Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

The sun will come out…

…tomorrow! And today happens to be tomorrow! At least when compared to this weekend. Ok, that might make little sense, but that’s probably the remnants of my fever talking.

Actually, today I feel fantastic.  And the weather concurs – it’s a beautiful day in Paris, with a smattering of white fluffy clouds, and a not-too-chilly 60 degrees in the sunshine.  So I took a small walk before meeting up with The Accomplice, The Tall One and the latter’s sister for lunch at a deliciously cute resto called Café du Marché on Rue Cler in the VIIe.  I had some more confit de canard (duck) and a gâteau au chocolat (chocolate cake) with some ice cream – I don’t think I’m going to need dinner.  The Accomplice and I followed that up with a shopping stint at a MUJI near my flat and wandered through the Luxembourg gardens to digest our yummy lunches.

For your viewing pleasure, here are some images du jour!

So far, I've been treated to accordian music on the metro twice. It makes me feel like I'm really in Paris. I even paid this guy, since he let me take a picture.

So far, I've been treated to accordian music on the metro twice. It makes me feel like I'm really in Paris. I even paid this guy, since he let me take a picture.

This is Rue Cler.  Rick Steves likes it (click the pic to find out why). It's quite nice, though not my favorite part of Paris.

This is Rue Cler. Rick Steves likes it (click the pic to find out why). It's quite nice, though not my favorite part of Paris.

It's not a myth: the French DO actually park this close to each other. In fact, they play bumper cars quite regularly when squeezing into a parking spot.

It's not a myth: the French DO actually park this close to each other. In fact, they play bumper cars quite regularly when squeezing into a parking spot.

A 'vitrine' on Rue Cler - the shop sells all kinds of interesting goodies, from chocolates to specialty soups...

A 'vitrine' on Rue Cler - the shop sells all kinds of interesting goodies, from chocolates to specialty soups...

Entrance to Luxembourg Gardens from Odeon.  They've got all these beautiful potted flowers in the park now, working quite harmoniously with the changing leaves...

Entrance to Luxembourg Gardens from Odeon. They've got all these beautiful potted flowers in the park now, working quite harmoniously with the changing leaves...

Potted plants, again. I should look up the name of this flower - it's like a big fluffy pillow I could just sink into...

Potted plants, again. I should look up the name of this flower - it's like a big fluffy pillow I could just sink into...

A small water fountain and canal.  There were ducks, and it made me a bit nostalgic for the Duck Pond in Blacksburg.

A small water fountain and canal. There were ducks, and it made me a bit nostalgic for the Duck Pond in Blacksburg.

I love how parks in Paris are inhabited by a range of age groups, it's refreshing to see toddlers and teenagers co-exist with the elderly, and it certainly makes for some interesting people-watching.

I love how parks in Paris are inhabited by a range of age groups, it's refreshing to see toddlers and teenagers co-exist with the elderly, and it certainly makes for some interesting people-watching.

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Filed under: All things French, Around the world, , , , , , , , , ,

Oink, oink here, and an oink, oink there…

I’m not sure if I mentioned this earlier, but a couple of kids at my school were infected with the flu.  Now, with some of them, doctors confirmed it was the swine flu, but those students were not in any of my classes.  However, one of my groups of 15 had half the class missing, and that’s probably because the rest of the class hadn’t started showing symptoms yet.

Well, it’s impossible to trace who infected me with whatever this thing is, as it’s not typical of the swine flu (no stomach problems, for example).  But I haven’t actually gotten any type of flu in several years, and the sudden chills and sweats that onset Friday afternoon (from nowhere, seriously – I went out that morning for an interview, and when I got back for lunch, my teeth were chattering) – well, all this threw me for a loop.

Luckily, I’ve got some good ol’ American meds here (Ny-/Day-quil to the rescue!) and Mimi provided me with some paracetamol, which has helped me get through the night.  Today seems to be much better, with my appetite returning (I wolfed down an entire banana this morning…), and if all is well, I shouldn’t have anything to worry about with this trip up to the UK scheduled for Thursday.

Of course, this flu-business threw my weekend shenanigans out the window.  I was supposed to attend a fête to celebrate an assistant’s birthday, and grab some drinks with The Accomplice, but I thought that pain meds and alcohol really oughtn’t be put together. Instead, I’ve been marathoning Season I and II of True Blood.  I personally think Supernatural is a much better show, True Blood has some character development, but the acting is so forced (perhaps because the dialogue is quite rigid…), though I think the title sequence (which won an Emmy, I think) is divine.  But True Blood is better than Twilight, in that at least the vampires don’t do silly things like glitter in the sunlight to service a ridiculous plot…

One thing I have discovered is that my ability to speak/understand French when sick disappears.  Last night, when Mimi asked if I had been drinking plenty of water, I mumbled something about water bottles and refilling them because I lost my own…which I’m not sure actually answered her question, but I can’t remember her response.  If I were watching French TV instead of this American nonsense, I’m pretty sure my brain would explode.

Right, well, it’s back to some tomato soup and blood-sucking beasts for me, and only now did I realize how much tomato soup looks like the ooze dripping from Bill’s fangs…

Filed under: Close to home, , , , , , ,

Courses, of course.

My second week of teaching has come to an end and I’ve finally met the majority of my students.  I have quite a mix, in terms of age, ethnic background and English speaking level, but for the most part they are all quite nice and not intentionally disruptive of class.

A quick breakdown of my schedule, as it now stands: I work Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.  On Mondays and Tuesdays I’m at the school from 8h00 to 17h00, though I don’t have classes the whole time (today, for example, I have only 4 hours of actual teaching time…); on Thursdays, I have courses back-to-back from 10h00 – 14h00, which I prefer in some ways (less down-time, but it means I get home early).

I’m teaching a range of age groups: I have 3 groups of secondes (sophomores), 1 group of premières (juniors) and 6 groups of terminales (seniors).  There’s further distinction between the groups of premières et terminales, because from what I understand about the French secondary education system, students have to select a quasi-major during their Junior year.  These range from literature/arts to business to sciences, and there are even some students in BTS, a post-high school program similar to an associates degree, but the courses are taken at the high school.  Determining your program is supposedly the student’s choice, but in the vein of selecting AP or IB in the US, in that you pick based on your academic level, not necessarily on your desired profession…I have a group of ES students (business, econ, etc.) who are quite brilliant, and only surpassed by a group of Euro students (the IB-esque kids, who even take their history course in English).

Yet, even in my non-advanced level courses, there are chatty students that want desperately to exercise their English.  This afternoon, for example, one of my seconde groups was given the option to attend a review in their French course instead of my English section, but one girl opted to stay in the English section.  She and I had a wonderful time: we reviewed Halloween vocabulary, talked about Harry Potter books, watched a clip from The Nightmare Before Christmas (which she had already seen because of her Canadian cousins), played pictionary and talked about Shakespearean plays. Keep in mind, she’s a sophomore…and we only resorted to translating a word from French to English once (and even then we got there pretty much through circumlocution).

Then again, there are students in my groups that couldn’t care less about English, and continue to hold conversations with their peers in French, despite my requesting “In English, please!” every 5 minutes.  I even told the kids I don’t care if you talk to your classmates, just do it in English.  That didn’t really work.  Playing pictionary and bribing them with American candy, however, did work for a while.  But for the most part, students only resort to French to explain my comments/instructions to those that are completely clueless.

Interestingly, we were instructed in our training session not to let on that we spoke French (to prevent the complete degeneration of the English class into a discourse in French).  I’m having a hard time with that!  I know what they’re saying, and want to answer, but have to prompt them to re-ask their questions in English…I’ve told all my classes that I don’t speak French, and actually, one of the courses is thoroughly convinced I have no idea what they’re saying.  This is the same class that went to French instead of English today, but when the French teacher told them I was invited to sit in on their course (which I couldn’t, because the girl wanted to study English – yay and nay), they told her it would be useless, since I don’t know a lick of French. In any case, I’m learning to master the Gallic shrug and a puzzled expression when my students try to ask me for traductions.

As for my private students, I’ve got two lined up for sure, one hour a week a-piece.  I might have a third and possibly a fourth, but that will be determined in the next two weeks.  I’ve also applied to teach English to 5-8 year-olds on Saturday mornings, so things are looking up!

And for fun, here’s the video clip I’ve been showing to my students today…it’s almost Halloween!

Filed under: All things French, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Who chases after a convict?

Granted, The Tall One isn’t really a convict, and also, granted, the fellow couldn’t know that, but do you seriously think, as a drunk/high, short, black dude, that you’re going to get three American ladies to your “very big house” in Paris at 11PM on a Monday night?

Ok, rewind.

It was a calm and totally un-stormy night.  There are whispers – no, ardent shouts – of a grève tomorrow, and even though that means I have to be  up at 5:30AM tomorrow, I decided to join The Tall One and The Accomplice on a night on the town.  Well, when our attempts to go to a Scottish pub and watch a game over a pint were thwarted, we wandered down Rue St. Denis and ended up at a very nice café by the Pompidou Center (whose plaza, incidentally, is where I was almost peed-on by a drunkard two summers ago…).

This was a good decision, at first. The waiter was very nice, we shared a pot (not quite a bottle) of Brouilly, a nice, smooth red that is slightly swishy and has a bit of a tang (like my fancy wine vocab, there?), une carafe d’eau (order this at a French restaurant if you want free water, not the pricey Evian stuff) and some jaunty conversation.  An hour or so later, the waiter comes around asking us to pay the addition he had so kindly left at our table and not so subtly attempting to usher us out the door.  Well, The Accomplice still had half a glass to drink, and we weren’t done talking about song playing in the background, so we lingered.

Bad decision.

Cue: drunk dude who speaks “a small” English.  Who plops himself down in the empty chair beside me, and proceeds to tell us about his “big house” that he shares with his sister, and how we’re welcome to accompany him back to stay in his four bedrooms.  At first, we entertained ourselves by listening to The Tall One regale him with tales of her convict life in America, where she killed a man and now has no choice but to stay in Paris.  And then we decided to get lost.

But we couldn’t. Because this Don Juan was a persistent little bugger.

We exited the café and turned the corner, with our friend in pursuit.  For a drunk guy, he sure was quick. I thought, at first, he was several meters behind us, but before we knew it, he was grabbing The Accomplice’s bum and The Tall One was sprinting off ahead with my stumpy legs in pursuit. The whole time, this guy is blathering on in broken English.  By this point, we’re running (well, run-walking, that awkward skip-step you take, when you’re not sure if you want to be sprinting just yet) down a relatively-major street, I’m wondering how much Karate I remember from my 3rd-grade classes and why I don’t carry pepper spray, when The Accomplice yelps, “Get into a bar!”

We duck into the first one we find, and good thing – it turned out to house some really swell guys.  Slamming the door in our pursuer’s face (as well as a swinging glass door can be slammed), we huddled by the bar, our hearts thumping and our awkward entrance gathering curious looks from the locals we seem to have interrupted.  The drunk fellow leaned on the swinging door and promptly fell to the floor, face-down, on what was probably marble. It would have been funny if I wasn’t so scared.

One gentleman took a look out the door. “Is he with you?” he asked in French.  “Non.” We shook our heads vehemently. He stepped outside with his friend and I assume had a bit of a talking to with the dude, but I was a bit too terrified to notice what he was saying.  In any case, he bought us some time and we slipped out a side-door, shouting our “Merci beaucoup!” as we sprinted to the nearest Metro stop.

In the relative safety of the underground (relative because there are definitely some creeps wandering the Metro at night), we had a giggle about our near-something experience. I know city-living is something to get used to, and man was this something. Lest I have scared you potential Paris visitors, I’ll have you know that I still absolutely adore this city, and I suppose you must take these shenanigans in stride. At the very least, it makes for an entertaining blog entry.

Speaking of, I, for one, am curious to see how this eventful night appears on The Tall One’s blog. I also find it interesting that this occurs the week I choose to discuss Halloween with my kids at school.  Now I have a real-life creepy story to share…

Filed under: All things French, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tout Paris, dans un week-end

It’s amazing how much you can fit into a weekend. Granted, my weekends are longer than most, especially this one, since I didn’t have to work on Thursday or Friday…but all the same, I saw quite a bit in four-ish days!

Thursday morning I went to the Gare du Nord to pick up my birthday present, i.e. the Brit, to begin our whirlwind tour of Paris. After dropping his bags off in the apartment, and a quick trip to the grocery store, we headed to the Luxembourg gardens for a post-lunch walk in the park.  Our tour on Thursday included a lot of walking, we made it from the Luxembourg gardens up to Notre Dame, then down along the Seine to La Place des Vosges, then back across the Seine to Ile St. Louis (where we ate the most delicious ice cream in Paris, at the original Berthillon shop, all decked out in purples and gold), then waaaaaaaay down the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay (where we learned that I can use my teaching ID card and he can use his EU passport to get in for free – and where we spent half our time watching Asian men take pictures of their wives/girlfriends posing suggestively with sculptures).  We were really knackered by the time we left the museum, so we grabbed something to eat at a restaurant in the 5e, in a small maze of streets bordered by the Seine, Bld St-Michel and Rue St-Jaques (lots of cheapish places to eat there, in case  you’re planning a visit to the city and looking to eat well on a budget).

The Brit in the Luxembourg Gardens - that's the Luxembourg palace behind him, there.  Basically, the gardens were somebody's yard.  Awesome, eh?

The Brit in the Luxembourg Gardens - that's the Luxembourg palace behind him, there. Basically, the gardens were somebody's yard. Awesome, eh?

The best ice cream in Paris.  Worth the money, and the wait.

The best ice cream in Paris. Worth the money, and the wait.

The Gare is beautiful...the 1980s architectural invention looks like it should be either a fortress or a bank, but certainly not an art museum.

The Gare is beautiful...the 1980s architectural intervention looks like it should be either a fortress or a bank, but certainly not an art museum.

Staying up late on Thursday and the subsequent late start the next morning became somewhat thematic of the Brit’s visit across the Channel. That’s not such a bad thing in Paris, where nothing opens until 10am anyway.  On Friday, as I had another training session out in Créteil, the Brit wandered around town by himself, getting into all kinds of trouble.  When I finally got back, it was almost half past seven and so we scrapped our plans to see the Eiffel tower and went to the Louvre instead (getting caught in a rainstorm along the way, so that by the time we got to the pyramids we were thoroughly soaked and my moisture-wicking socks had nowhere to wick the moisture to).  The museum was all but deserted, which meant we actually got to see the Mona Lisa (or La Joconde as the French call her) instead of a throng of Asian tourists. I must say, though, getting caught in the rain before a night visit to the Louvre is not a bad way to spend your birthday, especially for an art fiend like me!  The Louvre was followed by another late night dining experience in the 5e, this time at a restaurant where I was spoken to in Spanish twice, because I’m brown, and where the kitschy Franco-Greek themed décor was only rivaled by the 70s pop music playing over the speakers.  The food itself was quite tasty, I had escargot, duck and chocolate mousse – all good things in my book.

The pyramids at the Louvre are impressive during the day, but exquisite at night.

The pyramids at the Louvre are impressive during the day, but exquisite at night.

Another late start Saturday had us going to the 1pm showing of Funny People at the Pathé in Montmartre.  After two hours of giggling, sniggering and snorting, we wandered past Moulin Rouge (no free show there, but wait till I tell you what we saw on Sunday) and through Montmartre towards Sacré Coeur.  Turns out there was a once-a-year festival at the top of the hill, Les vendange, a celebration of the local Parisian wine grown in that quartier.  If the stalls had been giving away tastings, rather than asking for our limbs in exchange for un goût, I might have something to report with regards to the quality of Parisian wine, though my coworkers tell me it’s nothing to write home about…but we got a good view of the city from the steps leading to Sacré Coeur, and sat for a while to listen to the Afro-French musicians singing American songs: at one point, they even had a guest singer from the audience, a girl from Spain, help them with “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  After that number, we went down to the Jardin des Plantes, got kicked out at closing time by a guard enthusiastically weilding his whistle, and strolled down to Chinatown to grab dinner with some assistants.

On Sunday we thought we’d be French and take our lunch to a park.  A brief detour to the Eiffel Tower, to learn that you cannot, in fact, purchase advance tickets, though you will be able to soon (when is soon in this country, I don’t know…), we walked (a very long walk) down to the Parc André Citroën.  Now, I visited this park when I studied at Fontainebleau in 2007, and it’s one of my favorite parks in Paris. It has beautiful proportions, the side gardens are leafy and inviting, with a balance of views to promenaders and privacy, the latter of which is what probably provoked an incident in French PDA to the extreme.  The Brit and I had slipped into one of the aforementioned small gardens to grab our lunch.  There we sat, having just consumed a sandwich jambon fromage, chatting quietly, when I looked up across the garden to see a curious sight.  It’ll suffice to say that necking in the park is one thing – in fact, an intense make-out session seems to be the default mode for couples in a Parisian park – but addressing romantic issues below the belt (literally speaking) should really be done in the privacy of  your own home.  Needless to say, after a few speechless moments, the Brit and I gathered our belongings and made our exit.  Like two teenagers, we slunk away, giggling, only to happen upon a group of boys leaning over a ledge to observe the sight we had just escaped.  Their surprised yells only made us laugh harder, and by the time we had walked across the park, we were breathless with glee.

One of my favorite mini-gardens at the park. A picture from a few years ago, because I decided it would be more fun to hang out with the Brit than take pictures all day.

One of my favorite mini-gardens at the park. A picture from a few years ago, because I decided it would be more fun to hang out with the Brit than take pictures all day.

As Sunday was our six-month anniversary (now a day to remember, for sure), we went out to Montparnasse, where we soaked in Breton culture and cider, along with some delicious crêpes, at the Crêperie Josselin.  The dessert crêpe was amazing, a combination of chocolate, bananas and coconut ice cream flambeed in rum: mmmmm.  Perfect for the not-so-hidden sweet-tooth in the both of us.

I did have to work on Monday, my first day with students of my own, which was interesting in its own right and will warrant its own post later this week. I managed to wriggle out of work earlier than planned and met up with the Brit to grab dinner and Skype my aunt and uncle in India.

Monday was our last night together in Paris, so we thought we’d splurge by having a glass of champagne while taking in Paris aglow. After only 30 minutes waiting in line to purchase our tickets, we packed ourselves onto the first elevator – I say packed because the close quarters on that journey up the Tower has made quite clear to me the meaning of the phrase “like sardines in a can.” It’s a (mostly) glass elevator, and I was pressed firmly against its clear doors – a great view, to be sure, but for someone with my slight acrophobia, a somewhat terrifying experience.  Nonetheless, we shuffled off the first elevator and onto the second; within minutes we were at the top of the tower with a dazzling view of the City of Lights.  While we were taking in the sights, it seems we were a sight ourselves – a group of children followed us around the second floor and during our descent, whispering amongst themselves and trying not to look as though they were watching us, looking away and giggling when we caught their wide-eyed stares.

Looking East from the Eiffel Tower.  My apartment is just beyond the brightly-lit dome, before the not-so-brightly lit dome (the latter being the Pantheon).

Looking East from the Eiffel Tower. My apartment is just beyond the brightly-lit dome, before the not-so-brightly lit dome (the latter being the Pantheon).

One of my professors has made it his mission to take "the right" picture of the Eiffel Tower.  This might not be it, but I think the composition is quite interesting...

One of my professors has made it his mission to take "the right" picture of the Eiffel Tower. This might not be it, but I think the composition is quite interesting...

This morning we woke at the crack of dawn to shuttle the Brit back to Gare du Nord, and poof! at 7:15am he was gone.  It’s a strange thing, a long-distance relationship, where the highs of meeting your loved one are so quickly tugged down by your longing upon their departure.  It won’t be too long until I see him again, though, we’ve already planned a trip to Loughborough and Edinburgh at the end of the month.  Traveling the world is certainly one of the advantages of living in two different cities.

All in all, a very romantic anniversary outing indeed – it’s going to be a hard one to top!

Filed under: All things French, Around the world, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Daddy, I want a pony.

References to Willy Wonka aside, I spent Sunday afternoon at the races.  Not betting, mind you, particularly because every horse I pegged a winner in my mind wound up in the bottom third in the actual race, and an assistante‘s salary is not one that would have survived that string of bad luck. It was a bit more fun, in a way, because I didn’t have anything riding on a race, and could root for the winner regardless of who it was – and feel equally sorry for all the losers.

Wait, what races? One of the most prestigious horse races in Europe: the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. One of the assistants got free tickets, and I tagged along.  It was quite the afternoon.  We packed our lunches and headed to the Bois de Boulogne, to the Longchamp racecourse. The actual races, there were 8+, I believe, lasted all afternoon and into early evening; the Arc is the best known, and was #6, so we stayed until then and called it quits.

The races work like this: you sit, sit, sit for about 30 minutes, then you stand, for the 2 minutes the horses dash across the track, then you sit some more until the next race is run. It’s quite like that scene from My Fair Lady…hats and dolled up ladies included. Some of the hats were quite ridiculous. We saw everything you can imagine, from a weird vertically triangular purple number to a collection of spindly feathered black wires seemingly stapled to another biddy’s head. Unfortunately, my camera is back on the fritz so I was unable to take any images. The assistant who invited me has posted some on Facebook and gave me permission to use those (thanks!) so here you go:

Three assistants, sans hats, at the races.

Three assistants, sans hats, at the races.

I thought we were in Paris...I guess I was wrong?

I thought we were in Paris...I guess I was wrong?

That feathery thing in the background is a hat, and it seems like theyre indoctrinating them at a young age these days (see foreground, left).

That feathery thing in the background is a hat, and it seems like they're indoctrinating them at a young age these days (see foreground, left).

I cant remember what race, or what (strange) name these guys have, but here are some horses.

I can't remember what race, or what (strange) name these guys have, but here are some horses.

In other news, I met my first private pupil Monday evening. He seems like a nice enough bloke, a twenty-something software engineer who speaks a little English and takes notes religiously. We grabbed a coffee at a cafe near le  Panthéon and he was gracious enough to pay for my drink as well as the lesson. I reckon the next coffee is on me. He wants two lessons a week so that should work out well enough. I have another rendez-vous with a potential student on the 18th, hopefully that pans out as well. That leaves 7ish more lessons to find, if I plan on paying for my traveling habit without making a major dent in my savings.

And if you thought that was all the news I could possible have, it wasn’t. I now have a tentative schedule: I should be working Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays (1/2 day, I think), which gives me a beautiful 3(and 1/2)-day weekend and the potential for babysitting jobs on Wednesdays…pas trop mal!

Filed under: All things French, Around the world, In the news, , , , , , , , ,

Oh whatta night…

This post might be better titled “All in a day’s work,” but because it’s 3 in the morning and I just got in, I thought Billy Joel was quite appropriate.  Just got in, you say? Why yes, and the party’s still going on in the streets of Paris…I’m just so old that my knees started to complain about all the walking.

But before we get to all that, a recap of my first Saturday in Paris: quite a busy one, if only in the French sense, in that I got a grand total of 3 things done today.

  1. Thing number 1: I went to set up my bank account.  It was quite simple. I had most of the necessary paperwork, and need one last paper signed before it’s all completely done.  My debit card should come in the mail in the next week or so, along with my RIB, which is a slip of paper with my bank info I need to get my paycheck deposited in the account (important stuff!).
  2. Thing number 2: I wrote a rough draft, an incredibly sloppy one that will be scratched, once again, for a scholarship application.  For some reason, I can no longer write personal statements, the ability has completely left me. So much for getting money to grad school. So maybe it should be 2.5 things, not 3…
  3. Thing number 3: I got my camera’s sensor cleaned. No more dust! This was a bit of a challenge, as I had no idea where to look for a camera store that would clean my sensor in Paris. This website came in handy, but the store the author mentions did not exist – in its place was another camera store, with a very nice gentleman who told me to come back in an hour.  So, for €30, I had my sensor, lens and body cleaned, and got to sit at the Place des Vosges while reading George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and watching little children kick up dust while playing soccer with their papas.

Now, for the night.  Dun dun dun.  The Tall One, another ETA, and I met up for dinner/dessert (dinner for her, dessert for me) where we solved America’s problems.  Turns out Mies was right, less is more, people.  Then we wandered around the city for four hours, trying to find the events described on the Nuit Blanche website, but because we had no map…it turned out to be more entertaining than planned. We stumbled upon the following images during our ambling parcour through the city.

Yes, that is a GIANT disco ball hanging from a crane in the Luxembourg Gardens. We wanted to go in to get a closer look, but there was a 3 hour wait.

Yes, that is a GIANT disco ball hanging from a crane in the Luxembourg Gardens. We wanted to go in to get a closer look, but there was a 3 hour wait.

I can never remember which bridge this is. But isn't it pretty?

I can never remember which bridge this is. But isn't it pretty?

You guys remember the Impressionists? This is why the movement started in France.

You guys remember the Impressionists? This is why the movement started in France.

Spiderman, spiderman...crossing the ocean onto French land...

Spiderman, spiderman...crossing the ocean onto French land...

Place des Vosges at night, where it's kind of creepy, but kind of beautiful.  Oh, and that's the Tall One in the red coat.

Place des Vosges at night, where it's kind of creepy, but kind of beautiful. Oh, and that's the Tall One in the red coat.

Ok, you explain this one to me. I have no words.

Ok, you explain this one to me. I have no words.

Notre Dame at night, from the Pont Marie (I believe). Now tell me you aren't jealous I'm spending 7 more months in this beautiful city.

Notre Dame at night, from the Pont Marie (I believe). Now tell me you aren't jealous I'm spending 7 more months in this beautiful city.

Finally, around 2:15, we decided to split ways and head back home…which took me about 45 minutes to walk. This is one thing I’m quickly getting used to: walking everywhere, 10-30 minutes at a time.  Oh, and eating tiny, tiny portions.  I’m going to come back to the US as a stick.  Twiggy’s back in style, didn’t you hear?

Well, I really ought to be getting to bed, because tomorrow, I’m off to the races! More on that after this break.

Filed under: All things French, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bitches and beaches, ohms and homes.

Now, for something a bit more lighthearted.

Today was my first day at the Lycée Charles le Chauve in Roissy-en-Brie.  I met, for the first time, the instructor with whom I have been corresponding via email all summer. He introduced me to several of the English faculty, and they were all very inviting, très gentils. Many of them are quite young, and the dress code seems fairly casual – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a school where teachers wore baggy jeans and sweaters but the students wore leggings and leather vests, as is à la mode these days.  I suppose it’s because we’re living on a teacher’s salary…and they’re living on Mom and Dad’s.

I sat in on two courses to observe student-teacher interaction and the students’ level of English. My first course was a group of secondes (sophomores), who were a bit shy only because they weren’t sure about their English.  Once we got talking about places they wanted to visit and the current image of Barack Obama, there were several raised hands in class.  It’s a good thing I voted Democrat, as I think I might have been boo’ed out the room had I not!  After an interesting experience with lunch in the cantine (um, I think those were potatoes?), I sat in on a group of premières (juniors), who were better in terms of English-level, but more hesitant to ask questions.  They went around introducing themselves…and as the professor laughingly mentioned, we gathered that they were all between 15 and 17, lived in one of three neighboring towns, and liked sports.

Before coming to France I perused several ex-pat blogs and the online writings of assistants who had completed this program before. One of the more entertaining bits of these shared experiences is the funny way French students of English tend to pronounce our language. They have a habit, for example, of adding “h” where there isn’t one, and dropping “h” where there is. One of the girls today asked about ‘omes in America.

By far, the most funny (for us Anglophones, certainly, but perhaps not for the teacher in the course) is the difficulty students face in pronouncing the long “i” sound, as in “pieces” or, as it happened in class today, “beaches.” We were talking about reasons the kids liked their favorite country and one boy spoke up, “Well, it has good music and girls.” Another nodded in agreement, “Yes, ze girls and ze bitches.” That led to an entertaining discussion about the difference between “bitches” and “beaches,” where the teacher tactfully avoided stating the explicit meaning of the former word (offering up “female dog” instead) and a brief lesson on prononciation.

A last anecdote, one that shocked me more than the events on the RER this morning, actually. We were discussing detective novels in one of the courses, as the students are reading an excerpt from an Agatha Christie book.  The professor asked, “What’s the one detective story you’ve all read?”

The class answered in chorus, “Ten Little Niggers.”

Now, I use that word only because it’s in the actual title of the book, but let me tell you, to hear it come from the mouths of twenty-some teenagers all at once was quite a shock.  Apparently, it’s the original British title to the Agatha Christie book, And Then There Were None – a book that popularized the rhyme we normally refer to as “10 Little Indians” and a book the kids all read (in French) because their former principal insisted upon it. As an aside, the actual rhyme seems to be titled “10 Little Injuns” in its original form, reworked to the Christie title by Frank Green in 1869, then back to the form we know in the 1940s when the Christie book was published in the United States.

All in a day’s work, I suppose. I should be getting my actual schedule soon – the teacher coordinating it actually asked if I wanted a four-day weekend. I said that would be ideal.

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B is for Bomb.

An incident on the RER B this morning made me stop and consider the times in which we live. I take the RER B to Gare du Nord, before I switch onto the E to get to the lycée where I am teaching.  As I boarded the train, I bumped into a woman wearing a burqa and apologized. She paid me no heed. In her hand, she clutched a large green book, a copy of the Qur’an. She was African, torn shoes enclosed her feet and she mumbled in French to another African woman on the train; neither the woman nor I understood what she asked.

A ping sounded – the train was about to leave the station.  The woman stood by the door, and right as it began to close, jumped out, then jumped back in – but not all the way.  “Je ne peux pas, le livre — I can’t, the book –” She stood in between the sliding doors as they pressed into her shoulders until a man helped her back onto the train.  She still held the Qur’an. The train continued on.

Next stop, Saint-Michel/Notre Dame. She steps off the train, back on the train, then back off. And as the doors begin to close, she throws the book into the cabin. The passengers stare in silence as it slides across the floor, its yellowed pages fluttering open. Then the hushed whispers begin, “Why did she do that? What is it – just a book?” The passengers shuffle in their seats, prod the book closed.  Finally, a man picks it up, “Ah, c’est qu’un bouquin – It’s only a book.”

Next stop, Chatalet-les-Halles.  He held it gingerly by the spine, fingers grasping it through a folded napkin, and exited the train.

RER B at Chatalet-les-Halles, image not mine.

RER B at Chatalet-les-Halles, image not mine.

I am struck by how easily we jumped to the fear of being bombed. It wasn’t said, not any louder than a breathed whisper, but the fear lingered like Elliot’s cat-like fog, sneaky and persistent and ambiguous. As we all stared down at the book’s green cover, I felt an eerie sense of calm.

Then, tout de suite, we had left the dredges of the Paris underground and were out into a crisp blue sky. The normal worries of the day began their creep to my consciousness, and curiosity about the incident gave way to anxieties about my first day at the lycée.

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