Category Archives: Friends/Kindred Spirits

Gnarled Vineyards and Snow Like Icing

There are no pictures for one part of this post because my camera was doing a weird thing where it had lines across the image. Kind of as if they were being taken by a surveillance camera. It seemed to go away after I charged it more, though, so I hope that my good digital Canon friend is not dying on me.

On Saturday, assistant friends Kat, Leslie, Jamie, and  Gearoid journeyed by train from their villages and towns to Valence. I showed off our sprawling park and its deer and exotic bird inhabitants, our kiosque, our giant church, our Maison des Tetes (House of the Heads) covered in stone faces, our blue-hued pastries, our Suisses, our charming streets, and…well, that was Valence. So since they were in the area for the day we took the train to Tain l’Hermitage and I basically recreated the tour seen in this post, with the additional of a surreal moment with a man on a unicycle and another with a funeral. We ate chocolate at the Valrhona shop, walked across the river to Tournon, and then attempted some hiking in the vineyards overlooking Tain. However, I didn’t learn my lesson from last time and ended up leading us on some wrong turns and along some dangerous precipices. The grape plants are still dormant and looked like grasping skeleton hands coming out of the ground.

It was a lovely day and made me wish that I saw more of the assistants outside the Drôme/Ardèche area. Not that I don’t enjoy the company of the Valence metro area assistants; they are awesome. I just feel like I should make more of an effort to see the other cool people I’ve met in France. It’s astounding that I came to Valence knowing absolutely no one in the area and have ended up meeting all these interesting and unique people. I hope I will be able to stay in touch when I go back to the States.

Ski lift at Deux Alpes.

Ski lift at Deux Alpes.

On Sunday, I caught an early bus to Deux Alpes with Canadian assistant/super good snowboarder Lauren. The weather was beautiful: sunny and warm. We started out on some tame blue slopes before heading over to the bigger area of the mountain. Unlike last time I went to Deux Alpes, there was no ice and the snow was thick like frosting on a cake.

On the glacier at the top of Deux Alpes.

On the glacier at the top of Deux Alpes.

I think I did pretty well, with only a few dramatic falls. Most of these were coming off the lift. I’m convinced the lifts were running faster than last time and practically swept me off my feet while getting on them and threw me on my face down a steep incline at the end. Maybe I am exaggerating. There was a bigger crowd than last time and the internationals were out in force. I heard a lot of English accents and German. I think they were on winter break. This was nice in a way because I was far from being the worst person on the slopes. Then again, people were crashing and careening wildly all over the place, so it was a little scary at times.

Deux Alpes seen from the telepherique. (Sorry about the scratches from the glass.)

Deux Alpes seen from the téléphérique. (Sorry about the scratches from the glass.)

I though about how it was to go skiing on Spring Break in the States in New Mexico with the hordes from Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas, most sporting sweatshirts from their respective universities. Everyone is generally bad or average, except for a few standouts (I think my brother Tim is usually speeding along pretty well). I miss it, though. I fit in well with the average skiers and snowboarders. I know it’s weird, but I’m never really concerned with going fast. This is contrary to the whole reason for snowboarding I guess, but I really just like the feeling of turning the board through the snow, the sound of the edges, and the mountains stretched out in front of me.

The Alps seen from Deux Alpes.

The Alps seen from Deux Alpes.

I should mention that the sandwich I packed for lunch was delicious . I made it on something called a “1900” bread with Tomme Blanche cheese and tomatoes. We sat on a ledge overlooking the Alps (don’t worry, it was a short drop) and I thought about how much I’m going to miss being two hours from snow covered mountains and being able to buy amazing cheese and bread. Then again, I’m ready for a new adventure. France is beautiful and I love it, but I’m actually getting more excited than nervous about going back to the States and looking for a job. It might and will probably be hard, yet I love discovering new places and people and can’t wait to see where my life takes me next.

The town of Deux Alpes.

The town of Deux Alpes.

I had a well-earned beer at the bottom of the station in the town of Deux Alpes and then got on the bus back to Valence. The scenery on the way back was stunning, like something out of a Thomas Moran painting.

The weather is getting warmer and I’m sure I’ll be on more adventures soon. I might be going to Marseille this month and will certainly try to work in more snowboarding.

à bâtons rompus

I finally got my Titre de Sejour today. Hopefully this means my Carte de Sejour will be given to me eventually. I’ve also been submitting Fools and Specters, my only complete novel to date, to literary agents, although it terrifies me. I can handle rejection, it just seems so much more personal with fiction than with my journalism work. Hopefully something will turn up, even though when I read my plot synopsis it looks like something that would make a good (as in bad) Sci-Fi Pictures Original. Maybe I should just send it to them directly.

This scary Christmas Dragon, or whatever you want to call it, haunts the Avenue Victor Hugo. It clicks its creepy mouth together when you walk by. Another one has turned up on another street...

This scary "Christmas Dragon," or whatever you want to call it, haunts the Avenue Victor Hugo. It clicks its creepy mouth together when you walk by. Another one has turned up on another street...

Last weekend was pretty eventful. Friday night there was a big assistant gathering in the high school where a few assistants live. I can’t believe I’m still meeting Valence assistants, although I guess I was grouped with only the primary school assistants during orientation and there are a lot more Spanish, German, and Italian assistants in the high schools. I spent most of the party playing Ping-Pong and Foosball, both of which I am rather awful at. I’m “maladroit,” as they say here, although I had a few decent hits at Ping-Pong. I will blame the vin chaud. Saturday I went to the market for fruits and vegetables and also got some surprisingly strong Tomme de Savoie cheese. It looked so tame, like Gouda. Crafty cheese.

Snow on a Statue in Parc Jouvet. Weve gotten a lot, but none of it stayed around.

Snow on a Statue in Parc Jouvet. We've gotten a lot, but none of it stays around.

Saturday night I met up with Lisa, an English au pair, and we rode in a tiny car with three French guys down to La Tour d’Aigues in Provence for a party. Helen, an English girl who lives in Valence, was throwing the party with her boyfriend as a surprise for one of her friends. Luckily I’d met this friend before, so I didn’t feel awkward. This makes the second surprise party I’ve been to in France that’s been for someone I’d only met once before. Anyway, it was fun. I guess in France the thing to do is DJ your own dance party in a house, so there were lots of techno beats and even some random didgeridoo. And there was trance music, which is apparently very popular around here, although it still makes me feel like I could start walking into walls. Most important, I learned that in trance dancing you must put up your hood, if you are wearing one, and wave your arms manically while kicking your legs in the air. Now I will never embarrass myself! Oh, and did I mention Père Noël (Santa Claus) made an appearance at the party? I should have asked for a Nabaztag! I missed my chance. Anyway, it was a fun time and I got to meet new people. I noticed that we passed a sign for Digne on the way, and that Toulon was down the highway. Being the French literature nerd that I am, I totally wanted to shout out “The bishop of Digne!! The prison in Toulon!! We’re on the path of Jean Valjean!” But I respected the sensibilities of the other four passengers and did not.

Snow in the Parc Jouvet in Valence.

Snow in the Parc Jouvet in Valence.

This evening, I went with Pauline, a girl who lives in the foyer and is a radio journalist, to interview parents, teachers, and students who are having a “sleep in” protest at a high school. Well, I didn’t do any interviewing, just accompanied. Anyway, most of the high schools are blocked off by the strikes right now because the government is making some major changes to the education system that are not going over well. I can’t imagine a strike like this happening in the States, but they happen all the time in France.

I got my first gift for Christmas from my Uncle Phil: a certificate to make a loan on Kiva! If you haven’t heard of Kiva, you should check it out. Basically, its a way to make loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world. For example, I made my loan to Phal Samoeun in Cambodia to help with her beauty salon. I like that Kiva makes small amounts count, so that people like me who can’t give high dollar amounts can still directly support an individual. I also like that it doesn’t just throw money like a fire blanket to help people, but actually targets a need. Anyway, if you are freaking out about last-minute gifts, it would be a good choice.

I’m now going to finish preparing my last lessons before Christmas Vacation!

Orientation

I am now actually in Valence, the city where I will be teaching. Sorry for the delay in posting, internet is still difficult but I should be fully “wired” by Monday. Who wants to Skype???

I just spent two and a half days at a Stage (orientation) in Autrans with the other 300 assistants in the Academie de Grenoble. The summer camp that we stayed in was quickly and separately (and tastelessly perhaps) nicknamed Auschwitz by the Anglophones. It must have been built during the war and everything was built at the level of a six year old. All of us were at least over 18, with most over 21, so this was inconvenient.

My lovely Autrans dorm

My lovely Autrans dorm

The rooms were in this long echoing buildings and each room had six beds. I was in a room with another American, an English girl, two Germans, and a Swiss girl. The room was probably only meant to hold four beds, but I guess 300 people are hard to accommodate. The surrounding mountains were beautiful. However, I pity the French child who has to spend their whole summer in the stark Bellecombe dormitory and eat the dining hall food.

Most things were interdit (forbidden) at camp. Including playing on the rocks. Running. Etc.

Most things were "interdit" (forbidden) at camp. Including playing on the rocks. Running. Etc.

The food… I’ve never had such food in France. It was so bad that I actually got excited to see what bizarre concoction they would bring out next. Each meal was an inexplicable five courses, except for breakfast, which was giant boxes of cornflakes and coffee. No coffee cups though, so you had to either use your cereal bowl for coffee or the cornflakes and unpasteurized milk.  Back to lunch and dinner though. Luckily, there was always something that was free of meat and plenty of bread that you could retrieve from strategically positioned laundry baskets. The first night there was a mushy, salty vegetable mixture as an appetizer. Someone at my table declared it “tasted like seawater.” Other dinner and lunch highlights included the endless plates of cheese that came between the main course and dessert. One night dessert was a plate of chocolate éclairs, the next apples and processed cheese. Throughout the meals, the cooks would be standing with arms crossed in the dining hall. They were very strict about where you could sit and made you fill up an entire table before the next could be seated at.

Im in Alaska and Oklahoma at the same time!

I'm in Alaska and Oklahoma at the same time!

The reason we were actually at this place was to learn about what we would be doing. However, I mostly was told that I have to teach Queen’s English. My thoughts on this is if they wanted official British English, they shouldn’t have hired American, Canadian, Australian, South African, Jamaican, Taiwanese, and Irish assistants.  So I’ll do my best, but I’m not going to care very much about the difference between “coloring pencils” and “colored pencils.” They were also adamant about not touching the children. Thank god they cleared that up.

Despite all this, the Stage was amazing for meeting all the other assistants. I met a lot of fun and amazing people and I’m excited to meet up throughout the months. We’re kind of spread out, but it’s not a huge space. I’m going to spend this weekend and the following week in Valence and may head over to Grenoble again next weekend to sightsee. Or go to a bar that doesn’t require a mile walk in the cold mountain air like in Autrans. I guess crazy conditions are good bonding experiences though and I’m feeling good about the English-speaking safety net I have if things get stressful.