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.

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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!

January 5, 2010

La rentrée

Posted in travailler tagged , , at 4:20 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

After two delightful weeks off, it’s back to work week.  I had three classes yesterday and a full five classes today.  I was surprised at how agitated the kids are!  You’d think, after such a long vacation, they’d have it all out of their system.  One teacher told me “They got used to talking during the vacation and now they can’t stop.”

It’s our normal classroom routine to sing one song at the very beginning of class, one active song after we go through our daily questions (how are you, how’s the weather, what day is it), and one closing song.  I decided to change the beginning song and active song, because I assumed the kids were getting sick of the old ones.  I know I was.  After six or seven weeks of “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” I was no longer happy, and I knew it.

My classes yesterday were so disappointed not to be doing “If You’re Happy and You Know It!”  They told me it was very ‘not cool’ that I’d switched the songs out.  I’m going to make them do the new song for a few more weeks until they know it, but then I might bring IYHaYKI back, or at least pull it out if we’re running long on time.

They’re all begging me to do the Reindeer Hokey Pokey again, even though I explained that we only played that as a Christmas game.

I began reading my classes “Where the Wild Things Are,” which they all call Max et les maximonstres, since that’s how it was translated here.  They will not be quiet, even when I’m reading to them!  Some of them are aw-ing about how cool the pictures are, some of them are trying to figure out what’s going on, some of them are complaining they don’t understand, and some of them are giving a running translation because they’ve memorized the book.

It’s a never-ending challenge, but it’s still worth it to hear them say “Coucou, Penny!” and come running up to me to give me a hug and a picture they’ve drawn for me.

January 3, 2010

Happy New Year!!

Posted in travel tagged , , , , , , at 5:41 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

Happy 2010!  I’ve now completed three and a half months of living abroad.  It’s been very trying sometimes, but I’ve really enjoyed it.

I spent the New Year’s weekend with my good friends from Ohio who are also assistants.  We met in Angers (where none of us live) because David had studied there last year and knew of some parties and a place to stay.

I left  Bordeaux on the morning of the 31st, and as the train was crossing over the Garonne, I saw a beautiful rainbow hanging over the city. It has to be a sign of better things to come.

David’s friend picked us up in downtown Angers and drove us out to his house for the party.  We spent the evening with his friends and his (American) girlfriend, talking, drinking and eating.  Apparently it’s a tradition for the reveillon to eat and drink as much as possible.  We had raclette for dinner, and they kept trying to force more and more cheese on me!  “Eat, eat!” I was told.  “It’s the New Year!”  (I was only able to eat potatoes and cheese for the raclette, as everything else offered was pork.  But I did try cavier earlier at the party, and it was pretty good!)

Much merriment and festivating was had, and at midnight we all went outside to watch neighbors shoot of fireworks.  The French sang the Marseilles and David and Wes sang the Star-Spangled Banner.

David wanted to stay up and watch the ball drop in New York at 6am, even though he’d been traveling since the 30th and awake for nearly 40 hours.  We tried, but we just couldn’t last.  I fell asleep around 5-ish and woke up briefly to hear Ryan Seacrest say it was now 2010 in the US.

Friday and Saturday we explored the city of Angers.  David loved living here and was happy to show us all his old haunts (even though it was hard to find many of them open on the national holiday of New Year’s Day).    We went bowling, and I played miserably, not even breaking 50!  I think the lane was at a slant…

Cointreau is the official liquer of Angers, since it’s produced there, and it was offered in lots of drinks.  I had a great (decaf) coffee drink with Cointreau and whipped creme!

Cafe Angevin

All the partying and tourism is just too much for poor David!

Oh, David!

Friday night David’s former host family had left us more raclette, but since I would just be having potatoes and cheese again, we ate a little of it and then picked up a few pizzas and spent the evening watching a movie.

We had nutella crepes for breakfast on Saturday.  Wes had to leave, but David and I got changed and ready to go out clubbing with another friend of his.  We had some good conversations and I had a GREAT tuna and shrimp panini at his favorite panini shop.

We went to a few clubs and did a lot of dancing, before I started to get a terrible headache around 2am and had to cut the evening short.  Despite that, I had a great time in Angers, and I’m glad I got to ring in the New Year in France with my friends!!

Angers

Back to teaching tomorrow…I hope I can remember how!

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 15, 2009

Toussaint vacances part 2

Posted in travel tagged , , , , , at 5:25 am by Fat Girl Dancing

I’ve been so tired this week, so my blogging has slacked. *kicks self in the butt* Get back to it!

You may remember I went on vacation what now feels like a million years ago. The first post is here. The second post is the one you’re reading now 😮 It’s all meta and shit!

Part II

When David and I woke up on Friday, his roommates were already gone, having left on an early train for Paris where they were spending the next four days. David made us a Spanish-style omelette (tortilla) for breakfast.

1030_davidomeletteAfter showering and getting dressed, we set off to explore the town of Vitré more thoroughly.

By the time we got to town it was nearly 2pm, so we sat at a Creperie and had dessert crepes. We like to eat dessert before our meals. I had chocolate and banana, of course, and David had caramel and butter.

Then it was exploring time! We started with the castle. We each bought a ticket to the museum that would allow us inside to explore the castle and would also allow us free entry to four other museums in the area. I was hoping to get to see Madame de Sevigné’s house, since I did a report on her a few years ago, but it was just too far away and there wasn’t enough time.

1030_chateauvitre1

David in the chateau

1030_chateauvitre5

Weird statue-thing

1030_chateauvitre8

Where's David?

Mostly the castle was a museum for different paintings and tapestries, but it was still interesting to walk through. There was one turret that was swarming with flies crawling all over the windows — it was seriously creeping me out. Then there was a death room: dead insects, dead animals and even a dead baby skeleton. That was when the tour was over. WEIRD, Vitré.

We walked around to find the other museum that was close that we could get into when our friend Wes texted us that he’d gotten his pay advance and he could come up Sunday maybe. We called him and convinced him that he needed to come up tomorrow because it was Halloween and he should spend as much time as possible with us.

The other museum turned out to be a disappointment. It was a tiny catholic church with gorgeous stained glass, but they didn’t allow photography and the rest of the “museum” part was catholic relics from the 20th century.

We walked around the town some more….there was a lot of walking. We decided to finally have a late lunch — it was nearing 5pm by this point. We went into a bar and ordered steak haché with fries — the first time I’d had fries since Paris. The bartender made a point to tell us he only served us the food because we were Americans, normally he didn’t serve food at that time.

After eating, we walked through the local park.

1030_vitrejardin1

Butterflies

I climbed trees.

1030_vitrejardin4

Lots of low trees - great for climbing!

And then we walked to the grocery to get fixin’s for dinner before they closed at 7:30. We spent a looooong time in the store (it’s like a Meijer) because David kept remembering things he needed. We were going to make tacos, but they only had fajita seasonings. So we bought it.

We got home, and I cooked everything. It felt nice; it was my first time cooking in France.

1030_tacos

Taco salad in France

Our little taco salads were actually quite delicious!

David wanted to go out dancing that night at a club that didn’t even open until midnight, so I took a nap about 10pm. He woke me at 1am, and we went to the club. It was small but nice, and we drank and danced and talked with French people in the smoking area outside while he smoked. We stayed until nearly 4am and then staggered home, where we watched an episode of 30 Rock and then I passed out from exhaustion.

We slept until nearly noon the next day and then showered fast, ran into town, grabbed food for lunch from the market in town and arrived at the train station just as Wes’s train was pulling in.

We walked him back to David’s apartment and had lunch. We took a late train into Rennes and explored a little more of this big town (but not as big as Bordeaux ;-p). David bought a Brittany (Bretagne) flag he’d been wanting from a stall at an open-air market and I bought a great pair of earrings. We went back to that same bar we’d had trouble finding Thursday night and had cafés.

1031_rennes3

David and Wes

We kept seeing little kids in costumes wandering around, and I remembered that in France kids don’t trick-or-treat from door-to-door but from shop-to-shop! They would go into any candy store or patisserie or grocery store and beg for treats. It was adorable. I tried to get pictures but couldn’t without looking stalkerish.

We decided Wes needed to try gallettes, so we sat down at a gallette place for dinner. I had the same type as Thursday, but it was just as good!

1031_rennes5

Halloween light display

Vitré at night was just gorgeous.

1031_vitre

Vitré at night

The boys changed their clothes to get ready to go out to the club, but I hadn’t really brought any “club wear” since I was trying to pack lightly, so I caught up on some things on the internet.

1031_wes_penny

Wes and me

1031_penny

Me

We stayed for maybe an hour and a half before David saw some of his students! He felt uncomfortable being in a party-type situation around them, so we left.

We came back, watched some more 30 Rock, and fell ASLEEP.

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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