Monday, November 08, 2004

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.


At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, it's Rowan. Okay, I'm working on the picture. One of Matt's coworkers dropped our camera back in March, so there are not any recent pictures. We should get a new one before the wedding, but knowing us it will be RIGHT before. I'll try and send another picture from the summer of 03 again. If that doesn't work I'll mail it this weekend.
And, btw - Matt picks out basically ALL of my clothes. If that doesn't make me a fashion victim I don't know what does!


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