Monday, October 20, 2008


we dress in black so we can look more european...
Marc and I at the dinner

This past weekend, I returned to Luxembourg after a two year hiatus and it was as wonderful as I imagined! The purpose of my visit was to attend a dinner celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Miami University Diliobois European Center (MUDEC) in Luxembourg. To my delight, I was reunited with classmates, professors, and friends while also having the opportunity to meet new facinating people.Reunited! Miss Em Strez and I in the city

Unlike Paris, Luxembourg city is one that few make their destination, not because it is dull but because it is a smaller city in an even smaller country and sometimes gets overlooked. On the contrary, it is an ecclectic city, the museum of modern art only a few blocks from the 10th century casements. When I was a student at MUDEC one of my favorite afternoon activities was to take the train into the city, walk from the gare to the city center by way of the intertwining squares, or places, drinking coffee, reaching ZARA, an idyllic european boutique, to try on dresses that I was never going to buy.

Walking through the city was a dose of familiarity in a month full of change. It was nice to walk my old familiar path, wonderful to see that ZARA hadn’t moved, and in the spirit of reliving tradition, of course I had to try on a few dresses.a tasty legume in the market - does anyone know what this is called?

My Movable Feast

The beauty of working in the french school system is the opportunity to take advantage of the vacation schedule. Next week I have ten days off for Toussaints, a religious holiday that begins November 1 – I guess you could call it the French Halloween, although thanks to globalization, this is also celebrated here. According to my assisting teacher at the college, the children love ‘American’ Halloween!

While I’ll be taking full advantage of the vacation to do some traveling, I have been able to visit two of my favorite places this month: Paris, and Luxembourg!

I went to Paris my second weekend in to meet with two writers who are involved with an online publication called Walking down the rue de Rivoli, I once again felt that french je ne sais quoi, and in the tuilierie gardens I felt like I was watching the Parisian life, as children played in the bond with the wooden sailboats while their parents read les journeaux in the reclining chairs.

Margret and Cathy represent what seems to be a rather large community of english speakers in Paris (I would like to say expats, but Margret is English, and I think that term only applies to Americans living abroad). Cathy moved to the city of lights thirty years ago to join her mother, also a writer. (side note: her mother once asked Ernest Hemingway for an interview - he told her " I don't do interviews," and I just swooned) It was here that she became the assistant to someone invovled with People magazine before becoming involved herself, and now she is the managing editor of BonjourParis. Margret is a freelance writer living between Paris and London. To say I was inspired is an understatement – sitting in the Hotel Regina, sipping a glass of Bordeaux while the ladies drank what was said to be Louis XVI’s favorite mineral water, I was again (as it always is whenever I find myself in Paris) drawn to the desire to lead my own Parisian life.

Before we parted, I asked Cathy if she would ever consider moving bac k to the United States. She looked at me, thought about it for a few seconds and responded “I’ve thought about it, but I don’t know where I’d go.” It made me think of another response to that same question in Berlin, November of 2006. This time it was from the guide of the walking tour of Berlin, a twenty-something who had just spent four years in
Paris: “The thing about moving to another country is that it stops being an adventure a nd turns into real life.” And while these responses seemingly have nothing to do with each other, I think they have served to make me understand what living abroad means – for better or worse you give up some part of your native nationality in an attempt to not quite become a member o f a nother. As I type this, I realize it may seem a bit meloncholy, but in fact, I don’t think its sad, or conversly overly exciting. It means that you have a desire to explore, to be challenged and to be unconventional. And to me, that is beautiful.

Photo: an exhibit in the Tuilierie gardens of beautiful hand-blown glass cakes from the Louvre: "Oui! Les bateaux et les gateaux"

Monday, October 13, 2008

Never a concern at the Bay High cafeteria...

My life is finding its routine here in Rochefort. Now that I’ve begun to teach, there is a regular schedule of class preperation, mental preperation, teaching, repeat. I have a healthy fear of my students – french teenagers seem to radiate the essence of ‘french chic,’ dressed in blacks and greys, skinny jeans, peppered with various facial piercings and of course, cigarette in hand. My english friend Rose has already commented on how I’m overly enthusiastic about everything – how very ‘american’ – and I’m sure that, for better or worse, my french pupils have picked up on this as well. But, if it keeps them intrigued, lovely. I wasn’t prepared to care so much about what my students thought of me, and I wonder if this is a normal reaction for new teachers.

I have also been able to pick up on the natural trends of the cafeteria, and can more or less stragetically plan when I want to chance it and eat my lunch at the school. It turns out, Wednesdays are a bit precarious. In the french school system, there are no classes on Wednesday afternoons. While this means that sometimes there will also be classes on Saturday mornings, this is not the case at the lycee Merleau Ponty. Around lunch time on Wednesdays, the place clears out, it is usual the language assistants and one or two more teachers in the cafeteria. The past Wednesday, as usual, Claire and I made our way to the cafeteria, which was more or less deserted. I grabed the various dishes off the rack, and when it came time choose the entrée, I grabbed a plate with mashed potatoes and meat under a creamy red sauce – I’m not a picky eater and I don’t mind a culinary adventure, so this didn’t worry me. We sit, I grab my utensils, poised to cut into this ambigious meal when Claire looks at me and says “oh? You decided to get the tongue?” I freeze. I look down, and no longer am I looking at shapeless meat, but two tongues, porous and thin, just like my own wagging themselves at me. Let the record show that I tried it, but never again. That memory of those tongues, sitting there, is burned into my brain and it still makes my stomach queasy. Jean-Luc, the P.E. teacher told me that he has a similar memory only it was a long time ago when he was a little boy in the school cafeteria. They slapped down a tray of eight or nine tongues, wiggling at petit Jean-Luc, creating the same impression that they did for me. In fact, it seems most teachers have some horror story concerning cow tongue. Turns out, my other option that day was liver, so I’m not sure that I even got the worse entrée…

p.s. I voted today ☺

Photo: taking a break from writing at the Corderie Royale!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

here, let me give you a visual!

its autumn!

A french family, walking through Place Colbert - the center square in Rochefort

Ma rose anglais and the palm trees?

Place Colbert

Enjoying the sunshine


Monday, October 6, 2008

Pays Rochefortais

Well, I’ve been in France for a little over a week, getting used to life in ‘pays rochefortais.’

On Thursday, we (claire, rose, julia and I) left Rochefort at 7am to drive to the town of Poitier for a sort of orientation for the assistantship program. As it turns out, we are a melange of Americans, welsh, Scots, Indians, Canadians, Mexicans (and the list goes on) all trying to get our bearings in this new country. For the most part, a few generalizations can be made: if you’re american, you’re in your early/mid-twenties, a college graduate, and generally looking for another adventure or clue-less on what to do with you life! If you’re from the United Kingdom, you’re nineteen/twenty, in your third year of university studying french and required to spend a year in France. Because its obligatory, some are pretty salty that they have to be here.

By the end of the orientation, it was safe to say that all of us were a bit confused. Throughout the day, we went from room to room where the French health care system, insurance responsibilities, and welfare system were explained patiently in french, and then papers were presented that had to be filled out and signed – some of us joked that we had just unknowingly signed up for the gendarme!

I learned more about the french that night when rose and I decided to spend the evening in the city. Our night ended at a Canadian bar, at a table with five french guys, switching from french to English in an attempt to get over that oh-so present language barrier. This is when I got my first lesson in real french conversation:

(French man): “Why did you come to France?”
(Me): “Why not? I love France”
“No, why”
“…I just told you: I love france”
“No, I need concrete examples. Why.”
“no, why.”

One word answers do. not. exist.

The next day, I decided to continue with the paper work and open a french bank account, something that is necessary in order to receive my salary from the French government – everything is direct deposit, or direct withdrawal. In fact, your bank gives you six to twelve cards with your bank number on them to have readily available when you’re signing up for a phone plan, renting an apartment, or doing anything that involves billing.
Once again, I think I’ve signed up for things that I probably don’t need – I’m not good with things in the financial realm in English, let alone french, but I’m hoping that it will all work out. That is something that is very much to be determined….this is when we say ‘bonne courage’ in France.

Tomorrow begins my first day as Mlle Kelley – English teacher extraordinaire. Stay tuned for some interesting (I’m sure) stories on french teenagers! Also, if anyone has any tips on teaching in general, I think I could use all the help I can get :)