After hours and hours of traveling, I am finally in Perpignan. I still haven't gotten over the whole jet lag thing (I slept for 9 hours last night, and then was up for three hours before I took a seven hour nap). Hopefully that will pass soon. After my last post, I took the flight from Copenhagen to Paris--much shorter and much less packed, thankfully. I had a window seat this time, rather than a middle-of-the-row aisle seat like my flight to Copenhagen. While I mostly slept on this plane ride, too, I did wake up as we were getting ready to land. This was probably the first time in a few weeks that I was actually excited about being here...mostly I have just been sad about leaving. Flying lower down, we were able to see the little French towns and villages from the plane. There would be fields and fields, and then a little cluster of houses, all centered around an old castle or church. It seemed so very European.
I was on the wrong side of the plane to see any of the city of Paris when we flew into the Charles de Gaulle airport, unfortunately, but I feel like my sixteen hours spent waiting alone in the airport are enough of Paris for now anyway. I managed to get a few hours of sleep in the early, early morning, in a little alcove with at least five other people clearly in my same situation. It was awful, but at least I wasn't attacked and my belongings weren't stolen.
The Charles de Gaulle airport brought with it several opportunities to speak French, but it was mostly simple things like buying a sandwich. I felt like they knew, of course, that I was not French, but my language was good enough to get by. I think I gave myself away by following "Bonjour" with "how are you?"--apparently not a very French thing to ask the woman choosing your croissant.
After waiting for hours, I finally boarded my train at around 9:15am. The TGV, or Train de Grande Vitesse (which translates as the train of great speed) surely isn't the Hogwarts Express, but it was really cool as my first train ride. The train really does travel at a great speed---it shortened the trip from Paris to Perignan (430 miles as the crow flies) to about 4 hours, including several stops. Traveling through the middle of France felt rather like driving through eastern Washington. There were agricultural fields, bordered by leafy trees, and then there would be a house in the center. The architecture of the houses was of course different, but that seemed to be the only difference. Once I was shocked to see a European license plate instead of one that had Mount Rainier on it. I slept for most of the train ride, waking before my transfer in Montpellier and before some of the other stops. I was sad to miss the French countryside, but I was just far too tired to stay awake. At one point--it must have been in some higher elevations--the scenery cahnged slightly. There were some evergreen trees and rolling hills covered with fog. When I next woke up, we were in the south of France, which looks much like southern California, with the exception of the architecture again. The houses in the south of France mostly look the same--an adobe look with red tiled roof. Again, every once in a while we would pass by a really old-looking building, some ruins, an ancient cathedral, et cetera. It is very beautiful here.
I was picked up by M. Ferrandez, the vice principal of my school, and Celine, the English department chair and the woman whose house I am staying in for the weekend. I was so glad to have someone to meet me at the station--I absolutely could not have done it alone. They took me through a brief tour of the city of Perpignan, warning me to stay away from certain areas, showing me favorite pizza places and cafes, and then we stopped at the College Albert Camus, the middle school where I will be teaching. It is an old school with about 320 students, and Celine says that most of them are from the low-income housing district nearby, and come from North African immigrant families. She says that the students are nice, but often don't get a lot of support at home. From what she, the other teachers, and the principal all say, the students seem excited to meet their teaching assistant.
On a side note, while I was speaking to Mr. Ferrandez at the middle school, one of the other teachers walked by, and the principal mentioned to her that I was the new English teaching assistant. I am fairly certain that I heard the woman mutter under her breath in French that the students would have to have a good level of English. I guess my French needs some work.
Celine and her family are returning late tomorrow night, so I have the next day or so to myself. I don't feel much like exploring Perpignan on my own (Celine lives a ways outside the city anyway), so I will probably stay here for most of it. One of Celine's friends is taking me to see Tennessee Williams' play The Glass Menagerie (in French!) tonight at 8:30, so at least I will get out of the house then. On Monday, I move into my apartment, and I will be able to get settled in and meet some of the other assistants. I think I will feel better about this whole thing once I actually know some people where I am living. Right now I feel very isolated.
I still want to come home. I know that I will have a wonderful time eventually, but right now I miss my boyfriend, my friends, my family. I am counting down the days already. On a happier note, I have eaten two delicious croissants, and half of possibly the best sandwich ever since arriving. Ahhh, the bread. It has already blown my mind.
Once I actually start taking pictures, I will post some.