Monday, January 26, 2009

Bikes, articles, what next?

Just a heads up folks: this next post is a standard, run-of-the-mill, "life update" post. A few notable things have happened in my French life since I returned at the beginning of January, so I thought I'd share some of the highlights:

- I got a bike! A bright blue bike that has a few rust spots, but is perfect for riding around town. This not only means I've considerably cut-down my travel time from point "a" to point "b," but I also get the sense that I am a legit French person. The only thing I need, in addition to the bike, is a bright yellow reflector vest. Yes, I know that this seems very unsophisticated, but leave it to the French to have a PSA with Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld modeling the latest in bike safety.

- A few of my articles are getting published in an online magazine called Its an online publication geared towards expatriots living in Paris or for tourists looking to explore some local hotspots. If you'rep lanning a vacation to the city of lights or just interested in the city of Paris, I recommend checking it out! The writing staff (excluding myself) is comprised of people who have made Paris their home and love to share its secrets.
- And finally, I've been spending these past couple of weeks trying to answer the question "What will happen after La Rochelle?" My contract ends at the end of April, my sister comes to Europe at the end of May, and the latest I can return to the US is July. So: do I try and find some work in Europe for a month so I can hang out with the sister or save some money and come home early? If you have any thoughts, I would appreciate any advice given!

à bientot, mes amis

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

La Greve Nationale

It was the monday before Christmas break, le vacance de noel, and I had taken the train to Rochefort. I usually don’t work on Monday’s, but a little re-shuffling of my emploi de temps was necessary because I was taking a day trip to Versailles on Tuesday.

My college professor, Alain (charmingly French with an eccentric mustache to match his equally eccentric personality), had invited to me to make up my Tuesday afternoon class on Monday afternoon and I had prepared a class on Christmas. Vocabulary notes, flashcards, and a few ‘holly jolly’ Christmas carols in tow, I made my way from the Rochefort train station to the school building, first passing the lycee.

And that’s when I saw the spray painted sheets. And then the yellow construction tape. And then the mob of students in the midst of which was a petite, confused looking french teacher. Apparently, she hadn’t gotten the message that the students had decided to go on strike. And it turns out I hadn’t either.

They had barricaded the doors with those wooden platforms that you find at loading dock warehouses, defiantly not going to class, playing their guitars and, of course, smoking. Now, in a way, this didn’t surprise me. Rewind only two weeks earlier and you’d find me and Mary, making our way to the train station in La Rochelle only to be overcome by a mob of teenagers, storming the streets, flooding the train platforms with pamphlets and literature. Their fliers said something about ‘educational reforms’ so I guess I should have realized it was only a matter of time before little Rochefort got caught up in the momentum.

To be completely honest, I didn’t really care – I was intrigued, but not invested. Until the repas de noel, the Christmas-dinner lunch, was canceled. And then I was annoyed. My first (and who knows? Possibly only) French Christmas meal had been scraped because my students refused to go to class. So I started asking questions.

First: Why? The French Ministry of Education had made a few reforms that the students didn’t agree with. They were removing teaching positions, and suggested changing some of the requirements for the students. Although, I recently found out that they weren’t actually implemented, just recommended, but still. It doesn’t hurt to let ‘the man’ know you don’t like where he’s going with those crazy ideas.

Second: How? How in the world did all of these students mobilized with such efficiency and organization? This wasn’t just a Rochefort/La Rochelle situation, but a national greve; all the lycee students, in all of France were up in arms. And then I found out that the students are in a union. Talk about something that could never translate into American culture.

And finally: “Do you feel like you made a difference?” My older students, the Senior-year equivalents, said ‘yes!’ They were the most involved, some traveling to neighboring towns to rally the students. And then there was my sweet student, in the younger lycee class, who looked at me, rolled her eyes and said with a little sigh ‘no.’

I spent a lot of time thinking about this. A little confused and a little piqued, I thought “who do they think they are?” But talking to them, my opinion has changed to some extent. I’m realizing that in this country, if you are upset, you let people know. You take action – just look at the frequency at which they strike, or protest - and you don’t remain complacent. And while this has also resulted in a healthy fear of middle-aged french ladies (they also refuse to be complacent when they're upset…) it has also stirred up some admiration. But maybe only until those trains stop running. Again.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Life of the Rochelais

It has been a long time since I’ve posted tid-bits from my french adventures, but this is because I moved! To the city! And am now the proud renter of her first apartment (wonderful, albeit, sans internet)

I first and formost want to clarify that ‘the city’ is not, in fact, Paris. I moved to the biggest city closest to Rochefort, a port city named La Rochelle. On the coast of the Atlantic ocean, it is a section of France that has been in the center of some major historical things involving Huguenots and les quebecois. In fact, the ‘tagline’ for the town is “La belle et la rebelle” or the beautiful and the rebellious.

Since it has been far too long since I last updated, let me do my best to give you the sparknotes version of the past six weeks of my life:

1. French Thanksgiving was a success! Sweet pototatoes could not be found initially, but when I was informed that they are considered an ‘exotic fruit’ (silly me! I was looking in the vegetable section!) all problems were solved, the crisis averted, and a wonderful feast was had by all. In total, eleven nationalities were represented, and for many of the non-Americans, this was a new experience. And true to tradition, there was chaos in the kitchen and too much food.lovely ladies at Thanksgiving

2. Immediately following the thanksgiving festivities, two wonderful things happened – I moved (as previously mentioned) and my dear friend Mary came to visit. And thank goodness. To make a long story short, we ended up camping-out in my empty apartment on the ice-cold parkay floor. No amount of layered jackets, scarves, hats, sweatshirts and blankets could keep us warm. After a cold, sleepless night, we promptly decided to spend the night on a friend’s spare couch the next night. Don’t worry, I have a bed (read: cot) and have figured out how all my appliances work. And I am indebted to dear sweet Mary for keeping my spirits high in the midst of absolute mayhem.
Chez Moi

3. The Christmas season in La Rochelle was lovely: lights decorated the streets, each neighborhood with a different decorative theme. We ice-skated in Rochefort, drank Christmas ale, and dominated 'noel quiz night' at the local Irish pub.

4. My students went on strike. Yes, my students. Because they’re in a union. The students. I explained to them today that things like that could never exsist in les etats unis, and they were shocked. I am learning so much.

5. I spent Christmas at home with my wonderful family, and the new year in Barcelona with incredible friends.

And now I am back in La Rochelle, with a resolution to perfect my french, learn how to cook the local cuisine and of course, keep this blog updated more regularly.

Je vous souhaite une bonne annee!

Culinary update: I tried ostrich today, once again compliments of the lycee cafeteria. Incroyable.