February 4, 2010

Forever a nomad

Posted in la vie bordelaise, travailler tagged , , , , , , , at 9:00 am by Fat Girl Dancing

*this entry is made most difficult by the fact that my “h” key has stopped working and every “h” must be copied and pasted :-\

I’m coming to you live from my third (and what had better be my last!) residence here in Bordeaux!  It took me three days to move, and I still have a few small things at the old place — including my bike!

I seem to have grown into the larger living space while I was living with my roommate and acquired a ton more junk, because what took me just two trips to move last time (one by tram and one by taxi) took me nine trips and three days!  Did I mention I’m living on the fourth floor?  My everything hurts, from my shoulders and arms from carrying all the bags to my hips and legs from climbing all the stairs!  Such a good workout!

I’m still getting settled in my room — it’s impossible not to think of it as a dorm room, because essentially that’s what it’s like.  I got my bed set up on Tuesday, and I’m still unpacking and finding a place for everything, so right now I still have suitcases and bags covering most of the floor.  I’ll show pictures once everything is put away and it looks nicer.

The walls here are super-thin, so you can pretty much hear everything anyone does in their room, but fortunately my neighbors seem to be pretty good about sticking to the quiet hours *knock on wood*  Last night I got home at 11pm and my neighbor had her TV up, but turned it down when I asked.  The biggest problem is the girl across the hall gets up at 5:30am every day.  I need to learn to filter out the sounds of her getting up and leaving so I can sleep through that and not get up at 5:30am every day myself :-\

This morning I had breakfast for the first time here in the new place.  Breakfast is included in the rent and is offered Monday-Friday.  It’s a typical French-style breakfast, and it was very yummy!  I had granola with fromage blanc (sweet and creamy like yogurt, but it’s a cheese), baguette with butter and jelly, and grabbed a banana for later.  I’ll probably eat breakfast Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, because I know I won’t be able to wake up early enough on Mondays and Wednesdays!  Still, it’s nice to not have to buy so much breakfast food anymore.

Things are moving along at school…my little kids are getting sick of learning about numbers, and I’m sick of counting with them.  But they still don’t know all the numbers, even 1-10, and so we drill!  They can count from 1-10 just fine, but when I ask them “How old are you?” they can’t just respond with the correct number in English, but instead must count up to the right number.

I’ve tried playing Bingo with my classes a few times, and I tell you, after this last round I just will not do it again.  They simply do not understand the rules!  I explained, several times, in French even, that in order to have Bingo they needed to mark off four numbers in a line across, down, or diagonal.  I then said the first number, and four or five kids shouted, “Bingo!”  After three or four classes of this, I was exasperated.  “No, you do not have Bingo!” I shouted by the last class.  “You cannot have Bingo after just one number!  I said, you need four in a line!”

“Mais, je ne comprends pas du tout!” they whined.

At least they like story time, which I’ve started implementing at the last 5-10 minutes of each period.  We read half a book per class in English, and even though they can’t understand the words, they like the pictures and they can generally keep up.  So far we’ve read “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” “Hop on Pop,” “The Shy Little Kitten,” and “Barry, the Fish with Fingers.”

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January 29, 2010

Just try and make me leave

Posted in Application, la vie bordelaise tagged , , , , , , at 7:12 am by Fat Girl Dancing

You can’t!  I got my official long-stay visa today!  I can officially stay here until October 1st, although I’m really leaving sometime in July.

All the Bordeaux assistants are being scheduled in groups, so when I arrived at the OFII office for my 10am appointment, there were still some assistants waiting from the 8:30 group.  I got to see some assistants that I hadn’t seen in several months, and it was nice to catch up with them!

The immigration/visa process included a medical visit, which is good because I’ve been sick for going on three weeks now.  I was called in to one room where I was weighed and measured and then given an eye exam.  Hooray, my eyes are still fine!  Reading the letters in French was fun ^_^   I was sent back to the waiting room for several minutes, and then called into the radiology room for my chest x-ray.  The x-ray is apparently mine to keep — yipee?  Quite a souvenir.

The wait for the third and final room was a bit longer — this was to see the actual doctor.  I told her how I’d been sick for three weeks, and she said I had a sinus infection.  She looked at my x-ray, took my blood pressure, listened to my heart and my lungs, and pronounced me well enough to stay in the country.  Phew!

I waited a little longer in a different waiting room with my tiny picture of my face (a common requirement in France) and my proof of residency for my new lodgings until I was called back to the final room.  She deemed my paperwork acceptable and gave me my official long-stay visa in my passport!  Hooray!  Now I can go anywhere and do anything (including get a second job!)

It’s cold and raining miserabley here, and I feel so terrible from being sick for so long, so I’m just eating lunch, taking antibiotics and going back to bed for the rest of the day.  I’ve made homemade mac and cheese so often here, I don’t think I’ll be able to go back to EZ Mac once I return home!

Tuesday I went to see Amanda Palmer in concert here in Bordeaux.  I was so excited that someone I really liked was going to be playing in my new hometown!  I found out about the concert from her Twitter.  The show was fantastic — a really intimate performance, with her interacting with the audience, taking questions and requests.  I had a great night.

And I got my picture with her and her autograph!

Me and AFP!

January 21, 2010

Loving life

Posted in la vie bordelaise tagged , , , , , , at 6:42 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

The most beautiful spiderweb

Within the last few weeks, I have really begun to love my life here in France.  Not so much the job, though there are still the occasional rewarding moments, generally I just try and get through it and get out.  But I love living in Bordeaux and being in France and meeting new people and the friends I’ve made.

For several months now I’ve been going to a language exchange group on Wednesday nights.  French people will come to sit at the English table with native English speakers and non-native French speakers will sit at the French table with native French speakers and have casual conversations to practice in a fun environment.  There is also a Spanish table and sometimes an Italian table.  Generally I sit at the English table, talking with French people who want to practice their English.  I have made some really great connections through this group, and it’s something I’ve come to look forward to on Wednesday nights.  Last night I sat at the French table for the first time to practice my French, and I was pleased that I could follow most of the spoken conversation and I was able to express myself fairly well (though still making some grammatical faults).  My French is definitely better than it was when I left the US.  It’s not where I’d like it to be (fluent), but the fact that I can see marked improvement is heartening.

I’m also enjoying spending time with the other English assistants (although that doesn’t really help me practice my French!)  Last weekend my friend Wes came from La Rochelle and brought one of his friends from Niort.  We had a good weekend of sight-seeing, and I think his friend from Niort will be coming back to visit again!

One of the British assistants had an impromptu tea yesterday afternoon that was absolutely lovely.

Tea time in Bordeaux

We had a mint tea made with freshly brewed mint leaves.  I really regretted that I could only stay an hour because I had to go down to a southern suburb for my tutoring job.

Tonight my roommate and I had some other assistants over for a small potluck to watch the week’s episodes of American Idol.  I made a baked macaroni and cheese, another assistant made chocolate chip banana bread, someone else made bruschetta, and my roommate bought Kinder Pingui.  There is too much good food in my life right now!

A lot of things in France are hard.  It hasn’t been an easy road to get to where I am now.  But I can honestly say: I’m in a good place, I’m happy, and I feel very blessed to have been given this opportunity!

January 14, 2010

Homeless no longer!

Posted in la vie bordelaise tagged , , , at 1:08 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

Today I signed a contract and handed over a very large sum of money to a Foyer where I will be moving on February 1st!  I’m very pleased.  After a month and a half of searching, I’ve finally found a place to live for the rest of my stay in France!  This Foyer is very nice.

While the most ideal situation would have been to find a place similar to where I’m living now, where I could have complete freedom, the Foyer will offer me free breakfast every morning, cable, a coin-laundry on-site (cheaper than the street laundries), 24-hour staff at the welcome desk, a small fitness center, three separate kitchens, and a sense of community.  The residents get together for cooking demos and weekend trips and game nights.

The only downsides are that I won’t have internet in my room (I’ll have to go down to the first floor), I have to share a bathroom, and the Foyer is women-only, which means I can’t have male visitors.  Not that I generally have a parade of male visitors, but my two friends from Ohio have been nice enough to house me when I’ve visted them in Vitré, La Rochelle, and Angers, and now I won’t be able to provide that.

Still, the pluses outweigh the minuses — the biggest plus of all being I HAVE SOMEWHERE TO LIVE!  I’ll actually be able to UNPACK!  I’ve been living out of my suitcases since December 1st!  I’m so relieved.

Today I heard an interesting point of view from a French person on the French social system.  She said too many people take advantage of the perks offered here by the French government, and a young person who doesn’t work can live just as well as someone who works.  I was very interested in what she had to say, because of course people make the same arguments about social programs in the United States, but although the French complain about them, they also accept them as the way of life, because they know it is helping the few who really need it.  While in the United States we’ll keep it away from the many who really need it to spite the few who might take advantage of it.

January 11, 2010

Winter Wonderland

Posted in la vie bordelaise, travailler tagged , , , , at 5:51 am by Fat Girl Dancing

Snowing in Bordeaux

This was the scene last Wednesday in Bordeaux.  I had just woken up as my roommate was returning from seeing her guest from the US off to the train station.  “Have you looked outside?” she exlaimed. “It’s snowing!!”  Bleary-eyed, I grabbed my camera and stumbled to the windows to capture a few pictures of the soft, fat snowflakes.  It snowed heavily for almost an hour and left nearly two inches of snow on top of ice.

Snow day in Bordeaux

It brought the city to a standstill for the entire morning.  The trams stopped running — I could see one at a dead stop about two stations down from our station, and the buses were called back to their stations.  I called my tutorees mother to tell her I wouldn’t be able to make it that afternoon.  She was disappointed, but without the buses, there was no way I could make it down there!

Later that day, everything melted away except the ice.  By Thursday every trace of snow was gone, but the playground at my secondary school was a big ice skating rink.  I tried to teach the kids the phrase “It’s icy” as a part of our standard “How is the weather today?” questions.  One student made a great connection.  One Monday I had taught them “I see a pen.  The pen is green.”  I emphasized the new verb “to see” by pointing to my eyes and then pointing to the pen.  So when I asked them what they thought “It’s icy” meant, this girl raised her hand and pointed to her eyes and said “I see?”

I had to write the two phrases on the board to point out how they might sound alike but were different, and they had to listen to hear the differences between “icy” and “I see.”  But I was really impressed that she made that connection!  They’re learning something!

December 25, 2009

Happy Western Holiday of Your Choice!

Posted in la vie bordelaise tagged , , , , , , , at 5:12 am by Fat Girl Dancing

Today is Christmas, a day with important meaning for many people, but usually just a day of rest for me!  My normal tradition involves going to see a new release movie in the theatres and then eating sushi or Chinese food with friends, but here in France, NOTHING is open on Christmas Day; no movies, no restaurants.  I’m surprised to hear that the tramway is running.

The parents of another assistant are coming into town today, so my roommate and I are going over to her apartment for a Christmas dinner of raclette.  I took the plunge yesterday and baked my first batch of cupcakes here in France, so we’ll have those for dessert.  I absolutely love to make cupcakes from scratch, and at home I’ve experimented with a variety of different delicious flavors.  Here I’ve been so overwhelmed with the fact that 1) they don’t even understand the concept of a cupcake in this country; 2) the ingredients are hard to substitute (I accidentally used baking powder instead of yeast when trying to make rolls for Thanksgiving last month); and 3) the measurements are hard to convert.  With those three obstacles, I’ve been avoiding making cupcakes, even though it’s something that makes me happy.

After plans to travel over Christmas fell through, however, I decided to spend my free time experimenting with baking.  I used a nice, simple vanilla cupcake recipe and spiced it up for the holidays with a little nutmeg.  I bought a hand-crank mixer, and I have to say if I’m going to make any more cupcakes, I need to invest in a real electric mixer.  My hands just can’t take any more of that!

But the results were so worth it!

Vanilla nutmeg cupcakes

Vanilla nutmeg cupcakes

Now that I know it can be done, I hope to make a lot more interesting varieties and bring these treats in to share with my teachers!  I must introduce France to the cupcake!

December 13, 2009

Visiting a French urgent care (how else will I know what they look like?)

Posted in la vie bordelaise, travailler tagged , , , , , , , , at 7:22 am by Fat Girl Dancing

Friday was starting out to be a good day.  I finished school three hours early because two of my classes were on a ski trip.  I was practically skipping as I left at 11:30am.  “Happy Hannukah to me!” I said to myself.  “What a great present.  I get to start the weekend early!”

I walked home from the Place de la Victoire instead of taking the tramway because it was a nice day and the tram was crowded.  I stopped for a salmon panini for lunch at a panini/crepe cart.  It was absolutely delicious, and I munched it happily as I walked through the busy, bustling streets of Bordeaux.

Panini cart

When I got home, I found a notice that the postman had tried to deliver a package from my parents.  It had some things I really wanted, including special granola and my birthday present from two years ago, so I really wanted to pick it up the same day, and not wait for him to try and redeliver it.  I looked up directions for La Poste package depot and found that it wasn’t terribly far from my new apartment — just at the end of the tram line and down a few streets.  I wrote out directions and set off on my bike.

The only time I have fallen off my bike is when trying to cross over the tram tracks.  They’re too deep, and my bike just kind of skids and then falls over.  Unfortunately, on this ride I reached a point where there was no sidewalk and the rode and the tram tracks merged — I was on the road, but also on the tramline for awhile.  When they split, I tried to move off the tram track and back on to the road, but again, my bike would not cross the tracks.  I went down hard, right into the road, and slammed my head on the pavement.  I was very lucky the oncoming car stopped in time.

People came from everywhere.  The driver got out of his car, a woman passing by helped me get out of the road, a man from the patisserie across the street came running out.  He went and got my napkins to put on my face, for I was bleeding quite badly from my brow.  Once everyone was sure I was all right, nothing was broken, and not going to pass out, they went on their way.

I continued on to the package depot.  I wasn’t going through all that and not getting my stupid package!  I walked my bike to the next tram stop, holding the napkin to my profusely bleeding brow, and rode the tram to the end of the line.  I rode my bike carefully and cautiously — my knees protesting the whole way, they were pretty scraped up too — to the package depot.

When I got there, the man at the reception said “You didn’t call ahead?”  But then he seemed to take a look at me, bleeding, limping, shook up, and said he would go look for my package.  I thanked him.

The very important package!

I rode my bike back to the tram stop and rode the tram home.  I cleaned out my wounds as best I could with just soap and water, and then went down to the supermarché to try and find something like neosporin.  There was nothing like that there, so I tried the pharmacy.  The pharmacist took one look at me and said I needed stitches.  A nice older lady offered to lead me to the urgent care.  She took great care in making sure I didn’t injure myself further under her watch, not letting me step off into oncoming traffic or in front of a tram.

I waited at the Urgent Care for about an hour.  I still don’t have my medical card, so they made it clear to me that I’d have to pay and then be reimbursed later.  When I was called back, a student nurse had my lie on a bed and she disinfected the wound.  Then I waited another 20 minutes or so for the doctor to come and sew 4 stitches into my brow.

All stitched up

I went back to the pharmacy to fill the orders the doctor had given me.  The pharmacist was very nice, and asked if I was feeling better and commiserated with me about how terrible the tram rails were for biking.

Once I was home, I had no time to sit around feeling sorry for myself! I was hosting a Hannukah party that night!  I immediately began peeling potatoes.  It was my first time making latkes.  The first two rounds were a success, but after that there were oil problems, and someone else had to step in and finish the batch.

Shredding potatoes - notice the Hello Kitty bandaid!

Latkes!

I had a great evening sharing my holiday with my friends, and they were even good sports and played a round of dreidel for m&m’s.

It wasn’t exactly how I planned for my day to go, but I find that in France, nothing is ever as simple as you plan it to be, and you have to learn to relax and just go with whatever comes up.  Or with whatever comes crashing down!

December 9, 2009

Homeless in France

Posted in la vie bordelaise, planning tagged , , , , , , , , , at 6:52 am by Fat Girl Dancing

It’s been a busy month so far.  I’ve been settling into my temporary home here with another assistant, trying to maintain a balance between living out of my suitcases and unpacking everything when I know I’ll just have to repack it again.  Fortunately I’m able to stay here until at least the beginning of February, so I’ve got some time.  I’ve been keeping up with the apartment search, but it’s so much more difficult here than it is in the States!

I’m primarily searching for roommates, and everyone I apply to has dozens of applicants, so they’re free to pick whom they choose…and it’s not me.  If I were to try for a small studio, I’d most likely find it not furnished — not even with a fridge or a stove! — and I’d need a guarantor, someone here in France willing to put up their last three months paystubs and credit to vouch for me.

I went to change my address, because I still haven’t received my very important CARTE VITALE, and found it was 34 euro just to change my address with the post!  That is one area where the USA definitely wins.  So much for socialism!

France is hard.  I’m not going to lie, in the last few weeks, there were times when I thought about how much easier it would be to give up and just go home.  Yesterday I bought a ticket to see Christophe Maé in concert in June 2010 in La Rochelle, and I’ve got a ticket to see the Mozart musical in April.  I can’t leave, I have concert tickets!

Christophe and Mozart!

Last week I visited the Christmas Market in downtown Bordeaux with a few assistants.  We went Tuesday and Wednesday night.  It’s a beautiful village marketplace set up on the town square with lights and craft shops and HOT SPICED WINE.  It was wonderful the first night, but it started pouring the second night and kind of put and end to the whole evening.  I still haven’t properly shopped through the whole market, since we really just took a fast browse through each store.

Vin chaud

Last Friday I went out to dinner with some French people to the Quebec Music Cafe.  It was way down in Pessac, so I got a ride with someone, which was very nice.  It’s so cool seeing Bordeaux from a car, I see parts of the city I never notice because I’m always on pedestrian or tram streets.  You must go look at their menu, I loved it.  I wanted to eat everything.  I ended up with the “Menu Bistro” which gave me a burger, a poutine, a beer, and a crumble dessert.  I had the three-cheese cheeseburger, the classic poutine, maple syrup beer, and the chocolate-pear crumble.  It was all SOOO GOOD.

Quebec Cafe

OM NOM NOM

One of the guys sitting next to me was excited to try and practice his English, and kept speaking English to me, and then speaking English to the other French people around him.  Eventually one of the women said to him, “She’s here to improve her French, so speak French!”  I didn’t mind him speaking a little English, but I thought it was weird that he would speak English to everyone else.

It’s been quite warm here the last few days — in the low 60s and upper 50s, but we’re about due for a cold snap, in the 40s!  Oh no! 😦

Holidays in Bordeaux

Holidays in Bordeaux

December 2, 2009

Let me explain…

Posted in la vie bordelaise, travailler, travel, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 7:26 am by Fat Girl Dancing

No, there is too much.  Let me sum up.

I’ve not abandoned this blog!  I just got behind and then stressed about catching up and then life went CRAZYGONUTS.

Here’s your November update in a nutshell, and then we can move on to December ^_^

  • Things started getting awkward with my host family when I returned from the Toussaint vacation
  • I came right back to my first bus strike!  I was late and missed my first class, then it took me two hours to get home.
  • I went on my first outing with OnVaSortir, a socializing website for meeting French people.  We went out for cafés.  It was good to get out and meet real French people, but very exhausting to try and keep up with the conversation for several hours!
  • I BOUGHT A BIKE!!  I love my bike.
  • Riding on the streets of Bordeaux is terrifying.
  • I started hanging out more with the other English assistants, which I’ve really enjoyed.
  • I got my hair redyed and trimmed, and it wasn’t a disaster!
  • I spent a beautiful Saturday biking all over Bordeaux and along the river, and then came upon a Pro-choice rally and joined it.
  • I saw “New Moon” in French, and it was still hysterically funny.
  • I picked up a tutoring gig (starts today, actually!)
  • I went out to a bar with some French people, and a French guy bought me a drink!
  • I went to a potluck dinner with other assistants.
  • Things went from awkward to REALLY BAD with my host family really fast 😦
  • I Skyped with my parents on Thanksgiving and watched the Macy’s parade from their kitchen via the internets.  Then I called back around midnight my time to “sit” at the dinner table with everyone.
  • I went to La Rochelle for Thanksgiving weekend with my friends Wes and David.  We made a great feast and had a lot of laughs.
  • I moved out of my host family’s house and into a temporary situation with another assistant.  I’m currently looking for a permanent place to live.
  • And we end November with another transportation strike!  Ahhh, France.

French bike!

Banana creme pie

Banana creme pie

Thanksgiving - French style

Banana creme pie - YUM!Thanksgiving - French style

November 10, 2009

The rain in Spain falls mainly on France

Posted in la vie bordelaise, travailler tagged , , , , , , at 1:10 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

If I could sum up Bordeaux in one word, that word would be: RAIN.  Rain rain rain rain rain.  Rain.

Bordeaux lured me in when I first arrived with 20 or so days of warmth and sunshine and not a drop from the sky.

“This isn’t bad at all!” I thought, as I walked around in tank tops and admired the bright blue skies.

And then….everything changed.

 

It has been raining nearly every day for over a week.  Rain is forecasted for every day into the foreseeable future.  Sometimes I’ll refresh the forecast and they’ll tease me and take the rain out for one day, but then I refresh again five minutes later and it’s back in.  Rain.  Every day.  For the rest. of. my. life.

 

In school news, my students are already eager to talk about Christmas.  I told them there’s another American holiday in between Halloween and Christmas that we’re going to start talking about beginning on Thursday.

I have sung “Where is Thumbkin” 16 times this week, and I’ll sing it 16 more before the end of the week.  They love it.

Yesterday I asked one of my students, in English, “Have you glued it in your notebook already?” and he nodded and showed me, and I smiled and said to him in French “You understood a sentence in English!” and he looked so proud of himself.

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