School Two's three classes did awesome. I was so proud of them. I love when they work well, when they pay attention, and when they're not little devils.

7. I. Did. So. Much. Work. Tonight. Dinner was nice with all of the roomies and Marie.
8. It's trying desperately to snow here but it's just not sticking. I miss snow!

Monday, December 10, 2007


So today was...hey let's do the point system!

+2: I woke up at a good time and ate breakfast.
-1: I got out of bed an hour after my alarm.
+2: I got a lot of good work done this morning.
+1: I finally wrote thank you emails.
+1: Dad was able to email my unofficial transcripts to UMinn because I don't know why, but Yahoo(!) mail was getting lost in the transfer.
+1: I bought ~65€ worth of train tickets for Christmas vacation.
+1: They were serving chicken!!! for lunch today at the cantine (high school cafeteria). Finally a meat I recognize and enjoy! (I'm really tired of pork.)
-5: School One's fourth graders suck it. They do not listen and they waste time. I totally blew up at them, after which I promptly broke into tears in the bathroom.
+5: I got a package from Mom and Dad!! Full of Christmas presents wrapped in Christmas paper!! With a cute little note attached!! That totally made my day. I could have been deported today and I would have still smiled.
+1: Monsieur Modeste, the directeur (principal) of School One totally has my back about the fourth graders.
+1: Catherine, the teacher of said fourth graders, is equally sympathetic about the situation but she can't do much except warn them sternly beforehand and scream at them afterward (which she did) because she's up in maternelle (preschool) during their English lesson.
+1: School One's third graders LOVED Maggie's students' letters. They were so impressed that they were able to understand parts of them! Awww...just...raise your hand if you have a question?
+1: School Two's crazy fourth graders did well despite talking way too much. I'm starting to like them despite them. M* is still a brat, B* is still clueless, C* is still a crybaby, A* and S* are still my favorites, and F* and M* need to give it a rest until high school.
+1: I'm still in France.

Today's total is: +12! Ok good. If it was negative, I'd have to leave or something.

Musings about France.

This is so typical of culture shock.

Things that would never work in France:
1. Atkins Diet,low-/no-carb diets
2. Non-smoking restaurants and bars (it's supposed to be law as of January 2008; yeeeah right)
3. credit cards (what, no prélevement automatique?)
4. universally privatized higher education
5. "Work more to earn more". Sorry Sarko.
6. SUVs. (Mom, your Suburban would just not work although I have seen some Hyundais and even a Jeep.)
7. taking responsibility for your own actions, independence, modesty, humility

I am very tired of disgustingly vulgar French youth with no respect for my (very American) personal space, of being able to smell people even if it's a good smell, of public transport, and of living with people.

Oh my goodness I'm here until the first week of July??


Saturday, December 8, 2007

Day 75. Is anyone counting the other way?

Things that have happened recently:

1. I have two weeks of school left before vacation.
2. Vacation plans are being finalized. A train strike starting December 13 may or may not affect these plans, and as such no train tickets have been purchased. *#&%#)%!! railroad workers.
3. School on Friday went all right. Luckily it ended.
4. Françoise, the high school accounting office lady who I stayed with for my first two days in Ussel and who has helped me through a number of things, is very sympathetic to my France Orange internet troubles. After discussing my difficulties, she will call Tech Support and see what's up. Although it's working fine today. There was, however, about a six hour gap on Thursday where it wasn't.
5. I went grocery shopping.
6. I cleaned the apartment. I burned candles which I am convinced also burn evil nasty smells of apartments where people don't clean. Where is this dust coming from? So confusing.
7. I bought some Christmas presents.
8. I should start some more graduate applications.
9. I should write some emails.
10. I should write some Christmas cards.
11. I should do some schoolwork.
12. I am going to...a tiny village outside of Brive tomorrow with Courtney, Sashi, and Madame Renson. There is a Christmas market.
13. I need new slippers. The ones I bought here are already disgusting. Ew.
14. How pathetic is it that I'm bored? I'm in friggin EUROPE and I'm bored out of my skull.

Life in small-town France is realllly quiet.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Whiney homesick lonely post about Day 74 in silly France.

Sometimes I really question the wiseness of hiring foreigners to teach mandatory parts of the curriculum. I was hired, supposedly, because I'm a native [American!] English speaker, I have a background in education, and I speak French. But as is so painfully obvious among the Americans hired, a background in education and ability to speak French aren't necessarily requirements. But while I speak French, I don't necessarily understand French culture. The French education system is much more complex than what I remember reading in my French civilization textbook. I spend way too much time speaking French in my classes. When I speak English, they don't listen or they laugh at me. Both of those things make me feel awful. I'm coming to terms with my limited French. Just because I've studied it for ten years and spent five months in France doesn't make me fluent or even remotely proficient. I can do what I need and that's about it. I screw up in French all the time. And my students call me on it. It's very disheartening. I know I shouldn't take what they say to heart, that it's not about me; but this trip was supposed to be about me, right? Why have a newbie teacher speak bad French to students to teach them English? I'm just really frustrated lessons didn't go well and I still can't sleep or wake up in the morning. I set two alarms today in hopes that the idea of a "snooze button" may bring me back to my old routines at home. I just don't feel like I'm culturally or linguistically qualified for this job. I don't use the textbooks because they're so confusing. They're written for people who can't speak a word of English to teach English to elementary school students: basic vocabulary, lots of audio supports, lots of pointing and circular vocabulary. But I have to use them because that's what is expected of the students.

Ugh I'm going to stop whining. I'm just not feeling good today. Add to this the number of people who have asked me if I'm going home for Christmas. No. Thanks for asking.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Exciting news from the silly world of France.

Sometimes I forget that I'm on a different continent. There's a lot of physical and mental separation between Europe and North America. Sometimes I wonder how much of it I actually comprehend and realize, and how much of it I just let slide.

I have come to the conclusion that I love love love the SNCF (when they aren't on strike for having to retire when everyone else does). I love my Carte 12-25 that gets me usually 50% off any ticket. I love how efficient it is. I do not like, however, that I live in a teeny tiny town that is only served by three regional train lines, but whatever. At least I can get out if need be. Which I did! Today! I went to Tulle! To pick up my...*dun dun dun* CARTE DE SEJOUR! (And temporary work authorization card but not as cool as the infamous CdS.) This is my official residency card that makes me legal of for the length of my stay here in France. Not that I wasn't before, but my visa and receipt of filling out my carte de séjour were just temporary until this magic pretty laminated card came. It expires the same date that my contract does, June 30, 2008. I will be coming home ASAP after that date. I no longer have a contract past then so I can't be paid so I'm not working. Oh heck no. But the reason this paragraph started with my conclusion regarding the French state-subsidized nationwide public transportation system is because I took a bus to and from Tulle. I enjoy buses more than trains. You see more towns, you see more countryside, you can buy your ticket right from the driver, the driver is really friendly, and it's generally more pleasant. Also French bus drivers are crazy.

I did massive loads of work when I got home at lunch, and hopefully tomorrow's lessons won't suck terribly. I just hope I have enough for the entire class periods!

I would still like to know if and when I'm ever receiving my social security card. But no bother.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


So making noise in class, not listening, getting my attention by snapping your fingers and saying "Eh, eh, Rose!", talking during directions, and basically being idiots is translating nicely into notebook grades for the most ridiculous fourth grade class at School Two. They don't pay attention, and when we do notebook work, they obviously weren't paying attention. This marking period evaluation is going to be rough for them, and I don't feel bad. I'm glad I have these notebooks done now so I can speak to Marie-Pierre about them. My goodness they're just awful.

A question for France

Why is there no authentic Italian cheese available? You share a border with Italy, yet you cover your pizzas with Emmental (which tastes like Swiss), and your pasta and sauce get no cheese (unless it's Emmental again). It's disappointing, what with me being from an Italian background. I know you're very proud of your 300+ varieties of cheese. I've tried quite a few and I agree, they're very good. However, perhaps your cheese pride has left you a bit arrogant. You're so close to Italy and with the CEE, wouldn't importing real Italian cheeses be lucrative? Try it. Try some mozzarella on the pizza. Try some parmigiano on the spaghetti. It's good, really. The Italians have been doing it for years.

Oh and while you're at it, put some damn basil and oregano in your pasta sauces.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Mondays are NOT fun.

Ugh. So I think I may have a hypothesis as to why I can't fall asleep at night and why I have a hard time waking up in the morning. My government-issued high school living quarters mattress is way too hard. Normally I like a firmer mattress, but this one is just painful. I realized this last night. Hm. I could buy one at the Wal-Mart for about 100€. Or I could investigate other ways to be more comfortable at night, like finding some rocks.

(I am super duper stoked that I finally found how to make the euro symbol.)

Today was ok, other than still not being able to wake up and get crap done at a decent hour. I only had two of my three scheduled classes because my School One third graders were on a field trip to the cinema or theater or something like that. They didn't really know. But School One's and School Two's fourth graders did awful in their notebook check. The object of this lesson was to check to make sure they had the right pages in their notebooks and that the pages were filled out completely. I collected them all (baaad idea - those suckers are heavy!) and am correcting them. But both of these classes just WOULD NOT SHUT UP. Oh my goodness. But I enjoy correcting their notebooks. Hopefully they will study and do well on the evaluations.

Today I confirmed hotel reservations for the Christmas vacations. I will be spending New Year's Eve in Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France and the third-largest city, with a fellow assistant named Shannon. She's stationed in way northern France teaching high school students, and we've been talking online through Facebook and the assistants' forum. She's excited and seems to be of a similar mind when it comes to traveling. So I'm excited :) Yay for new friends!

Despite not doing anything remotely productive this morning besides finding unblocked season seven of Scrubs on YouTube (which has been promptly shut down as of this evening), I managed to get quite a bit done tonight. I'm dong working though because I'm tired, it's late, and I have people to chat with.

The best way to beat homesickness is to keep busy. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...

Peace out :)