Saturday, October 23, 2004


I am going to be gone for a few days and I don t know how often I will be able to check my email. Don t worry--as far as I know, I am fine.

Friday, October 22, 2004

October 20-October 22

October 20, 2004

Cranky. I didn’t get dinner until late tonight (why must we eat after 9pm? We can be starving, but no, we must not eat until after 9pm).

N. thinks that I have her French book. The problem is that she offered it to me, and even though I declined, she now has me linked in her mind to her missing French book. I know I don’t have it. I just cleaned my room (an activity of about ten minutes) and it was nowhere. Nada. Null. Nothing. I offered to let her use my French book (in English) but she wants her book.

I get weird vibes from the Russian. I don’t think she likes me.

Some of us went to see Carnets de Voyage today. (I have no clue what the English title it). It is about Ernesto Che Guevara. Of course at the end it had the blurb about the USA CIA killing him. I was sitting between an Argentinean and a Chilean and they were both crying. Meanwhile I’m slumping down in my chair like, “Ummm, sorry?” It was a little awkward for me. Note to self: in the future, don’t see political movies with citizens of countries your government has fucked over. Hmm, that shortens the list dramatically.

October 21, 2004

I’ve been running on a food deficit until tonight. I finally went out and bought a sandwich with meat (meat!). (I also had some chocolate). I am almost starting to feel like I will survive the next few hours (around lunch time I was in serious lack-of-food pain).

I think my room was formerly used as the science class fly farm. There are always at least five flies at any given point in time. And, of course, being flies, they are too stupid to figure out where the window is. I now have a fly cemetery in my trashcan (and on the walls/windows. It’s gross).

So, change to plans. I am not going to Provence for Toussaint. Instead, I am going to go with a bunch of other assistants to Brittany. We are going to rent a car for a couple of days (there are five of us and the car we are getting is the size of a Geo Metro. Then again, they are all really tiny so I’m not too concerned. I figure they can strap my large American ass to the roof). We will get to see Mont-St-Michel, so I’m excited about that. I really want to go and see the Bayeaux tapestry, but I’m the only one interested in that. I may ditch the group for a day so I can go and do that on my own. It is really important to me.

I went to the French Literature class today and saw a film version of Bérénice. I understand it better now, but I’m still a little confused. I was trying to find a synopsis in English on the Internet yesterday, but I couldn’t find anything. Bummer. I guess I will never know. One thing that surprised me about the film version was that the actors really emphasized the rhymes at the ends of the lines. After the movie, the teacher asked me what I thought. I mentioned that the emphasis of the rhyme scheme was unusual to me (through I didn’t put it nearly so eloquently. It was mostly a series of grunts on my part). I explained (or I think I explained) that in English (for example in Shakespeare) actors do not emphasize the rhymes nearly so much. I could have gotten into an awesome discussion about how English poetry makes great use of alliteration and how it is more difficult to rhyme words in English than in French and that this has influenced the development of our poetic sound, but there is no way I could point and grunt my way through that. So I mostly just smile and said, “Oui, c’est très interessant.”

I think I had a breakthrough the other day. Okay, it wasn’t a breakthrough, it was just weird. I actually forgot the English word for something. I don’t remember what it was now, but I must have spent about thirty seconds (a long time when you are trying to recall something you ought to know) thinking about it. Then again, I don’t know if I actually knew the French word or if I was telling myself that I knew the French word so I could excuse my failing brain. (See earlier post on my inability to recall words).

The radiator is no longer working. I think it wore itself out. The shower is still draining really slowly. I thought about buying a couple of condoms to put over my feet, but I think my feet are a little too big.

Where do dust bunnies come from? And why is it that wherever I live, I am hounded by them? [passive voice on purpose] (Hound--Which reminds me: “What, proper fucked?” “Yeah, proper fucked.” I was thinking about that movie today. I love that little scene with the rabbit and the dogs. Dags.) Oh, and I learned that in England, snatch does not carry the same connotations that it does in the US.

Oh! And I got the package from my mommy! I am so happy! She sent me Tears of the Giraffe, A Letter of Mary, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, and An Instance of the Fingerpost. I am already halfway through the first. I love the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels. Natalia wanted to know why I was getting books in English instead of French. I was like, “Because I can read English!” When I make a joke and people laugh, I’m never sure if they are laughing at the joke itself, or at my attempt to make a joke with my really, really crappy French.

Well, back to my book. I will write more later.

October 22, 2004

I must not read so quickly. Or I should get more boring books. This might be a good time to read some of the classics that I have been unable to read thus far (Middlemarch, Ulysses, Anna Karinina, etc.). Yes, I finished Tears of the Giraffe last night. Now I only have three more English books left. I suppose I ought to go back to Flaubert (in French) but it is damn hard. I should go out and buy some French picture books—that is about my level in French.
So, anyway, here is what we plan on visiting in Brittany:
Pointe du Raz (in that area)
Côte d’Emeraude
St Malo

I am going to get on the Internet today and see how much a ticket from Rennes to Bayeux is.

It is amusing how distances are relative. We in the States may not have the same length of time to use as a comparative, but we have the distance thing down. I constantly hear the Europeans talk about how far away everything is here. I’m like, it’s only about two hours by train—what the hell are you all talking about? That and I keep telling them that, for me, the train is ultra cheap here. Even though I’ve explained to them that we don’t have an expansive train system in the US, they still don’t get it. I told them that taking the train and taking an airplane cost about the same and they were shocked. I haven’t told them that the ride from Paris to Grenoble was my first trip on a train. (!)

Well, down to the kitchen to get some breakfast. I counted how many steps it is from my end of the building to the other end (not including the stairs and the time inside the building) and it is about 140—and I take pretty big steps. Plus there are about 70 stair steps and four doors that I have to unlock and relock. Yeesh. It is no wonder that I don’t go down to the kitchen often. That is actually not as good a thing as it seems because it means that I keep snacks (cookies) in my room and eat them instead of getting real food. So no, I’ve not lost any weight since I’ve been here, despite my having to complete a marathon every time I have to go to the kitchen.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Guess what!

It's raining again.

Oh Hell.

Did you confirm the meeting on Thursday with PE2 and Sandrine? Is the dominante list ready? A.

This is the e-mail response I got from the English teacher here. Okay, first of all, she is the English teacher, so she ought to know which students are focusing in English--or at least if the list is ready yet. Secondly, who the hell is Sandrine and why did no one tell me I was supposed to talk to her. Thirdly, this lady knows my French is crap. How the hell am I supposed to ask a question if I can't speak the fucking language?

This is all nonsense. No wonder there is a revolution every ten years here. After about a month of this, I'm ready to launch myself off a barricade.

(By the way, if you have no clue what is going on, read the following travel log for an update. Sorry things are not in chronological order.)

October 15-October 20

October 15, 2004

Well, I think some culture shock has set in. These past few days I’ve just felt annoyed and disgusted by everything. I can’t say that I think everything is better in America, but it seems that these past few days I’ve been more aware of the differences between France and the US. I just keep reminding myself that how I may feel now is not really a reflection of my true feelings about France—it is just a temporary reaction to being in an environment that is so different.

Here are the things that have set me off in the past few days:
Dog poop in the middle of the sidewalks. No, there is no rule that states that people must clean up after their dogs. As a result, there is Dog poop everywhere and one must constantly watch where one is going if one does not want to bring home the smell of fresh shit on one’s shoes.
Pasta every night. The problem with shopping and eating with five other people is that you must conform to the smallest budget—which, in this case, means that we’re spending about a dollar per person each day on food. That means a lot of cheap pasta with butter. Dr Atkins is doing cartwheels in his grave.
The shower. Yes, I’ve replaced the shower curtain, but now there is a new problem—slow drain. That means in the fifteen minutes it takes the water to warm up, the bottom of the shower collects about three inches of cold water. I have to step into this cold, dirty water (I found a coffee stir stick in the shower last week. How fucking weird is that?) with my poor little flip-flop clad feet. Agh. I think the shower has a personal vendetta against me. It’s the only reasonable explanation.
Rain. Yeah, I can hear my parents snickering now. It was actually hailing about five minutes ago. Well, its actually not so much the rain—it’s the odd relationship between the sun and the rain. Right now the sun is shining fiercely. But I know it is only an evil ploy to lure me outside so it can spit out some more wet stuff. Actually, the rain is not so bad, but it is causing me major problems with:
Umbrellas. So far I’ve bought two, and within about ten minutes (three minutes with the first one) they have fallen apart. I’m going to get a staple gun and fix this second umbrella, because I’m damned if I am going to spend any more money on umbrellas.
Living in a school. Need I say more? It is like being in a Drew Barrymore movie, only without the handsome professor. Oh, and there is the fact that French kids are in school for about ten hours a day and that they have school on Saturday and that some of them stay here overnight.

I know that this list makes it seem like I hate everything here and that I am miserable, but that is not the case. I actually wrote this list half-jokingly. It is very tongue in cheek. The other assistants seem to like me. I went for a walk today with Dagmar and we spoke in German. And Natalia is going to give me French lessons. Also, on Monday I am going to sit in on a French literature class in the Lycée. It is also really cheap to go to an opera, ballet, or concert. Even Valence has its own theatre (I don’t know if it is any good, but if it is not, I can always hop on a train to Grenoble or Lyon).

October 19, 2004

Listening to Tracy Chapman now. I got to talk to Mom on AIM—that was cool. I was going to call her tonight, but she has to work all day so I can’t.

I haven’t posted anything to my weblog because there hasn’t been too much to post. So far I am doing nothing. I figure that, in the last two weeks, I have probably put in about five hours of work—and that is if I count the walk to and from the IUFM from where I live.

Official Vacation time:
23 October-3 November
11 November
18 December-2 January
12 February-28 February
28 March

Unofficial Vacation time:
1 October-11 October
15 October-17 October
22 October
10 November-15 November
18 November-22 November
26 November-12 December
6 January-10 January
12 January-17 January
20 January-23 January
27 January-30 January
10 March-27 March

Yeah, so most of those dates include weekends, but this is nuts! Oh, and when I meet with the two PE2 English teachers my first week here, we set up a time on Thursday for me to come to class and meet the PE2 students and introduce myself. Well, I sent an e-mail to one of the teachers and said, “See you Thursday.” She sent me one right back and said, “What’s on Thursday?”

Holy shit.

I know that I have friends and family back in the states who are working their asses off right now and would love to have some of this free time. I know you all are just disgusted with my complaining. And I’m not really complaining—I’m just more perplexed than anything. I mean, if I were paying someone for twelve hours a week, I’d sure as hell be making use of those hours. If I were running a school—If I were in charge of the education of some 200 students—I’d sure as hell be paying attention to what is going on and when it is supposed to happen. Even if I were only in charge of about 25 students, I’d make sure they knew their responsibilities (meeting with me for 10 hours each) and that they knew how to fulfill their responsibilities. It is no good for me to be there if:

No one knows who the hell I am
No one knows they are supposed to meet me
No one knows how to get in touch with me
No one knows what they hell they are supposed to meet me for

If this English teacher gets back to me and says Thursday is off, I think I will make up some flyers for the English Dominantes to pick up that tell them their responsibilities with me and how to get in touch with me. I don’t want to school to turn around and say that I never fulfilled my responsibilities to the school and the French government. Fucking A.

ANYWAY—on to the good and interesting news:
I have been planning my mini-vacation for Toussaint and I’ve decided to visit Provence. I am going to go to: Nimes, Pont du Gard, Arles, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, and Avignon. I am going to try to get to Les Baux-de-Provence and Gordes, but I don’t think the train goes to either of them (In fact, I know that the train doesn’t go to either one because I checked. But I might find a bus or something. I will check at the tourist office.)

Oh, the song I’m listening to just reminded me (Sloop B John)—the British girl was asking me about Grits. She wanted to know what they were made of. I had to admit that I had no idea. So now I’ve asked my dear friend Shari to send me some so I can show everyone why the South lost the Civil War. Grits are nasty.

Now playing—The Deserter, which I think has one of the best lines in a song: “When next I deserted…” Granted, there are certainly reasons why I would like that line more than the next person.

Oh, and I haven’t complained about the shower in a few days. That is because I have seriously cut down on the number of days in a week I shower. Last time I took a shower I put garbage bags on my feet. It was still gross, but at least I could pretend it was less gross.

And it is fucking cold in my room. The school gave me a plug in radiator, which was awesome when it worked (which it did… occasionally. If the room got too cold, it would shut off). Then, one day I returned to my room from somewhere (not work) and it was gone! Now I only have this dinky wall radiator which, when it works, never actually thaws completely. When I woke up this morning I thought I was going to freeze to death. I was huddled under my two wool blankets and cotton sheet, curled into a ball, with the covers pulled over my head. It was awful. Then when I finally got up and dressed (which was at about 13h) and went outside, it was warmer outside than it was in my room. Why the hell is that, no matter where I wind up living, my room is always the coldest? It was that way in every house we lived in in Maryland. When I stay with Mom my room is the coldest (which is lethal in Mom’s house). When I go to the Midwest, the room is stay in is always to coldest. And it is never the coldest before I move in—but once I’ve slept there, it is frigid. I can deal with cold when I have nice, cozy covers on my bed—but these two thin wool blankets (so thin I think the sheep had mange) don’t cut it. Then I go to the kitchen (about a half a km away, usually through the rain) and it is like a sauna. The other assistants have the heat cranked up (well, two of them are from Italy and Argentina, so what do you expect—the Austrian sleeps with her window open), then they put wet clothes on the radiator, then they leave the stove on.

Oh! I just checked my radiator and it is warm. I’m going to go over there and huddle next to it for a few minutes. Bye!

Okay, I’m back. That was nice. I was almost warm for a while

Later—it is evening now. I have just spent the past hour (or so) working on French prepositions so I figure it is time for a break now. The radiator has been warm since this afternoon—warmer than it has ever been. Occasionally I get a faint burning smell—sort of like a fireplace smell. It is not unpleasant, but it did have me going to check the radiator the first few times I smelled it.

Listening to Josquin right now—and I have the laptop on my lap, so I’m actually almost warm.

Another entry into the Deirdre-has-no-pride/is-a-nerd category: I am sitting in on a lycée class. That is the French equivalent of high school—this class would be 10th grade. It is a French literature class and they are reading Racine’s Bérénice. I pretty much have no clue what is going on, but I’m hanging in there. The teacher was talking about the three unities of plays (or whatever they are actually called) but it was cool because I knew what the hell he was talking about (well, we covered it in a lit class). I think the students must think I am a major weird, really slow alien for sitting in on a HS class voluntarily. But I think it is cool. Next class we get to watch a film version of Bérénice with GD—the big-nosed French guy-in the lead role. I’m struggling with the play, but I am trying.

Also, one of the other assistants is giving me French lessons. I have offered her English lessons in return, but I am not sure how interested she is. I think she might have decided that she prefers to learn British English. If she mentions that to me, I will give her my little spiel, but I won’t bring it up. I figure, she knows I’m here and willing if she wants to work on her English.

I was looking in my French guidebook and in some regions of France they only get about 1.5 hours of sun (on average) every day in the winter! My region is supposed to get about 4. That freaked me out, until I looked at Paris (1.5) and Brittany (1.5). No wonder the French never smile. I bet they don’t have a high rate of skin cancer.

I have to do a debate on the stereotype that all Americans are fat. (The English teachers actually told me this when we had our meeting. I saw actually because it was one of the few pieces of specific information that they gave me.) I know that the US has a really high rate of obesity, but I have a theory about this. I believe that we are a nation of extremes. We have really fat people, but we also have really skinny people with eating disorders. I have been looking for rates of eating disorders by country but so far I haven’t found anything. If anyone knows of anything, let me know, okay? I also want to talk about how people have formed the stereotype. It is not from Hollywood and television. Where do you guys think it comes from?

By the way, here is my list of stereotypes of Americans:
All Americans are fat.
All Americans have guns.
All Americans are religious.
All Americans drive SUVs.
Americans do not know anything about other countries.
American women are easy/Americans appear to be prudes, but they are really
Americans are racist.

How is that for a start? I am sure there are many other stereotypes out there that I am forgetting/have not thought of yet. Anyone have anything to add?

October 20, 2004

Well, I’m back. I went out this morning to buy a shoulder bag (une gibecière). Damn, stuff here is expensive. I could have picked one up in the states for about $20—in fact, I wouldn’t have had to buy one because I have about ten scattered in various places. I won’t mention how much this one set me back, but I will say that I bought the cheapest one I found. I’ve decided that when I get back to the states, someone is getting une gibecière, slightly used, for a birthday present.

Jo’s parents (She is the English assistant) are visiting right now. I would like to meet them, but I haven’t seen here since they’ve been here. I figure she is probably staying with them. I think the other assistants a jealous. I’m glad I’m not the first assistant who has a parent come for a visit. I figure they already think I’m a spoiled rich kid (because I sometimes eat meat with my meals).

I’m trying to figure out how little I can pack for about ten days. How often do I need to change my underwear and socks anyway? (I did shower this morning, by the way). How often can I wear the same shirts without starting to reek. And do I look enough like a German that I can get away with it? : )

So I woke up this morning at 5am, sweating like a blanket wrapped pig in a sauna. I’ve been sleeping practically on top of the radiator every night, and last night it must have been on all through the night. And of course I’ve kept it cranked. Hence toasty Deirdre at 5am. Hélas! (See, I’ve learned something from Racine).

Now I just sound like a princess: “It’s too cold. It’s too hot. I’m hungry. I don’t like pasta. The streets are icky.” Yeah, well, I’m a princess. (With a limited vocabulary).

Speaking of limited vocabulary, I wonder sometimes what possibly gave me the idea that I could learn French. I mean, I can barely speak English. I use short words all the time, I constantly can’t find the words I want to use, and I make up new words and phrases (insert word here that means the same as all the time and constantly). See what I mean? Hell, I couldn’t even learn German when I was at the prime language learning age.

I just looked at my guidebook for the average monthly rainfall in the French Alps in October. It is 3.25 inches. But I think it is a mistake. I think that is the average daily rainfall. Because, guess what. It’s raining. Again.

Oh, and it says that the average number of hours the sun shines each day in January is 2. What the fuck? How many hours does it shine in Maryland? Hell, we don’t even bother to measure it. At least we have Le Nord and Picardy, Champagne, Alsace and Lorraine, and Burgundy and the Franche-Comté beat (they only get 1.5). We are even with Paris, Normandy, and Brittany. And we get our asses kicked by The Loire Valley (2.5), Provence and the Côte D’Azur (a whopping 5), Corsica (4.5), Languedoc-Roussillon (4.5), The Pyrenees (3.5), Poitou and Aquitaine (2.5), and Périgord, Gascony, and Quercy (2.5). I think the Argentinean, Italian, and I are going to go crazy.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Valence. Posted by Hello

Looking down into the Parc Jouets in Valence. Posted by Hello

Morning Glory Arches in Parc Jouets in Valence. Posted by Hello

Parc Jouets in Valence. Posted by Hello

(l to r) Natalia (Argentenian), Alessia Posted by Hello

The English Speakers: (l to r) Llean (Welsh), Suzanne (Northern Irish), Joanne (English) Posted by Hello

The other assistants I live with: (l to r) Alessia (Italian), Helene (Russian), Dagmar (Austrian). Posted by Hello

The French Alps across Lac Annecy. Posted by Hello

Why I will never eat sausage again. Posted by Hello

Lots of cowbells (again, Annecy). Posted by Hello

Narrow street in the old section of Annecy. Posted by Hello

Picture of me (!) in Annecy. Posted by Hello

The Palais de l'lle (actually a prison) in Annecy. Posted by Hello

Picture of Annecy, a village in the French Alps. Posted by Hello

October 5-October 12

October 5, 2004

I think I have managed to break the ice with the other assistants. Tonight I went down for dinner and I wore my American Apology Shirt, which my mother was kind enough to buy for me before I left. The Russian was the first to notice because part of my shirt is in Russian. After that all the others saw it and wanted to know why I had to apologize. I dramatically stood up and whirled around. Everyone read the back of the shirt and had a good, angry chuckle. I then explained that my mother had bought it for me, and they all commented on what a wonderful mother I have (thank you, Mommy!).

I feel a bit like Helen Keller must have felt just after she realized that there was a connection between objects and words. For over two years now, I’ve had people telling me how to say things, but I have never had to use any of the information. The language was less real because of this. Now I feel greedy for information. I have so many thoughts, and no way to communicate them to those around me. Lapsing into English is a luxury I try to avoid—and I try to keep those around me from reverting to English when speaking to me. (Unless they speak English really well, in which case it is quicker for everyone if we speak in English.)

Tonight for dinner we had salad, carrots, rice, and tuna. I might have lost some weight at the dinner table, but I have since gained it back (and then some) eating chocolate and coconut candy bars (yes, I admit to the plural). I am still using stress and jet lag as an excuse for everything, though I suppose I ought to give that up pretty soon. Anyway, as far as travel stress in concerned, the Russian has me beat. It took her five days to get from Siberia to France.

Well, Bonne Nuit everyone!

October 7, 2004

What a surprise—I woke up this morning and when I looked out the window I couldn’t see the mountains. It had rained last night—our first rain in Valence—so it is overcast this morning.

Yesterday was one of those depressing days that everyone had warned me about. Even as it was happening, I knew that was what it was. That knowledge makes it a little easier, but it doesn’t take away from the frustration of not being able to communicate. For some reason I was completely unable to understand any French yesterday. The Russian assistant and I went to the bank to open an account, and she had to use her English (it was her second language in University) to explain the proceedings to me. Most of it was information I should have been able to understand in French.

Sometimes it seems like everything I do is wrong: I don’t lock the doors, I do lock the doors, I smile, I don’t smile, I am late, I am early… they are all only little things, but when someone is constantly having to tell you otherwise, it makes me feel like everyone here must believe me to be a complete moron. I start to realize now how much I have prided myself on my ability to catch on quickly. That is all taken away from me while I am here.

BUT! Today is a new day, and I refuse to let yesterday’s frustrations and set-backs influence me today. I am meeting the Russian at 9:30 for breakfast, and then we are going to get insurance for our rooms. This afternoon I am going to work on the IUFM schedule some more and spend some time studying French. The other assistants have promised to check my work so I am going to take advantage of that. They are all very patient with me—they know how difficult it is for me here. I feel (and look) so much younger then them, but we are all about the same age (with the exception of the assistant from England, who is just a child compared to all of us).

I might go somewhere this weekend—maybe down to Avignon. It depends on how much the ticket is and how long it takes me to get there. I just found out that we do not get paid until the end of November, so I have to keep an eye on my finances.

Well, I have a few minutes more before I have to go down to breakfast, so I’m going to read some of I Capture the Castle. I am really enjoying it, and I have to keep myself from reading too much too quickly because it is my last book in English.

Later—Well, I have finished with all the necessary in-French tasks: Bank Account, Lodging, Insurance, Carte de Sejour. Now all I have to do is cross my fingers and hope the smelly hag up in the office is right when she says a pay advance should automatically come through at the end of October. Man, is she stinky. The past few times I have gone up there it has been almost unbearable. Yesterday her hair was greasy and she smelled like B.O. and cigarettes. It was a smell that reminded me of high school—and not in a pleasant way.

My mood has improved and to help give it another boost I am listening to Beethoven’s 9th. I know it is a little obvious, but it does wonders for my mood.

Now I think I will play the Sims for awhile (I am building a giant mall for them), and then I will get to work on my IUFM scheduling.

October 8, 2004

Have I mentioned how much I hate the shower here? It is not just the length of time it takes for the water to warm up—that can almost be seen as quaint. What I hate is the shower curtain. The shower is really small—just one of those square platforms. For some reason, when I get the water warm and go in to take my shower, the curtain insists on blowing in on me and touching me. I can be a little obsessive compulsive (no!) and this is one of those times when it really kicks in. I can’t help but imagine the dirt and grime of a thousand Frenchies clinging to that curtain. I hate having things touch me while I am showering anyway—it is a personal space/personal enjoyment/cleanliness issue. So, I wind up trying to come up with creative ways to prop the shower curtain as far away from me as possible, bringing me to my next reason for hating the shower here:


Which I don’t believe is completely my fault. I blame it on a tiny shower with an aggressive curtain. Anyway, my fault or not, it is I who must humbly and without complaint clean the standing water from the floor after every shower. The floor is the type of filthy institution floor that has never been clean and will never be clean. No matter how much standing water I remove from the floor, it will remain absolutely disgusting. And is there a mop? No, there is only half a rag and a bucket. So now I must, with my almost pristine (remember the shower curtain—I can never be truly pristine when fighting off a clingy curtain) body, sop up the water with the half rag, wring it into the bucket, and dump the bucket into the toilet. Am I still clean after this task? No. And is there anyone around to praise me and give me breakfast? No. (Luckily I have a box of cookies in my room for times such as these. French cookies. Yum.)

October 10, 2004

Well, France is not the place to be if one does not wish to discuss American politics. Yeah, I knew that before I came here, but I was not nearly as well prepared as I ought to have been. It is a lot more complicated than being able to say, “Bush est un idiot.”

Quickly, an irony: The French love Michael Moore. I find it so amusing that they adore this overweight, unfashionable, slovenly American. I mean, how ironic is that? But his books are everywhere. Every bookstore I enter, his books (translated into French) are prominately displayed. So is the 9/11 commission report (which really surprised me the first time I saw it. I figured that surely would only be of interest to Americans.) There are usually ten or so books devoted to American politics in the front of every bookstore. Most portray Bush as the Devil and Kerry as the Savior Angel. But I can understand why the French love Kerry—after all, he can spent his summers in France and he can speak the language.

I do find this view of the two candidates a little simplistic. I keep trying to impress upon those around me that in Europe, as I understand it (which is very little), Kerry would be considered conservative. I also keep telling people that, in my opinion (and the opinions of my more intelligent friends) Bush is only a puppet. He is a convenient poster child for the world’s disgust with America, but his mouth doesn’t move when he speaks. Thus I wind up having to introduce the key players in the current American drama. (I flipped through the French version of Stupid White Men and it looks like Moore does the same thing. I may have to start referring people to that book. I’m just a little reluctant to depend too heavily on Moore because I feel he does delve a little too deeply into propaganda. But, to be honest, it is convenient for me that there is an American that the French don’t hate.)
Ah, American politics. I honestly don’t know what it will be like for me here if Bush wins this next election. Already I feel that I have to try extra hard to make up for the fact that I am an American. For example, one of the other assistants told me that she was not crazy about having to live with an American. Now that she has gotten to know me, she has no problems and she actually likes me. But she has also said that I’m the first American she has meet who is okay. (I’ve heard this sentiment several times already from different people. It is good for me because it means I am doing things “right,” but it is bad for my country overall).

Everyone wants to know why Bush’s approval rating is so high. God, that’s such a hard question to answer, even in English. In French I am merely reduced to a confused shrug and a “Je ne sais pas.” It leaves me wanting to shake some sense into my fellow Americans.

Changing the subject:

Things I wish I had:
my other pair of jeans
Nitty-Gritty Dirt band: Will the Circle Be Unbroken
Really heavy shower curtain (maybe with fishing weights sewn into it?)
More books in English! (I found a PD James book in English yesterday-Ecstasy.)
A movie or two in English—can’t believe how much I miss movies.
A rug

October 12, 2004

I am waiting for the kids to clear out so I can head to the IUFM and get some work done. Isn’t that awful, that I am letting my schedule be dictated be the presence of some French rug rats? (They are actually French teenagers, which, in my opinion, is much worse). I can’t believe that I am living at a school (combination middle school and high school—wow, could it get any more bizarre than that?) But there are several things about living here that I appreciate—most particularity, the lack of rent. But I also really enjoy living with the other assistants.

I bought a new shower curtain! It is a heavy blue plastic. And guess what—it solves the leaky shower problem. What an American solution. The other folks in the hallway were perfectly content with a fabric (yes, fabric. It was like having no shower curtain at all) shower curtain and the mess it left. Then, after every shower, they would mop up the water. Not my ideal solution (obviously). I do believe that I have come up with a better solution. And the curtain is not quite as clingy as the fabric one. It is still a little aggressive, though, so I will have to come up with some way to fix that. Hah! Yea, me! I totally rock.

Well, the bell rang about ten minutes ago but there are still kids hanging around. Some of the bells here seem to have absolutely no meaning. If the kids are in class, the bell obviously lets them out. But if they are not in class, the bell causes no visible response.

Screw it. I have to get to work. I’m going to brave my way out into the—what’s that word I’m looking for? Oh well.

Monday, October 11, 2004

French Forms

Remember that form I filled out twice? I filled it out again last Thursday.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Es ist sehr windig!

October 5, 2004

I have discovered that I am not alone in my corridor. I thought that I was the only person living here. I actually waited three days before coming to this conclusion. I was pretty happy about it because it meant that I had the shower and toilet all to myself and that I could play my music louder.

Alas, this was not to be. I met one of the other inhabitants last night. She was wandering the corridor, waiting for the shower to warm up (it takes a really long time. This morning, for example, I turned on the water then went back to my room to brush my teeth and change into my robe. When I got back, the water was still frigid.) She seems nice, and she said that there is another person who lives in the corridor.

There seem to be students who live here every week. Perhaps they live further away from the school. Last night, all of a sudden, the place was crawling with French high-schoolers. I was walking back to my room in the dark and there were French kids tucked into every nook and cranny. There doesn’t seem to be much by way of adult supervision here. I can imagine American parents having one collective heart attack if their kids were here. Still, I haven’t been shot at yet, so I guess its pretty safe here.

I met with the two of the IUFM English teachers yesterday. Wow, the system is really complicated. I can’t even begin to explain it in English (nor in any other language). I have to meet one-on-one with all the students who have a focus in English. Then I have to arrange small groups of two to three and small debates of seven to eight. I have to keep track of the time everyone spends with me because those with an English focus must have a minimum of ten hours with me. I also have to research and prepare the topics. And I promised the third English teacher that I would help out in her class. Meanwhile, the girl from Argentina is complaining that she has more work than me at the IUFM. Though, to be fair, she got a real bum deal. There are no Spanish students there so she has to spend six hours each week recording cassettes in Spanish. She has my sympathy. I would rather have an organizational challenge than have to sit in a little cubicle droning into a machine.
Valence seems to be really windy. I don’t remember how to say windy in French so I’ve been going around saying Es ist sehr windig. Someone was telling me that Avignon (south of us) is so windy that people have gone mad there. Might explain some of the Popes.

Monday, October 04, 2004

View of the old section of Grenoble. Posted by Hello

Grenoble, France. View from the Bastille. Posted by Hello

Picture of Autrans, France. This is where the assistants in the Grenoble Academie had our orientation. Posted by Hello

This is my room in Valence, France. Pretty cute, n'est pas? Posted by Hello

Travel Log 1

September 30,2004

Well, here I am in Valence, France. I arrived here yesterday on the train from Grenoble. It was running late, so I didn’t get to the Lycee Camille Vernet until 2pm. Everyone here was really nice, and I got shuffled into an office with three women speaking rapid French at the same time. They had me fill out some form, gave me some information to read that I still don’t comprehend, then shuffled me upstairs to another office where I filled out the same forms, spoke in very broken French, and listened to everyone try to figure out where to put me. One older lady, a very no-nonsense type, tried to go through the paperwork with me. Occasionally (actually, quite often) I would not understand something. I would ask her about it and she would say something in rapid French. I wouldn’t be able to comprehend her, so she would say the same thing, only with more words and at the same pace. She eventually gave me a list of things to do: open a bank account, get a carte de sejour, and get insurance for my room.

I spent the next hour sitting downstairs, listening to people walk in and out, chattering away in French. My last impression had been that they had nowhere to house me, so I was starting to get very concerned. I had not eaten since breakfast and I had a little bit of a cold (allergies from Autrans, I think. Almost everyone else up there who was from North America seemed to get the same thing). I considered crying a couple of times, and almost did, but I held it in. At one point another assistant from American came in to see if the school could help her find housing. I spoke to her a bit and found out that she had been living in a hotel for the past week at a cost of 27Euros a night. This was something I did not want to have to resort to, but I told myself that if I had to do it, I could and I would. Anyway, the main guy in charge approached me and explained to me that they did have a room for me but that it had just been painted. They needed to put me in the Russian’s room for a night so the paint could dry. I felt so relieved, and I really wish that he had explained all that to me earlier so I might have been spared the hour of sheer agony of thinking that I no longer had a place to live and that I would have to find something on my own with my crappy French.

I dropped my stuff off in the room, and then went back to the office. Tori, the other assistant from American, had returned and we decided to go to my IUFM together (the place where I will be teaching). We walked there and I went up to the front desk and told the secretary who I was. She told me to wait so she could go and get the Directeur. Tori and I sat down and talked (in English!) until the Directeur came. He was a balding, skinny man who looked absolutely frantic and nervous. We all went into his office and he kept shuffling papers, opening folders and binders then closing them again, and changing pencils. He finally explained to me that the students I would be teaching (upper level) would not be in the classroom for the next two weeks. He said that I would therefore be working with the lower level. I said that that was fine by me. He then called one of the English teachers, had a rapid conversation with her, then handed me the phone. I would up taking to a woman with a pretty think Italian accent in English. She said they she would set up an appointment for me to meet two of the English teachers next week. I asked her what I should do tomorrow and she said that the third English teacher was teaching a class and that I could go to that. So, fine. After he hung up, the Directeur called the third English teacher and told her that I would be attending her class tomorrow. She then informed him that she was not having class tomorrow and that she would not be back to school until the next Friday. So I basically had the day off. Then the Directeur showed me the library and the internet area, and left me with the Audio-Visual lady, who answered my questions—provided they weren’t too complicated or technological.

After presenting myself to the IUFM, Tori and I went to McDonalds. The fries were really good—just like the states. The burger was really bad—again, just like the states. The floors were sticky and the trashcans overflowing. It was like being back in Maryland, or maybe Baltimore because everyone around me was speaking in some incomprehensible language.

Tori and I then parted ways and I went back towards the Lycee, intending to go straight back and sleep. That was until I saw the bookstore. It was three levels of books. It even contained about ten books in English (about three of which I had already read—not bad odds, especially considering that I was an English Literature Major in University).

I eventually made it back to my room (only because things close early in Valence). When I got there, I spied a note from the other assistants that they were in the kitchen. I used my crappy to French to follow the directions (it only took me a few wrong turns before I got there). All the other assistants were there: the English assistant from England, the German assistant, the Spanish assistant, and the Italian assistant. I stayed for a few minutes, and then headed back to my room to curl up with a book and then get some sleep.

I had only been lying in bed reading for a few minutes when something above my caught my eye. I got out of bed to get a better look. It looked like a giant piece of brown fuzz hanging above my bed. Brown fuzz with legs. Brown fuzz with one, two, three, four… eight legs. Brown fuzz that, until I had gotten out of bed, had been hanging right above my head. I elped a little, quiet elp, then moved the bed out of the way. At that moment I heard the other English assistant in the hallway. I called to her, then fumbled for the key to my door, all the while keeping and eye and a half on the giant spider that was about to snack on my brains. The other assistant came in and I pointed out the giant blight on the wall to her to see if she came to the same conclusion that I had a few minutes earlier. She did.

“Have you a glass?” she asked.

“No, but I do have a shoe with a thick heel,” I said. I got my shoe out and, heart pounding, pulled the chair under the spider. I hesitated.

“Would you like me to squish it for you,” the wonderful English assistant asked.

“Um, yes. That is, if you don’t mind doing it. I’m kind of afraid, deathly afraid, of these things and um…”

“That’s fine.” She breezed, and she took over possession of the shoe. The spider attempted an escape (but it really didn’t try very hard. It only moved about five inches from the original target) but the other assistant got him.

I left my bed in the center of the room and went to sleep.

OCTOBER 1, 2004

I got out of bed at the early hour of 9am and decided to get out of the room and into my room. I didn’t even bother to shower—I just walked up to the office and asked if I could have my keys. No. They either didn’t know where they were, the paint was still drying, or the person who had then was not around. I’m pretty sure it was one of those three options. Anyway, they told me to come back 1600hrs (4pm). As I was trying to figure out the key situation, the older women from the second floor wanted to know if I had my insurance yet. No, but I assured her that I was going to work on getting it today. So I was sans chambre for the next six hours. Fine, that would give me time to open a bank account, visit the prefecture, and get insurance.

I set out with my heavy laptop bag and headed west to the center of town. I passed by one bank, but I had been told by another assistant that Credit Agricole did not require a Carte de Sejour. I finally spotted a Credit Agricole and attempted to push the button to let myself in. There is some odd system on certain doors in France where you push a button and then the door unlatches. It is not that someone buzzes you in, it’s that you buzz yourself in. I mean, what is the point? What possible protection can that system provide?

I waited in line and when it was my turn I asked the lady if I could open an account. Not possible. Not possible? No, the \bank is closing tomorrow? Closing? Yes, for good. For good? Like, forever? Yes, forever. Well, okay, but was there another one? Yes. Where was it? Could I open an account there? Yes, if I had an appointment. Could I make an appointment here? Yes. What would I need to open an account?, etc.

I finally got it all sorted out and made an appointment for next Thursday. Then I meandered further into town. I found my way to the Prefecture, entered the building, looked around for the guards who would surely want to look in my bag and make me walk through a metal detector. I mean, this was a government building. Surely they had security? Nope. Just a door and several long lines. Fine, so it was going to be like going to the DMV. I could handle that. I waited in the wrong line for about then minutes, and was then directed to the desk on the other side of the building that had a large sign: Affaires des Etrangers. Right. It was about fifteen minutes before the start of lunch so the woman behind the desk tried to get my stuff as quickly as possible. She wound up with a stack of copies topped with four passport photos (I was surprised that I actually had everything that she needed and that the passport photos were the correct size and color!)

I left the Prefecture and wandered around looking for a place to eat. I passed by an Insurance company but it was closed for lunch (Closed! For lunch! How Quaint!). I bought a chicken curry sandwich for lunch and hunkered down on a park bench.

After a quick trip to the tourism office, I returned to the Lycee and here I am, composing the minute details of my first full day in Valence. I still haven’t had time to look around the old part of town. I will probably do that tomorrow. I think there is a festival somewhere- -I shall have to trouver le festival!

Sunday, October 3, 2004

Living with five other assistants is kind of like being on a TV reality show. Only it’s a lot more interesting and there is less trauma. So far everyone is remaining true to her respective stereotype. (Except the English girl doesn’t have bad teeth.) The German assistant is in charge of keeping track of everything (finances). She is from Austria, but I suppose the orderly stereotype holds true for most German speaking people. I mean, with a language like that, you have to be a little obsessive compulsive. The Russian girl is from Siberia and she is way skinny. Tonight for dinner she ate a salad—excuse me, a plate of lettuce--and a slice of bread (no butter or salad dressing). She looked like that was the most she had ever eaten in a single meal. The Spanish assistant, from Argentina, spent the entire time on the phone, speaking loudly and gesturing. The other English assistant and I had grilled cheese sandwiches (heavy on the butter, cheese, and ham).

Tomorrow I am going in to the IUFM to meet two of the English teachers there. One of them is from Italy and the other is from Canada (I think). I’m going to try to do some laundry in the morning and maybe go out and buy a cell phone (I was talking to Mom on the phone tonight and called it a mobile. She accused me of hanging out with the Brits too much).

Last night I was talking to the other English assistant here (Jo) and a Northern Irish assistant. We decided that we were going to try to take a trip every weekend. We are each going to come up with a place that is within about an hour of us, write the name down on a piece of paper, and draw the paper out of a hat. I think it is a wonderful idea. I am going to have to eat a lot less if I want to be able to afford the trips. But I think it is worth it. Who knows. Maybe after six months I will be able to fit into French clothes. I can just eat the same stuff as the Russian girl. (But I bet she could really put it away if she tried.)