Monday, October 04, 2004

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.)


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