Saturday, October 11, 2008

Just another update from across the pond

I now finally feel like I have enough time to sit down and write a complete blog post. Finally. It’s funny, because I feel enormously busy here, and exhausted all the time from everything I am doing. But I’m not really doing anything. Back in the States, I am used to working at least two jobs (three for the last year or so of school) and taking four classes at Western per quarter. All told, counting up all the hours I spent working, in class, and doing homework per week, it was probably around 60 hours a week. Here, in France, I haven’t even really worked a “full” twelve hour week yet. And yet, I can’t seem to find enough time in the day to do what I want to do. I suppose this makes sense though, because moving anywhere (even if it is just down the street) is a time-consuming process. It’s even more time consuming in another country, because I have had to habituate to the cultural differences, too. And also, the bus system in Perpignan totally sucks, so there is always a lot of waiting around for buses (there are very few buses per hour, they don’t run on Sundays, and they stop at around 7:30pm). In fact, I do a lot of waiting in my life here in France, which just makes me think of the movie Waiting, which just makes me think of the Game, which just makes me think of all my guy friends and their attempts, which is really unfortunate, but kind of nostalgically sweet at the same time.

Speaking of the guys, it’s been really weird not hanging out with guys all the time. I don’t have many girlfriends in the states, and those that I do have would rather watch football (Kili) or play Halo with their boyfriends (Alyssa) than do “girly” things. Much like me. So it has been quite an adjustment hanging out with girls all the time since I have gotten here. Don’t get me wrong, I love the other assistants that I have met, and I have been having a lot of fun with them, but it’s a lot of girl time for me, and I am not used to that. We did meet some assistants in the Perpignan area (who are guys) at the orientation in Montpellier, so that was good at least. One of them is a guy named Tom, from somewhere in England (so he says weird things like jumpers, trousers, and “brelly” instead of umbrella), AND HE KNOWS AWKWARD TURTLE. I couldn’t believe it! It’s international. Yes!

I haven’t really written about what I have been doing for a while, so let me begin with last weekend. Some of the other assistants and I took the train to a little sea town called Collioure, which is a little ways east (I think) of Perpignan. It is right on the Mediterranean, and it costs about 6 euros for a round-trip train ticket. The town kind of sits up on a hill above the water, spreading down towards the water’s edge, and is bordered on the other side by the foothills of the Pyrenees. The town is really old (but I can’t check how old because of my lack of internet connection. It’s hard not having Wikipedia at the tips of my fingers!), and used to be frequented by pirates, I guess. So there were pirates there hundreds of years ago, although I don’t know if it was a pirate port, or if the pirates just tried to attack the city often. Another Wikipedia job, I guess. A little spit of land juts out into the water, and the old town church is out on this spit, which has been painted by artist after artist. All lot of artists have taken inspiration from the vistas and beautiful surroundings in Collioure, and so all over the town are these weird little picture frames up on poles, that frame the view that such-and-such an artist drew, for such-and-such a painting. There is usually a plaque explaining who the artist was, and the name of the painting. Up a slight incline sits a 12th or 13th century castle, which is one of the royal palaces of the Kings of Majorque (or Mallorca if you are Spanish or Catalan). The palace was also a Templar settlement during the same time, too. In the 15th century it became a military settlement, and in the next centuries it was used as a citadel alternately by the Kings of Aragon, Spain, and France, as the area changed hands. (Can you tell I have a pamphlet about the castle here with me?) At any right, it is this really really old chateau, and I went to see it in Collioure that day. I VISITED A CASTLE. It was so, so cool! I am fascinated by all of the old things here, and it was so cool to walk through these little stone corridors through which royalty and servants walked about 800 years ago. It’s hard to explain this fascination that I have with all things old to the other Europeans here, but I think everyone back home can understand my excitement at visiting a castle. One of the British girls, while in the Collioure castle, said, “I think that of all the castles I visited, this is my favorite…” I can’t even imagine being able to say “of all the castles I have visited…” but I guess soon enough I will be able to. I just love how old everything is!

After visiting the castle, we didn’t have too much time to explore the city before our train home, so we sat down to eat dinner in an outdoor café/restaurant. Afterwards, Emma (another British girl) and I walked around town looking for a bank and an ice cream shop. We found both, and I had the most amazing Nutella flavored gelato that I have ever had in my entire life. You can actually get Nutella ice cream here! It beats the Nutella milkshakes that Greg and I tried to make before I left, but now that I know about it, I’m probably going to gain about 50 pounds while I am here (between the Nutella ice cream, the bread, the tartes, the crème brûlée, et cetera et cetera et cetera)…We walked around the windy streets in Collioure, and found this beautiful pedestrian road that took us up some stairs in between these stacks of brightly colored houses with pink flowering vines hanging from balconies. God, it’s so gorgeous there! I am planning on making a trip there with everyone that comes to visit me, so get ready! Emma and I also want to make monthly trips there ourselves. Our next one is scheduled for next weekend (when my friend Sarah comes in to visit from Rennes), and we are going to take a hike up to another nearby foothill that has yet another old castle sitting on top of it. I can’t wait!

On Tuesday of this week, we took another train to Montpellier, about a two hour train ride away, and the “capital” of our educational area. All of the assistants in the Montpellier Académie had to be at an assistants’ orientation on Wednesday, but we thought it would be better to go the night before, and not take the train at 6:30 on Wednesday morning. So I found what I hoped wasn’t a sketchy hostel in Montpellier, and we piled in the train with a baguette and a hunk of chèvre cheese in hand. We found our hostel after getting slightly lost, and found out it was only a five minute walk from downtown. We checked in with the nice French man at the front desk, scratched the neck of the hotel kitty sleeping on a cushion in the lobby, and were delighted to find a clean, cute, and yet cheap hotel room awaiting us. I will definitely be staying there when I return to Montpellier.

I really enjoyed Montpellier, and I barely even had time to see it. It is gorgeous there, and there is actually grass in the park (something that is oddly lacking in Perpignan), and it is soooo clean in comparison to Perpignan. After seeing Montpellier, I kind of realized that I don’t like Perpignan very much, which is really too bad. It is a dirty city, and there isn’t much going on here, ever. Montpellier was clean, and alive, and much more like what I am used to. I think that Perpignan is nice in its own way, and I don’t hate living here, but I much prefer Montpellier. The good thing about realizing this, though, is that I know that not all of France is like Perpignan. There are cities that I will absolutely love! Montpellier is definitely one of those. Because of the weird restaurant hours in France (you can’t just walk in to a restaurant and eat whenever you want. Usually they don’t start serving dinner until around 7pm), we couldn’t eat even though I was starving, so we went around and looked at some shops. I bought a warm coat, because I stupidly left all of my warm coats at home, and it gets cold in Perpignan in the mornings and at night. It’s hot during the day, but man it’s cold during the other times. We ate dinner at a restaurant in the main square in Montpellier, and it was lovely to see the city gradually darken and the lights on all the old buildings flicker on. It felt very European. Afterwards we found a far too expensive bar, where I tried to order a Long Island Iced Tea, by saying “Un Long Island Iced Tea”. Which is what it is. The waiter had to have me repeat it twice, and I finally just pointed to the menu, which said, “Un Long Island Iced Tea”. He said, “OH! Un long island iced tea”, with a slightly more French accent on the English words. So ridiculous! It was always the same with the IEP students and English words or names, too, though. When we played Apples to Apples, and Thomas Edison came up, they wouldn’t know who he was until finally someone would say, “Oh! To-ma-su Ed-u-son-u.” And then they got it! It’s funny how that works.

The orientation the next day was rather unremarkable.

On Thursday and Friday, I sat in on some more classes, at both Marcel Pagnol and Albert Camus. I have not actually started teaching yet—I have only observed a regular English classes, or answered questions about myself. The questions were kind of fun, although I consistently was asked whether I knew Eva Longoria, and one girl asked me if I was greedy. So that was weird. It must be the American thing. But I would rather save stories of teaching for a later date, when I haven’t already written a two and a half page blog post, and when I actually have more to talk about. I have classes again on Tuesday, so perhaps on Wednesday I will be able to post something about the educational world in France.

Nothing much else exciting to tell, but I did join a library, which is a really comforting and lovely thought. I went today and got some books to read, in French of course. And tomorrow we are heading to a wine festival in a nearby village. One of the other assistants read about it somewhere. I guess you pay two euro for a glass, and then you are able to taste all of the local wines.

I need to get ready, though. I have to go on a run before the other four assistant that live in the high school and I trudge over to McDonald’s, to make use of the free Wifi and post this on my blog.


Heather said...

I'm pretty excited to hear about these bratty kids you're going to be teaching :) I just caught up on like the last month of blogs (I'm behind, I know) and the comment about the ever-uncooked meat is enticing. Why do you think I keep wanting to move to Europe! There's just that little wrinkle with the other half... if CA is too far...

Maybe I'll just randomly buy a ticket and visit for like a week... I'm going to start watching for deal airfares :) And you don't have to worry about leaving me alone for those 3 whopping hours of work you do, I'll just go embarass myself American/English style until you can rescue me (or them).

Joe said...

Waiting for Godot?