Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Still Alive.

Hey everyone. I'm still alive. I have spent the past week traveling and exploring. I will post my adventures later. Mom and I had a good visit--it was really nice to see her again. Tomorrow I am going to Lyon to meet up with Anaid, then we are heading back to Valence so she can stay the night. Tonight I am going to Yoga with Jo and Llian, then Jo and I are going folk dancing. Sunday I think I am going to go skiing. In the French Alps. Try not to be too jealous.

I just read on Bill's Blog that the Ontario Renaissance Festival is no more. It is a disconcerting piece of information. I wonder if this has anything to do with the relationship between the US dollar and the Canadian dollar.

I went to Flunch last night with Jo and Llian. Jo and I had a nice little bitch-fest on the way there. We complained about Queen Bee. More on that later. Right now I will just say that it has to do with some particularity bitter butter.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The French shower. Posted by Hello

Okay, so it's not from France--but it's cool. Can you (1) find me and (2)guess what age I am? Posted by Hello

November 12-November 16

November 12, 2004

Something that always makes me happy:

Song of Myself
Walt Whitman

And what I assume you shall assume;
For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my Soul;
I lean and loafe at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass.

Houses and rooms are full of perfumes—the shelves are crowded with perfumes;
I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it;
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.

The atmosphere is not a perfume—it has no taste of the distillation—it is odorless;
It is for my mouth forever—I am in love with it;
I will go to the bank by the wood, and become undisguised and naked;
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.

There is more, of course, and I may post some more later. But the first line always cheers me up when I am disgusted with the world. I read about people first discovering Shakespeare—I never felt that impressed by the Bard. I mean, I enjoy his stuff—some of it—but it doesn’t change my mood. Song of Myself does. I wish I had known about it when I was in the military (instead I was reading The Bell Jar and Kafka). When people piss me off and get me down, I just have to think of the first line of Whitman and—BAM—I feel better.

Other things that relax me or make me feel better:

Silent Night—the line “all is calm”

Jane Eyre—the line “Reader, I married him.” (Yeah, I know, totally irrational. It just makes me smile.)

Kubla Kahn—the lines “In Xanadu did Kubla Kahn/A stately pleasure dome decree/ Where Alph the sacred river ran/Through caverns measureless to man/Down to a sunless sea.” (I always call the sacred river Ralph. No one ever catches it.)

November 13, 2004

Wow, another evening wasted watching the ever-exhilarating Star Academy. I think I have previously made reference to this show but I will refresh everyone’s memory. This is truly something that can only exist on the Continent. It is a combination of American Idol, Big Brother, Survivor, Star Search, and American Bandstand. It is on every night (and sometimes during the day) and every Friday night (except last night because it was moved to tonight—a big Domino tournament took its place) for about three hours. I think back on it and realize that there is no way I can capture it for the uninitiated. There is a group of young adults, not particularly talented in any way, who live together and undergo training. Every week someone is voted out. But the characters! One of the teachers is a woman in her forties who is, as my British friends say, and absolute slapper—that is to say, a tart. I have to find a picture on the internet. The announcer is a man who wears foundation that is about five shades too orange for him. One of the guys in the Star Academy wears tight white shirts and looks like a sausage. One of the girls is about three feet tall and looks rode hard and put away wet (which I had to explain to the Brits.) By the way, her name is Hoda so I’ve got a new saying now: “Hoda down ‘n hose ‘er off” which makes the Brits laugh hysterically every time I say it. One of the other guys goes around kissing everyone—and I mean everyone!

Tonight on the show there was a number that had costumes made out of newspapers—with the guys in long, black skirts decorated with newspapers. There was a hoop dance where the guys were put in short, silver skirts. I swear I have spent the last three hours laughing so hard I was crying. We (the Brits and I) are talking about going up to Paris and watching one of the shows—but I figure we would probably get ourselves kicked out! The French take this very seriously. The other assistants don’t find the show nearly as amusing as us English speakers do. Ah, I do love a good British sense of humor. I wish I could tape these shows and send them back to my friends in the states.

November 14, 2004

Things that can obviously only happen in Valence, France: wind warnings. No storm, no rain, nothing but wind. And what a wind! Everyone was warned—several times—to stay inside today because the wind was going to be so bad. I think the trees at Camille Vernet are going to lean south for the rest of their lives. The wind was worse last night. When I woke up this morning there were branches everywhere. It was hard to get to sleep last night because everything in this building rattles. There is something that thuds loudly—it is like a door slamming open and shut. I have tried to locate it several times, but wherever I go, the noise seems to come from somewhere else.

I was going to sit in on a German class tomorrow (Dagmar is going to teach a Russian Au Pair how to speak German) but I have to go to an English class instead. Bummer. I already know how to speak English! I won’t even get to teach the class. But, seeing as how I complained about having nothing to do, I need to go.

Oh! And I think I didn’t write anything about the meeting Wednesday! All the Academie de Grenoble assistants were there and we all had to introduce ourselves and say what we do, so I said, “Je m’appelle Justine, j’habite a Valence, et je ne travaille pas.” Everyone in the room started laughing and the guy in the front looked dismayed and said, “Pas de tout?” And so I said, “Pas de tout.” (English translation: “My name is Justine, I live in Valence, and I don’t work.” “ Not at all?” “Not at all.”)

Anyway, after the meeting, one of the English teachers at the Valence IUFM (Ariane, for those of you who remember my post a few weeks ago) offered to let me come to her Primary school and help out. I, not wanting to seem ungrateful, refrained from giving my usual response when someone suggests that I work with children (which generally questions the sanity to the speaker and involves a few choice phrases describing my feeling about hell-spawn in general) and responded with, “Yes, I’d like to come to your class. It would be quite interesting.”


Yes, I know, I know. Maybe I can display my complete ineptitude with the young and she will relieve me of this obligation. Or maybe I can just… Hmm, I wonder what one would have to do to get kicked out of a French elementary school.

A couple of the other assistants are now telling me that I will love it—that they had friends who didn’t want to teach kids but who were assigned the Primary group and now they love teaching kids. But see, if I had been assigned children, I would simply have written a letter saying, “Thank you, I would love to come and visit your beautiful country, but you don’t want me around your children. Trust me. No one would benefit from the match. Good-bye.”

Well, back to Racine and Berenice.

November 15, 2004

Well, introduced the Brits to grits tonight—interesting combination. It lead to all sorts of grituitous humor. It was Llean, Jo, and Jo’s boyfriend Tom. Jo had been asking about grits so I asked Shari to send some to me. So Shari sent this huge container of grits (I was expecting maybe a packet or two of instant grits, but no—if it is to be done, then Shari does it right!) I put in one cup of water and three tablespoons of grits. The Brits hovered over me, fascinated. They were completely unconvinced that I had the proper amount of grits in the pot—they kept suggesting that I add more. At one point I had to chase them away from the stove because they kept lifting up the lid to look at the grits. I only made one serving because I knew they would just want a taste. I plopped the bowl of grits down in front of Jo along with the biggest spoon I could find. She looked absolutely appalled and barely dipped the spoon into the grits. She got it up to her mouth, then said, “it looks like sperm,” then put it in her mouth, almost blowing it out her nose she was laughing so hard. Then it was Llean’s turn. She also took a little taste on her spoon, and made a face when she put it in her mouth. “It’s awful!” she exclaimed.

“Hey, now! That’s my heritage you’re insulting,” I replied.

“Do you suppose Bush eats grits every morning?” Jo asked.

“Probably,” I said.

Then it was on to Tom. He got himself a huge spoonful… then poured most of it back into the bowl. “It’s not that bad,” he said, “it just has no taste. You need to add something to it.”

Then it was my turn. I’ve only had grits maybe once in my life—when I was in the Army—so I didn’t have any positive memories about the stuff. I was about to eat my spoonful when Jo said, “What are you afraid of—it’s your heritage, remember? It’s like eating a big bowl of Bush.” That reduced us to hysterics for several minutes.

It was all downhill from there, Jo leading the way. She told us to “grit stuffed” and started singing the song “I feel gritty, oh so gritty” and when we started groaning told us to “stop gritisizing” her. Then Tom started singing, “Goodness gracious, grit balls of fire.” And that point, Jo informed us that it was time to “grit going” so we could “grit to sleep.”

Yea, grits! Yea, Shari (who sent the grits).

November 16, 2004

Here’s a little something for your reading enjoyment. This actually happened (!) to me (!!) about three or four years ago. I have taken some artistic liberties—the roommate is my Dad, and he wasn’t using a flashlight—he had a small lamp he was using. Everything else is true. Enjoy.

I love Halloween. It is my favorite holiday of the year--better than Christmas, the Fourth of July, and certainly Valentine’s Day. From August on through October I consider my costume. I begin buying bits and pieces early, much as most people do Christmas shopping months before the actual date. This Halloween, however, I approach with some trepidation. It was only one year ago that I had my faith in this, as the ultimate day of days, shaken.

A week before the Halloween in question occurred I asked my roommate what costume he was going to wear. He informed me that he did not enjoy Halloween and was planning on bolting the doors to celebrate the precious evening. Nonsense, I thought, mentally running through a checklist of decoration and candy. I remembered the darkened houses from my trick-or-treating days. My sister and I would always race past them, never able to comprehend why anyone would not enjoy this sacred holiday.

The night before Halloween I prepared my costume, trying it on in pure high school prom sentiment. Everything fit and was sewn together perfectly. I had the extra rubber bands and gel required for my elaborate hairdo. I even had matching shoes.

The day of Halloween I awoke early, even though I had not slept well through my excitement. I prepared my costume, skipping breakfast to finish putting on the necessary touches. Then I was off to work.

I was dismayed, upon reaching work, to realize that no one had dressed up. Never mind! I was the belle of the ball. Everyone admired my costume and lamented their decision to ignore the special day.

My elation lasted until, on my drive home, I realized that I had forgotten to buy Halloween candy. As part of my latest scheme to lose weight, I had decided to wait until the last minute to buy the little sugary confections that children love. Unfortunately, the last minute happened to be the end of the month, when my bank account was completely depleted.
Never mind, I thought to myself, remembering that I had a stash of special German chocolate eggs. Although they were unavailable in the United States, I decided that I could bear to part with them, knowing that they would keep children from the disappointment that would arise upon their reaching a darkened house.

When I entered my house I was surprised to find it completely dark. I was expecting the porch light and living room light to be turned off, but the entire house was black. I became concerned and knocked on my roommate’s door. He answered, so I entered the door, only to see him crouched in a chair reading a book by flashlight.

I left him to his solitude and hurried about, preparing things for the trick-or-treaters. My costume, though magnificent, was uncomfortable, so I changed into an ankle length skirt and an orange and black sweatshirt. I also removed my elaborate hairdo, replacing it with a more conservative ponytail.

The first knock! I rushed to the door and flung it open. It was a mother with her four children, aged five to twelve. I presented the candy, explaining that it was from Germany and that it had a toy inside. The children, apparently uninterested, pushed their bags towards me in impatience. I, although slightly annoyed that they did not understand the magnitude of my gift, remained calm, forcing myself to remember the excitement and impatience that I had felt as a trick-or-treater. I ceremonially dropped one egg into each bag, and the children, with their mother, rushed to the next house. Except one.

“Hey! You from Germany?” He asked.

“No,” I replied and was about to explain the story behind my acquisition of the eggs when he continued.

“I’m from Great Britain.”

Right. “Ah ha.” I replied, unwilling to call him a liar.

“You wanna hook up?”


I cannot adequately describe the look on my face. My eyes widened, my jaw dropped, and I looked down at him. More impossible to describe, however, would be the slow movement of thoughts through my head. I very slowly mentally checked his age, which I placed at about twelve. Although the pause was sufficient for deeper thought and, more importantly, some comment on my part, my brain failed to process the situation quickly enough for me to understand anything more than his age and his impertinence.

“Uh, just kidding,” he mumbled and re-joined his mother.

I shut and locked the door, then looked out the window. When I was sure that he and his family had moved on, I turned out the porch light and the living room light. I flounced up to my roommate’s room and related the recent events to him, ending with the statement, “I am so over Halloween.” I then retired to my room with a book and a flashlight, and spent the remainder of the evening in solitude.

Yes, it is true. I had a twelve-year-old hit on me. It is probably one of the more disturbing experiences in my life. Army? Not even close.

Anyway, does anyone remember the name of the movie—a spoof history movie—that has the line, “Oedipus! Motherfucka!” in it? Damned if I can remember, but for some reason I occasionally think of this line when I am walking the streets of France and it always causes me to smile—which means that anyone who sees me can peg me for the American that I am. (Notes—the profanity was necessary and in deference to my Canadian friends who point out that they are technically Americans too, I suggest we start using the word ‘Merican to describe people from the USA. Thoughts, guys?)

Have I mentioned that one must pay for a library card here in France? I was expressing disgust to some French folks after hearing this, but then they were like, “What the hell are you upset about? Our health care is cheaper than yours.” So I was just like, “okay, you have a point.” Still, I can’t get over the shock of having to pay 30 Euros for a year membership to the Library. Yeah, I know I’m on the French health care system now, but there is something so against my ‘Mericanness about paying for a library card… wow. Yeah, someone may not have health care or electricity, but damnit don’t touch their free library privileges! (By the way, because it is hard to tell on the internet, a lot of that was irony. I’m not going to tell you which parts, however. You have to figure it out on your own.)


More Whitman:
(from Song of Myself)

I think I will do nothing now but listen,
To accrue what I hear into myself—to let sounds contribute toward me.
I hear bravuras of birds, bustle of growing wheat, gossip of flames, clack of sticks cooking my meals;
I hear the sound I love, the sound of the human voice;
I hear all sounds running together, combined, fused or following;

Sounds of the city, and sounds out of the city—sounds of the day and night;
Talkative young ones to those that like them—the loud laugh of work-people at their meals;
The angry base of disjointed friendship—the faint tones of the sick;
The judge with hands tight to the desk, his pallid lips pronouncing a death-sentence;
The heave’e’yo of stevedores unlading ships by the wharves—the refrain of the anchor-lifters;
The ring of alarm-bells—the cry of fire—the whirr of swift-streaking engines and hose-carts, with premonitory tinkles, and color’d lights;
The steam-whistle—the solid roll of the train of approaching cars;
The slow-march play’d at the head of the association, marching two and two,
(They go to guard some corpse—the flag-tops are draped with black muslin.)

I hear the violoncello (’tis the young man’s heart’s complaint;)
I hear the key’d cornet—it glides quickly in through my ears;
It shakes mad-sweet pangs through my belly and breast.

I hear the chorus—it is a grand opera;
Ah, this indeed is music! This suits me.
A tenor large and fresh as the creation fills me;
The orbic flex of his mouth is pouring and filling me full.

I hear the train’d soprano—(what work, with hers, is this?)
The orchestra whirls me wider than Uranus flies;
It wrenches such ardors from me, I did not know I possess’d them;
It sails me—I dab with bare feet—they are lick’d by the indolent waves;
I am exposed, cut by bitter and angry hail—I lose my breath,
Steep’d amid honey’d morphine, my windpipe throttled in fakes of death;
At length let up again to feel the puzzle of puzzles,
And that we call BEING.

AH! I wish I could write like that! How awesome is that? See, now I am happy again. Not that I was unhappy before, but some Whitman just clinches the deal. That and some good music—Tracy Chapman’s “Give me one Reason.” (Which is just about the only Chapman song that doesn’t make one want to burst into tears.)

Doing laundry now. I wash most of my stuff in the sink then hang it over the radiator to dry. It is either this or truck down to the laundry-mat and pay way too much money for machines that do not work too well. (Damn this MS Word! Who the hell programmed the grammar check—an thirteen year old ESL student from rural Asia?) Anyway, the problem with doing my laundry now is that I do not have any warm water in the evening. I would do it in the morning, but that would mean I have to wake up before 8am—not happening. If the sun is not up, I’m not up. And here in France, the sun comes up around 9am and sets at 5pm. Not that we actually see much of the sun when it is in the sky. One of the French IUFM students today was telling me that she watched a tv show that took place in or around where I come from and that it rains all the time there. I was like, hell no. I think she was getting Washington state and Washington DC confused. (I tell the students that I come from Maryland, which is near Washington DC.)

Oh! And how’s this for the political knowledge of the average French middle school student? After this last US election, the students asked Jo what Bush's re-election meant for Blair’s re-election bid. Now, how many US middle school students know who Blair is? And how many Americans (in general) know when the next British election is? But, on the flip side, I’m glad I’m not a French student—they all have to study philosophy. I hate philosophy. Well, not hate it—I’m just not interested and I consider it irrelevant. I’d be like, screw your Descartes, I’m taking a nap. But then again, I never would have made it that far in French schools; I would have been weeded out by age ten and sent to a trade school. They are harsh on their kids here.

And for those of you on the other side of the fence...


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Just damn funny... and weird.

Check this out:


The weird things my Canadian friends send me... Posted by Hello

Because it's funny... and sad. Posted by Hello


I looked for Star Ac. pictures to post on my weblog but I couldn't find the ones I wanted. You guys have no idea how upset I am by this--you guys have no idea what you are missing. Star Ac. is awsome... in the way that only really, really bad Eurotrash television can be. My next travel log contains bits of info from last Friday's Star Ac so I won't repeat myself... I will only again bemoan the fact that I am unable to find pictures of the newspaper dress that everyone (yes, even the men) had to wear... and the shiny gladiator skirt that they put the guys in... and the tree swing set that Matteau sang in... Ah, I will miss Star Ac. when I go back to the states... Did you know you can pay only 6,90 Euros a month to have constant Star Ac. updates on your computer?

I have to find some pictures. Really.

In other news, I sat in on an IUFM English class today. It was in... French. So it was good listening practice. For me. Oh goodness, this place is a mess. It is really, really disorganized. Really. I think if I were put in charge of this place I would burn it down and then shoot myself. That's how bad it is. Thankfully I am not in charge because I don't know how to say "I don't know anything about a fire" in French.

I should go eat. I'm hungry.

Look forward to my next travel log. It contains all sorts of goodies about Star Ac. and the introduction of the Brits to grits--all sublime.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Star Academy

I have to go, but check this out:


Tuesday, November 09, 2004

More political stuff...

Okay, I know I promised no more political stuff on my website… but I got this forward from Captain Disgruntled and I just had to post it. If you don’t want to read political stuff you can just skip it. And for those of you Democrats who don't particularily like Moore (I consider him the Limbagh of the Left... than again, no one could be that bad) this list will cheer you up.

17 Reasons Not to Slit Your Wrists...by Michael Moore


Dear Friends,

Ok, it sucks. Really sucks. But before you go and cash it all in, let's, in
the words of Monty Python, 'always look on the bright side of life!' There
IS some good news from Tuesday's election.

Here are 17 reasons not to slit your wrists:

1. It is against the law for George W. Bush to run for president again.

2. Bush's victory was the NARROWEST win for a sitting president since
Woodrow Wilson in 1916.

3. The only age group in which the majority voted for Kerry was young adults
(Kerry: 54%, Bush: 44%), proving once again that your parents are always
wrong and you should never listen to them.

4. In spite of Bush's win, the majority of Americans still think the
country is headed in the wrong direction (56%), think the war wasn't worth fighting (51%), and don't approve of the job George W. Bush is doing (52%). (Note to foreigners: Don't try to figure this one out. It's an American thing, like Pop Tarts.)

5. The Republicans will not have a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the
Senate. If the Democrats do their job, Bush won't be able to pack the
Supreme Court with right-wing ideologues. Did I say "if the Democrats do
their job?" Um, maybe better to scratch this one.

6. Michigan voted for Kerry! So did the entire Northeast, the birthplace of
our democracy. So did 6 of the 8 Great Lakes States. And the whole West
Coast! Plus Hawaii. Ok, that's a start. We've got most of the fresh water,
all of Broadway, and Mt. St. Helens. We can dehydrate them or bury them in
lava. And no more show tunes!

7. Once again we are reminded that the buckeye is a nut, and not just any
old nut -- a poisonous nut. A great nation was felled by a poisonous nut.
May Ohio State pay dearly this Saturday when it faces Michigan.

8. 88% of Bush's support came from white voters. In 50 years, America will
no longer have a white majority. Hey, 50 years isn't such a long time! If
you're ten years old and reading this, your golden years will be truly
golden and you will be well cared for in your old age.

9. Gays, thanks to the ballot measures passed on Tuesday, cannot get married
in 11 new states. Thank God. Just think of all those wedding gifts we won't
have to buy now.

10. Five more African Americans were elected as members of Congress,
including the return of Cynthia McKinney of Georgia. It's always good to
have more blacks in there fighting for us and doing the job our candidates

11. The CEO of Coors was defeated for Senate in Colorado. Drink up!

12. Admit it: We like the Bush twins and we don't want them to go away.

13. At the state legislative level, Democrats picked up a net of at least 3
chambers in Tuesday's elections. Of the 98 partisan-controlled state
legislative chambers (house/assembly and senate), Democrats went into the
2004 elections in control of 44 chambers, Republicans controlled 53
chambers, and 1 chamber was tied. After Tuesday, Democrats now control 47
chambers, Republicans control 49 chambers, 1 chamber is tied and 1 chamber
(Montana House) is still undecided.

14. Bush is now a lame duck president. He will have no greater moment than
the one he's having this week. It's all downhill for him from here on out --
and, more significantly, he's just not going to want to do all the hard work
that will be expected of him. It'll be like everyone's last month in 12th
grade -- you've already made it, so it's party time! Perhaps he'll treat the
next four years like a permanent Friday, spending even more time at the
ranch or in Kennebunkport. And why shouldn't he? He's already proved his
point, avenged his father and kicked our ass.

15. Should Bush decide to show up to work and take this country down a very
dark road, it is also just as likely that either of the following two
scenarios will happen: a) Now that he doesn't ever need to pander to the
Christian conservatives again to get elected, someone may whisper in his ear
that he should spend these last four years building "a legacy" so that
history will render a kinder verdict on him and thus he will not push for
too aggressive a right-wing agenda; or b) He will become so cocky and
arrogant -- and thus, reckless -- that he will commit a blunder of such
major proportions that even his own party will have to remove him from

16. There are nearly 300 million Americans -- 200 million of them of voting
age. We only lost by three and a half million! That's not a landslide -- it
means we're almost there. Imagine losing by 20 million. If you had 58 yards
to go before you reached the goal line and then you barreled down 55 of
those yards, would you stop on the three yard line, pick up the ball and go
home crying -- especially when you get to start the next down on the three
yard line? Of course not! Buck up! Have hope! More sports analogies are

17. Finally and most importantly, over 55 million Americans voted for the
candidate dubbed "The #1 Liberal in the Senate." That's more than the total
number of voters who voted for either Reagan, Bush I, Clinton or Gore.
Again, more people voted for Kerry than Reagan. If the media are looking for
a trend it should be this -- that so many Americans were, for the first time
since Kennedy, willing to vote for an out-and-out liberal. The country has
always been filled with evangelicals -- that is not news. What IS news is
that so many people have shifted toward a Massachusetts liberal. In fact,
that's BIG news. Which means, don't expect the mainstream media, the ones
who brought you the Iraq War, to ever report the real truth about November
2, 2004. In fact, it's better that they don't. We'll need the element of
surprise in 2008.

Feeling better? I hope so. As my friend Mort wrote me yesterday, "My
Romanian grandfather used to say to me, 'Remember, Morton, this is such a
wonderful country -- it doesn't even need a president!'"

But it needs us. Rest up, I'll write you again tomorrow.


Michael Moore

Monday, November 08, 2004

Autumn cleaning...

I have been informed (by my Grandfather) that I ought to clean up my language on this weblog. So I will. I figure I keep the 'log for friends and family and I ought to keep it a little more polite. (I also figure that I shouldn't talk about politics...for that, check out Lugman's site).

My Grandmother says I can keep the occasional "shit shit shit" to honor her.

I have a cool family. Weird, but cool.

Town in Brittany. Posted by Hello

November 4-November 7

November 4, 2004

Sitting in the kitchen waiting for my pizza. I added some stuff to it—ground beef, tomatos, and cheese (ironically, French pizzas never actually contain enough cheese). I am going to have some pizza and wine, then I am going to go back up to my room to feel sorry for myself. I have been feeling quite ill these past two days (although I was a little sick during Toussaint) and when I feel ill for too long, I start to get mopey. When I am about to get my period, I get mopey. When I do not have a comfortable bed and a controllable climate, I get mopey. When Republicans win in an election, I get mopey. These just happened to all hit at the same time, so I am extra mopey. Blah.


I am afraid that I might have given some of you the wrong impression about my time here in France. I know that I have spent a lot of time and space in the weblog complaining about things and you must all think that I am miserable. I am not. In fact, I am enjoying myself completely. Even though there are frustrations (That fucking shower, which I am convinced is allergic to Americans) I pretty much have my sense of humor about them. The frustrations and bad times are all part of the experience, and at no point have I regretted having come to France. I feel very lucky to have gotten this opportunity and to have the support of my friends and family. Even the less-than-perfect times here are nothing compared to how miserable I would be if I had given up this opportunity. The reason that most of the space on my weblog is devoted to misery and woe is because that is the only time I write. If I am happy, I am not going to be sitting in front of a computer. A lot of my remarks are ironic and I know it can be difficult to pick up on written irony (unless written by someone who actually knows what he or she is doing. I, sadly, do not.)

(I’m eating a Pain Chocolat right now, so that explains the expansive mood. I’ll be pissy again as soon as I am finished.)

Well, the list of English Dominants is not done (and no matter how closely I look, I still haven’t seen anyone walking around the IUFM in leather and chains). It should be done next Tuesday. Then on Wednesday I have a meeting in Grenoble with all the IUFM assistants and the leaders of the academie to discuss how the work is going. Hah! Not that I can complain much—I can’t speak French! Natalia (who has her own problems with the IUFM in Valence) keeps pestering me about what I am going to say. I keep telling her that I’m not going to say much; I really can’t. If I try to speak about the situation at the IUFM I get frustrated and my French gets jumbled (more than usual). I also don’t want to complain too much because I am going to have to work with the people at the IUFM until March (then again, if the next five months are the same as October, I don’t see what I’m worried about) and I don’t want to piss them off too much. They could actually attempt to make life difficult for me, instead of just ignoring me. If I complain about not working, they may just give me stupid crap to do. I know (sometimes) when to keep my mouth shut, and I’m pretty sure this is one of those times. (Okay, for those of you who actually know me, alright, I admit it, I generally don’t know when to keep my trap shut. And even if I do, I tend to open it anyway. The only reason I’m keeping my trap shut this time is because I can’t speak the bloody language. But if I could, I would have bitched all the way up to the president of France. You all know me to well—there is no fooling you guys.)

So. I got a letter from my grandmother before Toussaint. Here am some of the more amusing excerpts:
“That web-site of yours is such a good idea! We can keep up on all your doings & thoughts—and we love the pictures! But how come every once in awhile there’s a shit! shit! shit! ? Don’t you know that is my word? Of course, since you’re my first-born grandchild—and you have saved my sorry-assed life so many times—be my guest.”

“We toured the University—my God!—it is so big! Your mom looked so tiny in there. I loved her townhouse apartment—she has it fixed up so nice. I couldn’t handle the stairs though—had to go around back to get in—and I loved Romeo and Iggy—but that was not shared by your Grandad and Ruth—so most of the time they were Banished to the garage—poor things—(when we could catch Iggy).”

Here is another weird French language thing. The word personne sometimes means nobody and sometimes means person. Talk about confusing.

November 5, 2004

Back in the kitchen, waiting for water to boil so I can have my morning tea. I think I am going to buy an electric kettle (or that mom is going to buy one for me for my birthday). I just hate the idea of spending too much money here for things that I will not be able to keep for too long. Then again, if I can find a job here, I suppose it does not matter too much. Still, I do think I better not count too much on finding a job. Not being a EU citizen makes it tricky—and there are plenty of Brits who can teach English. Still, with my experience (one year teaching and one month sitting on my ass doing nothing) maybe I can find something.

Well, nothing much to report so I may as well write some about my trip to Brittany. Natalia, Alessia, Viola, and I got up early in the morning to go to the train station last Wednesday. We decided to meet in the kitchen at 6:15am and the Italians (Alessia and Viola) were late (common theme in the week). We trudged off to the train station and (well, this is boring so I’m going to skip ahead some) arrived in Rennes at about 1pm. It was raining and cold. We had about five hours until we could pick up the car so we decided (keep in mind that any decisions made do not actually involve me) to locate the office of tourist information. That killed off about three hours as we trudged back and forth, asking random French people directions (who seem to all be as bad at giving directions as we were at following them). We eventually located it and picked up some information about Rennes. Then we went to a sandwich shop to get some lunch (I was about to collapse at this point—I suppose a good rule of thumb would be to never travel with people skinnier than you are). We spent a good two hours eating sandwiches and then it was time to pick up the car.

Ah, the car. You are already aware of my experiences with trying to reserve the car. Picking it up was no different. Turns out that the information given to me by the company over the Internet was wrong—I was unable to add another driver. The name on the contract (mine) was the only name allowed to drive. There was no way to change this. And no, although the Internet contract promised a diesel, we were not to get one. And this, my friends, was how I wound up carting a group of Italians and Latin Americans around Brittany for three days.

The car was adorable—if I could get one in the states with a bit more power I would buy it. Driving was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. At some points (when I didn’t have people giving me directions in every language imaginable) I actually enjoyed myself.

The first night we drove to Lorient to stay at the Youth Hostel there. No one had actually thought to locate the youth hostel on a map so we wound up driving around Lorient, asking random French people for directions. We did eventually locate the youth hostel (in our defense, it was in the middle of nowhere). I enjoyed the bed and shower—both of which were better than mine—and the next day we were off.

We went first to Quimperle and in the tourist office Natalia was given to key to the church (!). It rained some more (a lot), then we walked around the village some—very picturesque. Then it was time to hop back in the car. Our next stop was Concarneau, with a fort/village built on an island (but only an island during high tide)—a common architectural choice in Brittany. Again, quite picturesque. This was where I say the painted plates and things that I wanted to got for mom, but at this point I knew that whatever I bought would not survive the trip back to Valence.

Next stop, a gas station to buy some food for lunch and some gas for the car. Then, we went off to Pont du Raz, the furthest point west in all of France. It was windy—so windy—and cold. Then, when we had walked to the point furthest from the car, it started to pour water—not from the sky, but from some random point to the west. My right side was soaked as I ran back to the car. I figured I was probably going to freeze to death or melt into a little puddle.

And now, a new problem. We had 300km to drive to the youth hostel and only a couple of hours to do it in—and this doesn’t take into consideration the fact that we had no idea where the hostel was. I drove about halfway there, and then the others decided that I needed to find a payphone so one of them could call to hostel and ask if they could remain open just for us. (I have no idea why we needed to find a payphone since three of the five of us had cell phones—but I wasn’t about the argue). We did, and then it was back in the car for some more driving.

The hostel was, once again, in the middle of nowhere and absolutely impossible to find (especially considering that we once again asked random French people for directions).

We did make it there, just in time to the annual mosquito harvest (that being where the mosquitoes harvest all the blood that they can from unsuspecting Americans named Deirdre).

The next day we meet with three more Argentineans and didn’t make it out of the hostel until after noon (I was about to have a heart attack by this point—I had been ready to go since 9am). We finally (!) got in the car and went up to Cap Frehal, where one of the Italians managed to break the handle off the passenger door (I think I did suffer a minor stroke at this point). It was cold, windy, and wet and I was too miserable to enjoy the view (which consisted of mist).

Then, we drove towards Dinard and stopped in a little random town to get some lunch. Everyone blathered in that creation of French, Spanish, and Italian while I sat quietly in a corner, drinking tea and eating something that would have been a hamburger if it’d had a bun around it.

Then, back in the car. We stopped in Dinard and walked on the beach (the tide was out and it was pretty damn cool). Then we got back in the car and went to Saint Malo to look for a hotel (and here is where it gets complicated and I get pissy so I am going to skip this part for now.)

That evening we returned to the youth hostel in Dinan (where we had spent the previous night). The others wanted to faire un fete which I opted out of (Mary Russell book), then I had another minor stroke when I realized that they had taken the car to faire un fete. They returned it and I pulled all the furniture out of my ass, where it had been sucked up sometimes in the past two hours.

The next day we went into Dinan—a very, very cool medieval town. I could have spent hours there, just wandering around, but it was a Mont St Michel day.

Oh, Mont St Michel! You see pictures in books and think, “wow, how amazing is that. I really ought to go there” and that is it. But you finally go there and--! Wow.

I will describe it more later because I am feeling too damn lazy now and anyway it is time for me to go meet Jo, the other English speaker here (I want some English time, damnit!)

November 6, 2004

I bought the cutest tee-shirt yesterday. It is red and long sleeved and it has two cats on the front. Underneath the cats it says “Let’s Chat!” (The joke being that the French word for cat is chat.) Oh! And I forgot to mention it, but a few weeks ago I was in a clothing store here and I saw a tee-shirt that said “I’m a very Fashion Victim.” I would have bought it but it was way too small for me (and I didn’t think Rowan would appreciate it if I bought it for her). Okay, so back to my shopping trip yesterday. I also bought a great scarf. It has various shades of red and fuzzy places—a very good scarf to go with both black clothes and brown clothes. I also discovered that, at least in Valence clothing stores, I am not the largest shirt size! Shirt sizes here (for the most part) are 1, 2, 3, and 4. I was like, “Holy hell, don’t they have a 5 for my fat American body?” and I was convinced that I was never going to be able to cram my large self into French shirts. Finally, the two other assistants I was with (Llean and Jo) convinced me to try a size 3—and it fit! (Yeah!)

Ohmygawd—Tina Turner was on Star Academy last night! How fucking cool—yet bizarre—is that? I think I’ve mentioned it before, but Star Academy is a French show that combines all the elements of American Idol, Big Brother, Survivor, and Real World. At the end of every week, three people are nominated to get kicked off and everyone has to sing a song in front of judges and an audience. Last night they were doing, well, not quite duets, but they had to sing with another famous person. One of the girls sang Proud Mary with Tina Turner! Tina was awesome and the girl was nowhere near as rotten as most of the other contestants (and really if this is the best that France has to offer… well, let’s just say that our exportation of American music has been a blessing). Anyway, Tina was so cool. The host kept talk to her in French, telling her how great she was, and she was talking right back with him—in English. It was awesome.

And yes, Mom, Star Academy is that show that was on in Paris for about five hours. They have now cut it down to two and a half and the people on it have improved… slightly. One guy last night sounded like he was hitting puberty in the middle of his song. Another guy sounded pure drunk karaoke—it was that bad.

I read Angela’s Ashes earlier this week. I was a little disappointed. I guess all the hype surrounding it made me expect something better. It was well written and interesting and the story was good, but it wasn’t spectacular. The writing was good but not genius. Still, it was a nice light read.


Orangina has a brilliant advertising campaign based on the letters B and O. They can stand for Boissons Officielles, Boisson Orange, or Beautiful Objets. And if you save your Orangina cans you can get a tee-shirt that says B.O. on the Beach. I am not making this up… I think I need one of those shirts.

More stuff I want: Ginger candy chews—really good for an upset stomach. (They are green and the package has a smiling Ginger root—you usually have to go to Alternative Hippie food places to get them—think Takoma Park). I meant to get some for my trip and I forgot.

There are a lot of sandwiches here and the bread is awesome, but the French need some lessons from Sheetz on how to make a sub. I bought a bacon sub the other day and it had half a strip of flimsy bacon. A ham sub usually contains a half a slice of thin ham for the entire sub. Gone are the days of over-stuffed subs that you can barely fit into your mouth. At least the bread is good. I mean, it has to be because it is just about the only part of the sub you can taste.

November 7, 2004
Everyone wants to see a picture of my little sister and I don’t have any! So, Rowan, for my birthday you are to send me a card with a couple of pictures. If you don’t, you can forget about getting a neat wedding gift from France—or from Wal-Mart, for that matter. And it has to be a recent picture—none of this left over high school crap. And you might as well send a picture or two of Matt since I’m sure everyone will be curious about him.

Looking up at the cathedral on Mont St Michel from the street below. Posted by Hello

More photos. This is a Japanese style garden on an island in Nantes. Posted by Hello

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Alessia, Natalia, Viola, Jose with the giant backpacks and the tiny Twingo. October 28, 2004. Posted by Hello

The cathedral in Quimperle. October 28, 2004. Posted by Hello

Natalia and Justine with the key to the church (really!). October 28, 2004. Posted by Hello

(l to r) Alessia, Viola, Natalia, Justine (with Jose taking the picture). October 28, 2004.  Posted by Hello

Uneven house. October 28, 2004. Posted by Hello

Concarneau. October 28, 2004. Posted by Hello

Dragon. October 28, 2004. Posted by Hello

Dragon with the tide coming in. OCtober 28, 2004. Posted by Hello

We stopped in a little town to look at the Altantic Ocean. October 28, 2004. Posted by Hello

Natalia. The white sstuff is sea foam. It was windy, cold, and wet. October 28, 2004. Posted by Hello

Pont du Raz. October 28, 2004. This is where we were absolutely soaked. Posted by Hello

Cap Frehal. October 29, 2004. Posted by Hello

Dinard. October 29, 2004. Posted by Hello

Saint Malo in the distance. Photo taken from Dinard. October 29, 2004. Posted by Hello

Chateau in Dinan. October 30, 2004. Posted by Hello

Cathedral in Dinan. October 30, 2004. Posted by Hello

Mont St Michel. October 30, 2004. Posted by Hello

Mont St Michel. October 30, 2004. Posted by Hello