Thursday, April 28, 2005

Last Few France Posts

Here are, in backwards backwards chronological order, the llast few 'blog entries from my stay in Valence, France. Have fun.

April 2, 2005

Well, it is the beginning of the end now. Natalia left today—she was the first to go. I know that she and I did not get along so well sometimes, but I did like her. She was, as my mom put it, a force of nature. You could be so annoyed when she was around, dictating orders, making demands, and creating a racket, but now that she is gone, it seems to empty without her. Well, but we all knew that this would be hard. We went to see Natalia off at the Valence train station, and I couldn’t help but think that this was the last time that we would all be together. And I will be the next one to go.

In fact, I have started to make preparations. I’ve taken all the maps down in my room (every time that I would go to a new place, I would stick the city map to my wall. I almost had the walls completely covered). So now I am soaking my feet and listening to sad music. Sob.

Not really in the mood to write.

April 5, 2005

Happy Birthday to my mom and to Alessia! I have moved into Natalia’s old room—it is quite nice actually. Too bad I will have to leave it in a week. But this does make it all easier for me… as in, I am right next to the kitchen now. Anyway, here is the letter I wrote to all the assistants:

Mes colocs,

Nous avons partage une experience extraordinaire, et nous allons quitter Valence tres differents que lorsque nous sommes arrives. Nous avons partage plein de choses—bonnes et moins bonnes.

Vous etes ma famille. Comme une famille, nous ne nous sommes pas choisies pour habiter ensemble—c’etait le hazard. Mais, comme une vrai famille, nous avons appris a communiquer.

Je savais, avant de partir pour la france, que je rencontrerai des gens differents—quelques uns sympathique, d’autres moins. Mais je n’aurais pas reve que j’aurais la cha\nce d’habiter avec des gens merveilleux. Je ne vais pas vous oublier.

Je ne sais pas ce que j’aurais fait sans vous. Quand je suis arrivee a Valence, je ne parlais pas francais et je ne comprenais presque rien. Vous n’etiez pas frustrees ou desagreables avec moi. Vous avez pris le temp et l’energie pour m’aider. Vous m’avez appris plein de choses en francais.

Enfin, merci pour tout ce que vous avez fait. Je reste, toujours, votre soeur americaine.

I know that it may not look like much, but I worked very hard on it. By the way, it is missing all the accents because I am too lazy to put them in. It requires too much work with my computer.

April 6, 2005

Well, I had some very bizarre dreams last night, which is not surprising, given the conversation we had just before I went to bed. To understand the conversation, I have to recount the story of the Russian accordion player. To place him in context, I have to relate the story of Yarilo.

Yarilo is the name of a Russian Traditional music group. We all went to see it. Before we left, I joked to Lena that I wanted to find myself a Russian husband. She said that she would introduce me to the members of the group. This was all before we actually saw the musicians. When they walked out, Lena and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. It was, without a doubt, the homeliest looking group of people I have ever seen. There was an accordion player who looked like an absolute goober. Another guy looked like a pig farmer. The percussion player was the best, only because, as Dagmar put it, you couldn’t actually see his face behind the drums. Then there was the woman, who was obviously the Lady Macbeth of the whole ensemble. You could see her watching the other musicians out of the corners of her glitter-covered eyes. For the vocals they brought out an eleven-year-old girl, whom I immediately nicknamed the child bride. She looked like she was being sold to a Sultan.

For all that, the musicians were pretty good. The bass was a little loud for the first half, but they fixed it for the second half (you could see Lady Macbeth alternately glaring at the Pig Farmer and the M.C. throughout the entire first half. Occasionally the accordion player would leap off the stage and serenade random old women. I have decided that I will know when I am officially old because young men will feel safe serenading me. I was sitting in the second row, on the end, and the accordion player passed my way a couple of times, which elicited giggles and sharp pokes from the other assistants. At one point he gave the audience a little bye-bye wave, and I just happened to be in his line of sight. The rest of the night I had to fend off Russian accordion player jokes.

On the way back from the concert, Lena told me that the first time you sleep in a new bed, you dream of your future husband. Well, I had moved down to Natalia’s old room earlier that day so I would be sleeping in a new bed. It was decided, almost unanimously (lacking one crucial vote—mine) that I would drift off to sleep dreaming of my new playing-playing beau. I figured I’d probably dream of him because it was the only thing that anyone had talked to me about for about three hours.

Interestingly enough, I did not dream of any Russian men, let alone accordion playing ones. Instead, I dreamt of a politician. Not any real person, but a very attractive man with dark, wavy hair who fell in love with me a first sight. I also dreamt of pineapple-shaped bombs. I think this means that I will never get married.

April 7, 2005

As is inevitable when learning a new language, I have been making several mistakes with my French. I haven’t actually recorded any of them here because, well, I have no idea why. I guess it never really occurred to me to do so. But the other night I said something and Jo and Alessia scrambled to scribble it down. This was when I realized that the other assistants had been keeping track of my little, um, language gaffes. So, just for shits and giggles, here are some of my better ones.

C’est ςa va (I still don’t understand what exactly is wrong with this one. It literally translates into “It’s okay.” The thing is, you just can’t say it. I know because I’ve tried. Several times. People, in addition to laughing, give you really odd looks. I’ve stopped saying it now, but occasionally one of the other assistants will say it to me, then burst out into hysterical laughter)

Je vais te fermer dans la coiffeur. (Jo’s French beau would joke with her that he would lock her in the trunk of his car to keep her from going back to England: Je vais te fermer dans le coffre. I tried to say it once as a joke, and wound up telling Jo that I was going to shut her in the hairdresser.)

Coup de fondre. (I’m not really sure how to explain this one. Coup de foudre is like struck by lightening, which means: “love at first sight.” I managed to use the wrong word. Instead of foudre, which means lightening, I used fondre, which means to melt.)

Je ne sais pas si ils ont fait crac-crac, mais je sais qu’ils ont baisé. (I think that this is just a way that the French mess with foreigners. You see, the word baiser is a tricky one. Sometimes it means kiss, sometimes it means something much more vulgar. I was speaking to a French friend one day and I was talking about another assistant who had just started a new relationship. I was trying to say, “I don’t know if they have slept together, but I do know that they have kissed.” Instead, I wound up saying, “I don’t know if they have slept together, but I do know that they have fucked.”)

Ma tête fait des blagues avec moi. (This is not so much a French thing as a Deirdre spouting nonsense thing—something I do in English quite often. This sentence translates into “My head plays jokes with me.”)

Malheureusement, je pense… (And here I have left my participle dangling—which, by the way, is something I would never do in English. This little gem means: “unfortunately, I think…”)

Je veux te parler au sujet de… (Some of my creations occur because I have no idea how to say a certain word. In this case, it is the word “about.” You would think it would be easy, but no, the French have to make it way more complicated than it needs to be. So instead using “about,” I would use the incredibly formal construction “on the subject of.” It would get really silly when I was in the kitchen, trying to mention something not very important, and I would wind up with the really odd half-formal, half-gibberish sentence. But that is not so unusual with me anyway.)

April 12, 2005

Well, it is almost all over. I am on the airplane right now, on my way to Washington DC. I just finished filling out my customs form. I have already watched the videos that I took last night—the ones with all the other assistants. Amazingly, I did not cry. Then again, I left really early this morning. All the other assistants came with me to see me off. It was so early that our brains and mouths hadn’t started working in French yet, so we just sort of stood around and looked at each other. I think we were just all too tired to be emotional.

As for me, I suppose it hasn’t really sunk in. I mean, I did so much traveling while in France that this could be just another trip. Maybe in another couple of weeks, when I don’t wind up back in my Camille Vernet cell, I will realize that this is all for real.

So, starting last Friday and continuing to last night, everyone has given me a present (except for Jo, who swears that I will receive my present by mail in another week. I think she just forgot to get me something!) I got a frog keychain and a really sweet letter from Alessia. She is staying in France until the end of May. She will take a French proficiency test, then head back to Italy. Dagmar gave me a book, a necklace (which I am wearing right now), and a postcard—of Kanada (Canada). Lena gave me a box with a rupee and a kopek inside, and gave me a (I can’t remember the name) Russian stacking doll to give to my mother (our American mother). Lena is going to have to go back to Russia about a month earlier that she had planned. She will leave France on the 21 of April. That is really too soon for her. I can’t even begin to describe how much she has blossomed over the past six months. She has gained some weight, gotten some color in her cheeks, and just looks stunning now. Even her hair seems healthier. She is definitely going to call it off with her Russian… well, whatever he now—Russian con. Her (Russian) mother (and her American one) are really supportive of her relationship with Paco. And from the time I have spent with Paco, I approve. Jo is still with her Frenchman, but he seems to be much more serious about the realationship than she is. She is going to spend some time in Corsica, then head back to England for awhile, then go to another region of France to work for another five or six months. She just doesn’t see too much room in her life for a relationship, let alone a long distance foreign language one. But she is a sensible girl (if a little flighty and messy sometimes) and she will figure it out.

As for me, as soon as I get back to the US, I need to get together my application for Salisbury State University. GRE scores, letters of recommendation, essays, and all that. Yech. I really, really, really hate the application process.

So, anyway, it was so weird when I got on the plane for Washington DC. I had a really odd sensation of fear and I couldn’t figure out what it was. After a few seconds, I realized that everyone on the plane looked different. Not saying that there is no diversity in France, but… okay, there really isn’t that much. Small and dark-haired. Sometimes you have someone who is small with fake blond streaks or has that really odd shade of red/purple hair. But this plane… wow, it is like being in Washington DC. Once I figured out what my sensation was, I felt fine. I just realized how odd it was.

Speaking of Fake blond streaks, though, I was talking to someone—an American assistant—and we were talking about French Hair. I think it was Tori (who is from Georgia. I keep thinking South Carolina and she keeps correcting me. But let’s face it, beneath Virginia it is all the same. Until you get to Orlando. Then that is like being in Mexico because you can’t drink the water.) Anyway, she (or someone else) was telling me that the reason that French Women’s hair looks like straw is because they don’t use conditioner. And it usually does look like straw—especially on Eurotrash. Wow, and how to explain Eurotrash. I think it is just one of those things that you know when you see. Usually with really, really bad blond streaks, hair that looks like straw hairsprayed to their head, lots of black eye make-up, and, well, their clothes are another story altogether. But French fashion, even in a smaller place like Valence, is a lot different than US fashion.

First of all, French women layer. And keep layering. Then, just for good measure, they add another layer or two. Then a scarf. And a coat. Even if it is 20 degrees C outside, they are generally bundled up like Jamaicans in Antarctica. And they layer things that I wouldn’t even realize could physically be layered. Like skirts and pants. Or long-sleeved tee shirts and dresses. Or tank tops over sweaters. I remember, when I first got to France, watching a program on television about how to protect yourself from the cold. There was a woman demonstrating how to dress for cold weather. I think she put on about five layers, then a sweater, then another sweater, then a coat. I was sweating just watching the whole process.
And of course I have to mention French teenage hormones. I mean, hell, I lived in a Middle/High School for six months. It is impossible to miss the horny little buggers.


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