9 days, 153 syllables

I’ve been spoiled this spring with so many trips and visitors. On Friday, May 13, my good friend from college Amalia came to visit me all the way from the U.S., and she’s heading back to Paris today. We made the most of her time here by going on plenty of short trips in the region as well as exploring Bordeaux. Before she came, I thought about how I could make a unique blog entry for this trip that would require little writing afterwards, and decided it would be fun to work on it along the way by posting one photo from each day with an accompanying haiku. As the trip went on, the haikus got weirder and weirder, and though it’s true that the significance of many of these is clear only to us, I hope you’ll still enjoy this little taste of our past nine days.

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Bordeaux 5.14.16

Lindy hop and rock
for ocean conservation?
We will stop and watch!

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Pessac 5.15.16

Sunny Sunday in
Pessac: Market, picnic, and
this really old tree!!

pretzel cheers
Dune du Pilat 5.16.16

There’s nothing better
than peanut butter pretzels
on top of a dune

gelato
Bordeaux 5.17.16

Gelato, crypt, park,
furry leaves, canelés, and
Swiss hot air balloon?

cap ferret
Cap Ferret 5.18.16

A cape of ferrets:
We biked through a green thing and
sang in a chapel

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San Sebastián 5.19.16

A cable car ride
An empty amusement park
What are these cubed rocks?

biarritz waves
Biarritz 5.20.16

One day we’ll be surf
masters but for now we’re just
dancing in the waves

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Pessac 5.21.16

When you’ve got a wet
tram make it a discotheque
or a Slip’n Slide

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St. Émilion 5.22.16

Tuk-tuk, drippy drop,
Pitter patter, catacombs
Yum yum, macarons!

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Spring snapshots

Rain over Paris…

…and rainbows in fountains,

Villages…

…seashores…

…cathedrals…

…and mountains,

Carcassonne…

…friends…

amauryjustineparis
More Canoe reunions in Paris! (PC Amaury)

…Dad…

…beer vending machines,

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Apparently this is normal in France. (PC Dad)

These are some things that in April I’ve seen!*

 

*plus, among other things, this amazing prehistoric cave that I don’t have pictures of!

C’est le Noooooord [February vacation 2/2]

[continued from part 1]

The next phase of Tess’s and my vacation adventures began when our friend Fanny met us at the train station in Lille on Tuesday, February 23. Shout-out to Fanny for being an absolute champion, since she had arrived in Lille that morning from Montreal, went on to a full day of school, and finally came to pick us up, all without sleeping (!).

Fanny’s sister drove us to their home, which was located not in Lille itself but in the neighboring suburb of Marcq-en-Barœul, which we all had a lot of fun trying to say/spell on the way. The welcome Tess and I received from Fanny’s family for the two nights we stayed there was absolutely wonderful, complete with delicious home-cooked meals and friendly conversation. It was also good to get back into the French swing of things after speaking almost exclusively in English the previous few days!

On Wednesday, Fanny had school, but her dad drove Tess and me into town so we could meet her for lunch, after which we wandered the city a bit on our own (and made it to another movie). We were lucky to have much better weather in Lille than when we were in Belgium, which made exploring the city all the more pleasant—here are a few photos of Lille, but neither Tess nor I took nearly as many as we did in Belgium, I think mainly because we felt we were primarily there to experience authentic life with our friends, rather than as tourists.

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For lunch that day Fanny took us to Notting Hill Coffee, a coffee shop chain in Lille with a rather American feel. All was going well, that is our first couple minutes there, until the guy at the counter put my drink, which was a juice smoothie thing with one of those plastic lids and straws, on the tray with my food—which up until then I had avoided doing, like some part of myself knew this would be a recipe for disaster. Sure enough, I pick up the tray, I look in some other direction and pay no attention to the angle at which I’m holding it, and—splash!—there goes the drink all over the floor. This was naturally quite embarrassing, but they say not to worry about it and to take another one, and they start cleaning up the floor. Meanwhile Fanny has a bit of smoothie on her shoe so she leans down to wipe it off and—oops!—with her backpack she knocks the muffin off my tray (a muffin that I didn’t even want in the first place, but was pressured into taking when I was told that my meal would be less expensive if I got a dessert too, which is very strange logic to me, but whatever). So, moral of the story is that with enough luck, for less than the price of one sandwich and one drink, you can get a sandwich, two drinks, and two muffins at Notting Hill. Pretty nice, but suffice it to say that 1) we didn’t set foot in that same Notting Hill Coffee again during our stay (though Tess and I actually did end up going to a different NHC location for our goûter later that afternoon, where I finally ate my superfluous muffin), and 2) I was very careful every time I was holding anything in the days that followed.

Thursday brought an exciting moment when Camille knocked on Fanny’s door and we were all reunited for the first time since the summer! This was one of just a couple times the four of us were all together on the trip, since Fanny was quite busy with school that week—we all wished we could have seen more of her! But Tess and I had an amazing time staying with each of our friends and their families.

From Fanny’s Camille took us into town for goûter at L’Impertinente, a small and bustling salon de thé where she ran into some friends of friends. After a delicious, but incredibly rich and sugary, goûter (chocolate-toffee shortbread plus a conceptually unique hot chocolate—they give you a glass of hot milk plus a chunk of the type of chocolate you want skewered onto a long spoon, which you stick into the milk until it melts), we were all zombified and content.

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Camille showed us around the old town, le Vieux-Lille, for a while until we ended up in a BD-café (combined comic book store and café/bar, a common thing in France) to discuss our next steps. We decided a night in would be perfect, with a trip to the Auchan (giant French supermarket, equivalent of Costco or something) by Camille’s town on the way. Originally the idea had been to pick up food for dinner, but even once Camille determined there were enough supplies at home, we still went to wander around, because grocery stores are fun (one of the fondest memories the three of us share took place in a grocery store in Bellingham—shout-out to our other dear friend Anne Washington and the best car group ever!). We came out with one giant container of Nutella. And here’s a picture of Camille being super stoked (in true French fashion) about the extensive foie gras aisle:

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Camille’s parents were out when we got to her house, so we had an appropriately wild night of dancing to our favorite tunes (specifically this and other classic favorites from our road trip to Vancouver), sliding around the wooden kitchen floor in our socks, taking Photo Booth photos, Skyping briefly with Brett (another counselor friend), and just generally being our silly giggly selves. Camille’s dad walked in the house right as Tess and I were dancing Zumba to “Papaoutai,” which was a little embarrassing, but also funny. We ate our pasta dinner very late, but come to think of it, we had dinner near 11 each of the remaining nights of our trip, due to extravagant goûters and other complicating factors. We finished off the night with an Ah Mo, storytime Canoe Island-style (with the classic Revolting Rhymes, which Camille had just bought in Texas).

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On Friday we got a late start (had a relaxing morning, complete with fresh-squeezed orange juice courtesy of Camille, best host ever!), but managed to have an astonishingly productive day. First, we went back to Belgium…twice! Camille lives right on the Franco-Belgian border (Halluin), and we thought that it could be entertaining to walk to Belgium, which we did and it was…though also a bit confusing, since there’s no clearly marked border and we spent the whole time wondering when we were technically in France or in Belgium (even Camille didn’t know for sure, and when we got back to her house we looked on Google Maps and you can see that the border is drawn completely randomly, such that you can walk along one road or by the water and be in France, Belgium, France…). On the way back we walked through this Place Transfrontalière, which at least told us that we were in both.

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After that we decided to get fries, so we actually walked back to the house, got the car, and drove back across the border to a friterie belge (where I was reminded of the downside of being back in Belgium: having to pay for the water).

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From there we headed back into Lille, next stop: the zoo! Lille has a free zoo, which we were SUPER excited about visiting (especially Tess, who had somehow missed the initial conversation about going to the zoo, so when we were driving along and mentioned something about the zoo, she was like, “zoo?? we’re going to the zoo!?”; it was pretty cute and funny). However, the zoo closed at 5 and by the time we found parking it was already around 4, so we ran all the way from our parking spot to the zoo entrance. We then bounced about the zoo like giddy little children, managing to see just about everything until they kicked us out for closing (at quarter till, which was lame).

Next we headed downtown to complete an important mission we had dubbed “applePROUT!” (Tess wanted to go to the Apple store to buy a new phone charger—where we learned that cash registers are becoming no longer a thing, after we searched all over for them and they finally told us there weren’t any—and to the bookstore to get this important French children’s book, another Canoe Ah Mo favorite—where we had the unique experience of being three twenty-somethings in the children’s section asking for a book about a farting elephant). After these tasks were successfully completed, we stopped in a café to try Lille’s famous Merveilleux, a pastry made with meringue, whipped cream, and chocolate shavings.

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This café was actually one of a few places we went that day where the staff was very confused about which language we spoke. They would hear us speaking English, and then address Camille in English, who would respond in French, so well that it blew their mind, and we all had a good laugh over it.

Our ultimate project for the night was to go out dancing, which it was too early to do at this point, so we continued hopping about to kill a few hours—first to one bar where we wrote a card to send to Canoe Island; then to another one where we didn’t actually order anything, but borrowed their Uno cards and played a few rounds in the basement and undertook a failed card-sorting project; and then to a Pita Pit (yes, for those of you who are not in the loop, they have Pita Pit in France) for our late dinner (Pita Pit plus: repeating the name “pita pit” over and over in a nonsensical way, which occupied us for much of our nighttime trek across town. Pita Pit minus: intense quantity of raw onions put in the wrap, resulting in a burning sensation in the throat only curable by Camille’s serendipitous Tic-Tacs.) By this time it was finally late enough to go to the bar that Camille had been wanting to take us to—L’Irlandais, a favorite haunt of Camille and an ideal choice because they played a bunch of classic French songs and it was one of the few places where you could go out dancing starting before midnight. We had an absolute blast, especially singing and dancing along to the French songs we knew from camp (even though there were also a good deal that Camille and everyone else in the bar knew, and Tess and I were completely lost on…), along with a good deal of songs in English too of course, a mix of oldies and more recent popular tunes (the latter of which I knew primarily from Canoe Island dances too, ha. Also, for those of you who were at session 2 last year, “Uptown Funk” will forever be “Rangez vos tipis” to me).

It was nearly 3 a.m. when we left, which also made Tess and I feel like we were becoming real French people (because on average people go out much later here). It was only once we were walking back to Camille’s car (still parked by the zoo) and I noticed my sore feet that I realized how much walking, in addition to dancing, we had done that day—it seemed like most of the places we went that day were across town from each other, so we had been constantly on our feet!

Needless to say, we were pretty tuckered out after this whole adventure, so the next day was pretty relaxed. Another calm morning/afternoon lounging on the couch at Camille’s, complete with more fresh-squeezed orange juice and “Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis” (the classic French comedy parodying and celebrating Northern French life; one of my favorites and perfect to rewatch while in the North—it’s also from this memorable scene in the movie that I took the title for this blog post), and a late lunch still in our pajamas (a big thank you to Camille’s parents for feeding and accommodating us, and being so nice). Finally we got dressed to go back into town for a (disappointing) goûter (waffles were too small/not Liege, and they messed up Tess’s ice cream order), only to come back to Camille’s to kill a few hours before going back into town for dinner. We had plenty of time because our dinner reservation was for 10 p.m.—we actually had a heck of a time finding reservations the day of. The restaurant we did end up going to was a newer offshoot of a more established place that Camille had called first. The guy from that first place, who had a super thick Ch’ti accent according to Camille (I don’t think I actually met anyone with this stereotypical accent while I was in the North), must have been quite the character, or else on a dare, because at the end of the phone call he said “bisous” to Camille (more or less the French equivalent of casually saying “love you!” to friends or family at the end of a message or call). Tess and I just heard the other side of the phone call (“D’accord…merci…au revoir…bisous!”) and were very, very confused. A small moment but one of the comedic highlights of the trip.

Anyway, Tess, Camille, and I made good use of our last time together by having a camp sing-along and taking some Polaroids…

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…and then we headed out to dinner, where we finally met up with Fanny again! The restaurant specialized in traditional northern French cuisine, and it was another feeling-like-a-real-French-person experience when we were the last ones to close out the restaurant at 1 a.m. (the place was so busy, they didn’t even take our order until 10:30). It was a perfect way to end our trip, as Tess and I took the train out the next morning.

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All in all, it was a truly wonderful time reuniting with friends from camp, taking a speedy tour of Belgium, and finally exploring Lille. Thanks to everyone who made it a great trip!

Castles, Canals, and Ribs [February vacation 1/2]

I’m going to start this latest installment about my life in France with a callback to another important part of my life: Canoe Island! As any of you who know me well enough to be following this blog must already know, I probably wouldn’t be here this year at all if I hadn’t started learning French at Canoe Island French Camp in 2007, where I continued to return as a camper and later a counselor. One of the best things to come out of my seven summers at Canoe has been the connections I’ve built all over the world—in France in particular, where it seems like I have people to visit and places to stay wherever I go!

Everything fell into place for my last two-week break as soon as I found out that Tess, a fellow American counselor currently studying in Poitiers, a town a couple hours north of Bordeaux by train, had a vacation that overlapped with mine. We thought this would be the perfect time to travel up north and see two of our French counselor friends, Fanny and Camille, in Lille. So I bought tickets to go up and stay with Tess in Poitiers for a couple nights, and then for us to go to Lille together. Things took an ironic turn, however, when a few weeks before our trip both Fanny and Camille announced that they wouldn’t be in France the first few days we were planning on being in Lille—Camille was going to Austin to surprise her brother, and Fanny to Montreal to visit her boyfriend. Tess and I joked about how just when we come to France to see our friends, they leave us for North America…but this didn’t cause us any big problems, as we had been wanting to visit Belgium anyway and now this gave us the perfect time to do it!

So after a couple low-key days in Poitiers…

…on Saturday, February 20 Tess and I took our train to Lille, and from there a bus to Brussels, where we began our Belgian adventure!

I had booked Airbnb rooms for each of the three cities we were staying in. Our stay in Brussels was seamless, if a little strange because we never actually saw the person whose apartment we were staying in. I had been sent all the codes we needed to get in (into the building, into the first floor, into the apartment, into the room…) and we were able to find the apartment from the train station without much trouble, where we dropped our luggage on the floor, our bodies on the bed, and then tried to motivate ourselves to get back out again.

For our tour of Belgium we were lucky enough to experience weather very typical of the region in this season: gray, windy, and very very rainy. I have the worst luck with umbrellas, so that night in Brussels I bought another bigger umbrella after my flimsy half-broken portable one (already my fourth since coming to Bordeaux) didn’t hold up in the wind…and then even this one was half-broken in a couple more days, don’t ask me how I do it. But even if we got soaked, I was very glad we prioritized adventure and made it all the way into the center of town that night. We stumbled upon the famous Manneken Pis peeing statue and finally discovered the magnificent Grand-Place, all lit up by night:

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We found a cozy brasserie on the Grand-Place where we took the daily special of cockerel, fries (of course, they seem to come with every meal in Belgium) and (the best) warm applesauce. On the one hand, it was pleasant because we were seated right by the fireplace; on the other, we were not far from the door and people kept entering and leaving the restaurant without taking care to close the door, which utterly perplexed Tess and me, especially given that it was such a blustery night. Finally one of the times when the door had been left open for a while and no one else seemed to be coming in or out who could close it, I marched over there and closed it, which earned me a big “Thank you!!” from the woman at the table next to us, who had been trying to concentrate on work this whole time. Already we were finding Belgian people to be quite friendly, if terrible at closing doors, as when we left the restaurant and I called out “merci, au revoir” and no one from the restaurant actually heard me, a fellow customer standing by the door answered with a goodbye and told us to have a good night.

After dinner we couldn’t resist buying waffles (our first of many on the trip) at one of several 1€ waffle shops we had noticed on a touristy street near the Grand-Place. There were so many topping choices (I got speculoos spread with strawberries and Tess got Nutella with strawberries) and they were absolutely delicious! We returned home very cold and wet, but with happy tummies.

The next day was spent tourist-ing it up in Belgium. Tess and I discovered that neither one of us is so gifted with directions, so we spent a good deal of time wandering around and never finding some of the things we were looking for, but we did stumble upon some scenic spots…

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…and finally ended up at the Musical Instruments Museum, where we had been planning to spend the afternoon! This museum was fun because it featured all sorts of instruments from different places and times along with an accompanying audioguide so you could hear what the instruments sounded like. Plus, the museum itself was in a really cool building!

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We finished our day in Brussels with a goûter at Haagen-Dazs…I find it funny that although this is an American brand, I’ve never seen actual Haagen-Dazs stores in the U.S., but in Europe they’re all over—and this was a whole two-story, sit-down, surprisingly expensive restaurant. They offered all different kinds of formulas with ice cream, sauces, toppings and sauces…delicious! Totally worth it.

Then before we knew it, we were on a train headed to our next destination—Ghent! We were pretty excited about Ghent because of the castle—Tess had never seen one before—and also because we had reservations for dinner that night at Amadeus, an all-you-can-eat ribs restaurant.

Little did we know the struggles we would have to go through to make it to that ribs dinner, though. First of all, there was the Airbnb. We had no problem finding the place from the train station in Ghent, but we had a heck of a time getting in the building because our hosts weren’t there, and had left us instructions on where to find the keys that ended up not being true. Thank goodness some kind neighbors entered the foyer just as we were getting ready to turn around and go back to the train station in hopes of finding Wi-Fi there (our 8:00 reservation time was approaching and we didn’t have the directions to the restaurant); they were able to call our host and find the keys. (As it turned out, he had sent a message to my cell phone, not knowing it wouldn’t work in Belgium.) Our hosts actually arrived shortly after we got in and were able to counsel us on which tram to take to arrive at our restaurant. I wrote down the name of the stop we needed to get off at and the street we needed to turn on, and then we hurried out the door. We found the tram stop, but missed the first tram to come along as Tess was still printing her ticket. At this point we were running late, but figured we would still make it before they gave away our table (even if they weren’t so happy with us).

Oh, but that was without taking into account our glorious talent for getting lost anywhere, anytime. Just to give you a bit of context, when Tess came to visit Bordeaux we tried to go to a movie in town and got there at the right time, but in the wrong theater (I take credit for that one, though in my defense, the two theaters were at opposite sides of the same square). Then when we went to see a movie in Poitiers, where there is only one movie theater, we ended up in the wrong room (Tess, when “Deadpool” started instead of “Hail Caesar” and no one else looked confused: “This might be the wrong room. I didn’t actually look at the room on the ticket.” Me: “Why not?” Her: “Every movie I’ve been to has been in this one!”). And then the next day in Ghent, we spent ages searching for a restaurant that I could see on the map on my iPod was only a block away from us, but since the GPS couldn’t localize us, we kept walking in the wrong direction and getting farther away from it. (Then of course, as luck would have it, that restaurant was closed.)

So even though I thought we’d be able to find Amadeus from the tram stop since I knew what street we were supposed to turn on and Google Maps told us the restaurant was one minute away from the tram stop, I hadn’t had the time to look at which direction we needed to walk to find this street. After several minutes of wandering in what was evidently the wrong direction, it was clear this was going to be a problem. So I did what any self-respecting person in Belgium would do: asked the guy at the nearest French fry stand. He was very helpful, even getting out a pencil and paper and drawing a little map of how to get to Amadeus from where we were. We found the restaurant quickly after that, though we found it curious that the route continued in the direction away from the tram—this was definitely not a one-minute walk!

We entered the restaurant around 8:30, and I explained to the guy that we had had reservations for two and missed them since we had gotten lost, but he said he could seat us anyway. I sat down, opened the menu—and realized that this was not the same restaurant location as the one we had reserved at! I knew there were two Amadeus locations in Ghent, but had never dreamed they were so close together! (Seven minutes walking, as I confirmed on Google Maps upon our return to our room.) All’s well that ends well, though, and we were able to enjoy a delicious dinner of ribs (I was not able to finish my rack and looked on with amazement at those who took seconds) and potatoes (with an unusual but delicious curry sauce). The architecture and décor of the restaurant was super lavish and beautiful, too.

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The next morning we found ourselves back in the center of Ghent, to visit Gravensteen Castle. Because it’s Europe, and perfectly restored medieval castles just exist in the middle of town, of course. It was another cold and stormy day for wandering the ramparts, but there was also plenty of time spent inside the rooms of the castle, including a mini torture museum that I’m not sure I’m better off for having seen, but, you know, education.

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Ghent was a lovely town, but it would be a lie to say that the weather did not at all infringe upon our enjoyment of it. We saw a lot of beautiful streets and buildings…

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…but after a few frustrating—and freezing, as we were getting soaked through to the bone!—attempts to escape the loop we kept turning in no matter how hard we tried to wander somewhere new, we finally stopped for lunch and then sought out refuge in a cozy Starbucks for a good chunk of the afternoon before heading back to pick up our luggage and start for Bruges.

Upon arriving in this new town, we faced a bit of logistical excitement once again as we were supposed to call our Airbnb host as soon as we arrived, but didn’t have functional cell phones, as has been discussed. We thought we might find a payphone at the train station, but those don’t seem to exist anywhere anymore, so we stopped inside the Starbucks (third Starbucks in two days, after never having been since the U.S.!) for the Wi-Fi and I tried to call on my iPod using Skype, but the sound was so quiet that I was forced to hang up and just ask the guy behind the counter to use the real phone, which (surprise!) worked like a miracle.

I had sort of a shock looking up walking directions from the train station to our Airbnb when we were back in Ghent and realizing it was over a 20-minute walk. I knew I had gotten a place right in the center of town, but for some reason I had been convinced that was right next to the train station too. Still, we decided to walk rather than figure out the bus system since it was barely raining, and had better luck finding it than we did probably navigating anywhere else on our whole trip, which was magical. We just kept going the right direction and turning where we were supposed to, and though for someone who is competent with directions it may sound insane to call that luck or magic, that’s absolutely what it felt like.

When we arrived at the house we were treated to a very warm and humorous welcome from our Airbnb host, one half of a couple that rents out rooms in two different houses. His partner (I say this because in Europe especially, I never know if people are married) was at home (the other house) with their newborn baby, and I suppose the stress of the baby was getting to him since, as he explained, “this is the first time I’ve ever welcomed guests half-drunk.” He was pretty funny, though, and very kind and helpful, even providing us with an annotated map of Bruges with advice on all the best places to go. (And breakfast cereal!) Since they live in the other house and no one else was staying there that night, we had the whole house to ourselves—“Don’t be respectful of the other guests,” our host said when going through his usual spiel, “because there are no other guests.”

Since we had arrived at our Bruges Airbnb later than planned, it was pretty late by the time we headed out for dinner, so after leaving the restaurant (your average traditional European restaurant-y sort of restaurant, with some added lovey-dovey décor and a playlist of schmaltzy love ballads that seemed to be holdovers from Valentine’s Day), we didn’t do any more exploring of the town. So the next morning we walked into the heart of town in the light and got to discover everything for the first time. The Market, the main central square, was pretty picture-perfect:

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Bruges was Tess’s and my favorite Belgian town of the three we visited, though at least personally I believe the weather played an important part in that—it was the only place where we had decent weather, okay in the morning and downright nice for most of the afternoon (you’ll be able to see the range of skies in the photos…). The first thing we did after dropping off our luggage at free (!) lockers at the Historium (an interactive museum about medieval life in Bruges that we did not actually visit, but every time we went back and forth to get something from our suitcases, we were greeted in several languages by our new friend, the creepy animatronics town crier guy) was climb the 366 steps to the top of Bruges’ famous belfry, where we enjoyed a beautiful view of Bruges and a deafening carillon interlude.

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After those stairs and some more walking, we felt we had definitely earned our lunch—burgers complete with adorable salad in jars, from this very PNW-feeling burger restaurant. Here I also had yet another confirmation of my theory that Dutch often sounds basically like English with an accent: the waitress asked if we wanted something to drink, and I responded right away without being totally sure if she was speaking Dutch or if she just had an accent until, upon hearing us speak English, she said, “Oh! English! Sorry,” and switched. (This had been my suspicion, if only because most Dutch people are too good at English to have much of an accent!)

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Om nom nom

We were so glad this was the one afternoon of our Belgium trip that it wasn’t pouring, as one of the things we had most wanted to do was take a boat tour on the canals. It was the perfect way to see the most picturesque nooks and crannies of the town (even if it went too fast to get good photos!). This inspired us to then explore more of the town on foot. We wandered for a while, seeing a fair number of sights as well as the inside of many chocolate shops. 😉

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We got one last waffle to commemorate the (official) end of our trip in Belgium (little did we know we’d be back again quite soon…this is your cliffhanger for part two). Already it had been a great adventure—but we were even more excited to be able to share the next one with our dear Canoe friends!

[To be continued…]

Best of high school

I realize I haven’t actually written about my teaching job since I started in October. You might have been wondering what I’ve been doing since then; the answer is, not as much as you might think…I reuse so many of the same lessons and I work so few hours in the week (even though I’m supposed to work 12 hours/week, there is invariably some teacher absent or a class that doesn’t need me…once I even worked just four hours in a week!). Still, I’ve had many interesting moments over the last few months working at the high school, so I thought I’d try to regroup some of those here.

Getting to know students

As I’ve evoked before, this job is a bit unusual just because I so rarely see the same students, which is a shame since my favorite part of teaching is getting to know them. Apart from a few classes that I see more often (so now I can actually match names to faces for all the students in a couple classes in the school!), I’m only now getting through one complete cycle in most of the classes! That’s still crazy to me, because at the beginning of the year I thought this set-up would mean I’d only see each student a few times throughout the year, but now I’m realizing it’s even less than that—in the bigger classes I see less often, I’ll only have seen everyone once, and some people twice. Which makes me question even more how useful I really am to the school as an assistant…

Getting to know the students in the small groups is fun, though, even if I don’t always get to see the same students again. Since they’re usually new to me, I start each session by asking them to introduce themselves and tell me a little bit about themselves. This often has some very interesting consequences. Some highlights from student introductions:

  • Mama Cat & Mini Cat: One time a girl told me she slept for 18 hours three nights in a row. I was astonished, but she simply replied coolly, “I am a cat.” Her friend also liked sleeping, so the girl explained that she was “Mama Cat” and he was “Mini Cat,” a sort of apprentice to the master, as it were. This is one of the classes I have more regularly (I generally see the same students once a month or so), so the next time I had them, I hesitated between the names of the two boys in the group, and someone in the group (not Mama Cat because she’s often absent, presumably sleeping) reminded me that Étienne was “Mini Cat.” After that I always think of that when I see him.
  • Charlie: This kid in one of my all-boy groups introduced himself with this bit of information: “I am a serial killer.” I asked him what else he liked to do and he said play rugby and video games, which I thought made sense, given the interest in violence, but then the other boys in the group reminded him, “Tell her how much you love to sing!” “Oh, yes, I love singing,” he said. “I love High School Musical.” This might sound like a joke, but he continued to talk about it with genuine enthusiasm, and suggested throwing a karaoke party at the end of the year. I noted this down along with my other notes on the students—he was tickled to hear that I had “Charlie-serial killer-rugby-video games-sing-High School Musical” written in my notebook. People are so interesting.
  • Boys being boyish: I have a fair number of classes, all specialized technical tracks, composed almost solely of boys. Both in these groups and the coed ones, I find I’m so fascinated by the whole adolescent boy mentality, since it’s something I never experienced in high school myself. In the same group as serial killer/karaoke star Charlie (along with basketball Hugo and “I don’t steal pens” Sebastian), I had a kid who told me his favorite hobby was chatting with girls (he’s not the first, either). I asked him if he meant online or in real life, and he said in the city, so I asked where he went to chat with girls. He had no qualms telling me he likes to go to the Rue Sainte Catherine, the biggest pedestrian shopping street in Bordeaux, where he walks very slowly up and down, so he can watch all the girls. I should probably be creeped out by this, but it was kind of cool to get a privileged glimpse into teenage male psychology.
  • On the topic of oversharing: I feel like I get an idea of how much French high schoolers like to party by talking to them, too. A lot of times the only outside-of-school interest students can think of is “be with my friends,” and then when I ask what they like to do with their friends, this innocent question is often met with embarrassed glances exchanged with the other students and some nervous giggling. Oftentimes, though, they have no problem just telling me how much they like drinking and partying. One of my students told me the only thing she likes to do is sleep (popular choice), and when I pressed to see if there was anything else she enjoyed, she said, “Drinking. I drink a lot of alcohol.” I tried to insinuate that the two might be related, but she doesn’t really understand English (despite being a supersenior in the literary track…once again, coincidence?).
  • Lost in translation: I often have a good laugh with students over miscommunications that arise from either them not understanding something in English or me not understanding something due to their accent. One funny thing that happened was with a class shortly after the October break, when I asked if anyone had traveled over the break and this kid told me he had gone to Tahiti, so we were talking about that for a bit, and then he said he had also gone to England, and I was super impressed, like, “Wow! Tahiti and England all in the same vacation!?” and it took a while and other students’ help before he realized I had been asking just about travel during that vacation, and not over the course of his life. (He had stayed at home, like the others.)

Two Truths & a Lie

Since I mostly have terminale students (seniors) and have to cover certain topics in preparation for the bac (le baccalauréat, their big end-of-year test), when I have the premières (juniors), I take advantage of that time to have a bit more fun. So with all of my première classes since the beginning of the year (since I’ve only seen each group once at this point), I’ve been playing Two Truths & a Lie. They always get really into it, asking each other questions and everything, and it’s a great way for them to get to know each other even better as well as practice their English. Usually they understand how to play pretty well and come up with three credible things to say, but there have been some especially bizarre and funny moments as well:

  • In one of my first groups, I had a kid who said for his three statements: 1) I am perfect, 2) I am wonderful, 3) I am the worst. (Remember the kid who asked me on the first day if money made people crazy and what the number five meant to me? This is the same kid. You can picture everything he says with a very strong French accent, too.) Everyone in the group was great at humoring him and asking him the relevant questions, e.g. “what makes you the best?” “what makes you the worst?”, etc. I asked him for clarification on the difference between perfect and wonderful to him, and he explained something along the lines of, “I am wonderful because I am perfect, and I am perfect because of the things that make me perfect.” It was very circular, but sort of checked out. At the end we were able to ascertain that his lie was, in fact, that he was the worst. Interesting, interesting young man.
  • One boy in a group I recently had said, “I did sex with my cousin.” We mostly avoided asking questions about that one, even assuming it was the lie, but one person did ask, “How old is your cousin?” to which he responded, “Five.” Thank goodness that was a lie.
  • Yet another boy (why is it always the boys who say these ridiculous things?) said, “I have 42 sons.” That was sure a tough one to figure out…

Romeo & Juliet remakes

One of the classes I have has been studying the story of Romeo & Juliet and one of the songs from West Side Story. This was a class I hadn’t had in a long time because the teacher kept being absent, so when I did finally have them I asked what they had been working on and decided to make up an activity on the spot where, in partners or trios, they came up with their own rewrites of Romeo & Juliet and performed a short scene. They ended up having a lot of fun with this, and it was hilarious to see what they came up with. In my first group I had a medieval version, a modern version, and a futuristic version, and I was treated to some quality lines like “I see you with your robots on the street” and “Juliet, do you love me, or do you love the image of loving me?”

I continued doing this activity with this class and the skits seemed to get weirder, and farther away from Romeo & Juliet, each time. I started asking to keep some of them, so here you can read a few original copies:

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Fat drama. I think these kids must be watching a lot of American TV, because I didn’t teach them “Be my guest” or “See you in hell.” Definitely made me laugh out loud.
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Ice Age tragedy. I had to give them the three words “squirrel,” “mammoth,” and “acorn”; the rest was all them. The girl who played the mammoth was so into it; she came up with all of the romantic lines and played her part very dramatically.
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Chatroom romance. I thought this one was the most realistic of all the scenarios.

Lunch with students

On Wednesdays on Week A I have (or at least am supposed to have) a class at noon, so I usually eat lunch at 11:30 in the cafeteria on those weeks. On other days when I eat in the cafeteria I sit upstairs with the teachers, but at this time it’s super deserted. So I was delighted when about a month ago, a student from one of my (favorite!) classes came up to me and proposed that I eat with her and her friends. They were super nice and helpful by introducing themselves and the classes they were from again—I had had all of them before, but only once so I couldn’t remember them all personally. They were all students in première who had played Two Truths & a Lie with me, so they were rehashing what their truths and lies had been—I was tickled that this was something they still enjoyed talking about. They spoke to me some in English, though they also talked to each other in French. Two weeks later, I sat with some of the same students again (even though both of those weeks my noon class was canceled, but I couldn’t have known that), and I got to hear about a video project they were working on. On Friday with the class one of the students told the teacher proudly, “We eat lunch with Marisa on Wednesdays!” and she thought that was great. Now I’m already looking forward to more Wednesday lunches in the future.

Père cent

Père cent, or percent, is a French high school tradition that marks 100 days until the bac. Part of this tradition, as I learned that day in school, involves going into the streets and basically making a ruckus (throwing flour or eggs, or shaving cream, etc…), something I did not witness firsthand. I think the exact practices differ according to the school and town, but at least at my school, there was a school-sanctioned aspect of the Père cent, which took place this past Friday, the last Friday before the February vacation: classes were canceled for the afternoon, which was instead filled with student concerts, mural painting, foosball and badminton tournaments (and other sports I think), video game battles, Just Dance, a costume competition, a special lunch menu prepared by the students, and a free snack. I was pretty stoked just about the existence of this day,  since it generally seems to me that school and fun are two very separate phenomena in France. Many of my fondest memories of high school come from school assemblies, spirit weeks, class parties, participation in extracurricular activities, etc., and it’s a culture that doesn’t exist so much here, so I was happy to discover they did put on a day of fun—even if a lot of students chose not to stick around for it, seeing as it was the final afternoon before vacation and all. I ended up staying for most of the afternoon because I was enjoying the concerts so much (though I never made it out to the gym to watch the sporty competitions, anyone surprised?). I also got to watch some pretty impressive dancing by one of the English teachers and an intern, and stuck around long enough to see the lineup of costumes (complete with character interpretations). It was fun to see some of my students in an outside-of-class setting, and even though I didn’t know many of the students it was fun just to witness the general atmosphere of the day.

The cat

There’s a cat that lives sometimes in the teacher’s lounge at school. I have no idea where it comes from, but no one else seems to be fazed when it wanders through. The first time I discovered this cat’s existence, I thought I was all alone sitting at the long work table in the computer room, but I kept hearing something that distinctly sounded like snoring. I kept looking around, expecting to find a snoozing teacher curled up in some corner, but finally I realized the sound was coming from the sleeping cat tucked under the table in the chair next to mine!

Whiteboard chefs d’œuvre

I’d like to say that knowing I’m not good at drawing has been one of the things I’ve learned from this job, but I definitely knew that already. But now from time to time I get to exhibit my skills, or lack thereof, in front of more people, like when I try to sketch a basic outline of the U.S. freehand so I can show the students where Oregon is (generally ends up looking something like a cow), or when I’m trying to illustrate certain vocabulary words (usually those go so wrong, though, that I just end up erasing the attempt and giving a French translation when absolutely necessary). Then there was the class that was studying music for social change; we listened to a classic song (I think you’ll be able to tell from the pictures which one it was) and filled in the blanks to complete the lyrics. I remember first drawing the picture of the water and shore to show the meaning of “sand,” then I kept adding other vocab words to the same picture until it was this crazy jumble of things…

On a related note, I don’t know if anyone’s told you yet or not, but the secret best part of being a teacher is getting to erase whiteboards. Especially here, because they’ve got these great magnetic whiteboard erasers that work super well.

I suppose that’s not the only perk of the job, though—you can’t forget the constant vacations. Here I am again on another one, when I could have sworn we just got done with the last. Can’t complain, though. I’ll be making good use of this one with a 10-day trip to Poitiers, Belgium, and Lille to reunite with camp friends, and I couldn’t be more excited!

Belated Valentine’s bisous to all!

A very French Christmas

Bonne année everyone! I hope you all had excellent holidays. I spent mine here in France and thought you might be interested in hearing about a French Christmas (and what I did on my vacation)!

This is actually not my first Christmas in France as I spent it four years ago with the same family. I loved experiencing the holiday in a big French family, so I was excited to get the fuller experience this year when Sophie proposed that I go a few days early to keep her mother company and prepare the big country house (on the property of La Guate, in the commune of Daubèze, about an hour away from Bordeaux) for Christmas. As the time got closer, I learned that joining us for the initial days of preparation would be 7½-year-old Blandine, whom I knew pretty well after spending a few days watching her and her siblings over the last break—and before that, from playing a bunch with her when she was a wee tot at my last Christmas here.

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Alain picked me up Sunday morning on my first weekend of break and we went on a scenic detour on our way to La Guate. First, we stopped in the town of Duras to pay a visit to a chocolaterie—and I saw this square dedicated to Marguerite Duras, one of the authors I wrote my senior thesis on:

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Next we stopped in the village of Castelmoron-d’Albret, which is apparently the smallest commune (by size) in Europe! This does not mean the smallest village, but I guess it is the smallest commune because the limits of the town don’t go any farther than the village itself. It was very adorable in any case, and we happened to stop in on the day they were having their little Christmas market and collection of crèches (nativity scenes) on display throughout the village.

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Cat crèche

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Spending four days in the French countryside with a 7½-year-old girl and an 83-year-old woman as my two companions was quite the experience, as you may imagine, and a great break from my regular weekly routine. It felt like traveling back to a different time with a simpler lifestyle (even though the only modern convenience lacking at La Guate is internet, which we didn’t need for anything—but I suppose that reinforces my point, because not thinking to use the internet for anything, and not being around anyone with a smartphone or tablet or laptop, already feels like a very different lifestyle). Days were centered around meals, showers, teatime, small tasks around the house and in the yard, games of Memory (Blandine was obsessed, probably because she kept winning)—and later crosswords (once I started winning Memory)—by the fire, and plenty of sleep (I had the most wonderfully comfortable bed and am pretty sure I slept at least 10 hours every night). The weather was bizarrely warm…but I suppose if you can’t have snow for Christmas, you may as well have sun.

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Blandine’s and my first task was to construct the crèche. This involved several trips outside collecting moss and branches before arriving at our final product.

Of course, an important part of every day was the pilgrimage next door to see the donkeys:

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(And sometimes play hide-and-seek with a cow…)

Then there was the time we decided to build a fort in the living room. Complete with Christmas decorations, of course. Blandine had the excellent idea to have our goûter (snack) in there…

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We did a bit of cooking, too. Here are the fish loaves we made for Christmas day (the first time I was in France and tried a warm cake with tuna fish inside, I thought it was strange, but I like it now). Luckily I was not called upon to help prepare the foie gras (seeing and smelling it in the kitchen during its various stages of production only reminded me how deeply I despise that food).

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Le pain de poisson

The rest of Blandine’s family got there Wednesday night, and everyone else on Thursday for Christmas Eve. In France, most of the Christmas festivities traditionally happen on the 24th rather than the 25th. Although different families have different traditions, the most common practice is to open gifts at night on Christmas Eve. Attendance of a nighttime mass is also common, as is, of course, food! Like in America, though, there is no single traditional Christmas meal, and the big feast can happen on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (or both!).

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In this family, the practice is to bring down all the presents from the room where they are stored upstairs and lay them all out in the traditional present room (I don’t know what I would call this room, but it’s toward the front of the house and the one with the wood stove) while the kids are at mass with some of the adults. When I was in France for Christmas four years ago, the mass was late enough that we were able to have dinner first and mass/present preparation second, followed by opening presents and dessert. That was a particularly funny year because since there were so many people in attendance that Christmas, we had to lay out all the presents throughout the hall rather than in the traditional room, where we would be too cramped. So the kids were taken into the traditional present room by way of the side door and the parents explained that Père Noël could not afford presents that year because of the economic crisis. Instead, each of them received just an orange and a coin. This trick gave me a very positive impression of French children, because before we revealed where the presents really were, they were remarkably composed about this whole situation. Blandine was legitimately delighted by her orange, and when I reminded her about it this year she could still remember that night, and went on insisting that an orange was as good as any present.

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Christmas 2011

Anyway, this year the mass was earlier in the evening, so even though we prepared the presents during the mass, we ate dinner afterward and then opened presents. Dinner was on the lighter side compared to the next day’s lunch feast, but as Alain explained to me, this was only the appetizer to the traditional Christmas Eve meal of hot cocoa, pastries, and bûche (Yule log cake, several of which I helped make the night before), which we enjoyed after presents.

The whole present-opening ceremony here is pretty different from what I’m used to for Christmas. Since it’s such a big family (although only 23 were in attendance that evening, which wasn’t everyone who is usually there), it doesn’t work to take turns watching everyone open each present individually. Instead, the kids line up from youngest to oldest in front of the present room, and then they file in, find their stack of presents, and begin opening in a joyous free-for-all. There’s also a carefully planned out system of who gives to whom, since it would not be possible for everyone to give gifts to everyone. The system is actually more complicated than a simple secret Santa; first of all, it’s not really secret, but also there are different factors depending on if you’re a kid or an adult (I think adults give to more than one kid but kids give to one adult? I still got to be a “kid” for this)—I don’t even think I fully understand the nuances of the system, but at least I knew who I had to give a gift to and who gave gifts to me.

The next day we gathered once again for the big Christmas meal: pain de poisson and foie gras as appetizers (lucky for me I’ve been to France before and know what’s up! otherwise I might have thought that was the whole lunch, as I did when we had that meal four years ago on Christmas Eve), followed by duck roasted with chestnuts, followed by more bûche and other cakes and lots and lots of chocolate. I think this year must have been an unusually heavy chocolate year because Alain and I brought a chocolate crèche we found at the market in Castelmoron. It was pretty funny to hear this sort of conversation between little ones and their parents: “I want my saint!” “Which one? The one you bit the head off of already?” &c.

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There was even more excitement on Christmas Day besides the usual festivities. 11-year-old Samuel is a master at card tricks, so he worked with the other kids to prepare a magic show for the whole family. This was quite the project, including not only costumes for the magicians (Samuel and Louise) and practice of the tricks themselves, but also posters advertising the event put up around the house and homemade tickets (that were never actually used). The magic show was quite a success and absolutely adorable (right down to three-year-old Malo’s hilarious ringmaster antics).

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But that’s not all—following the magic show was a family-wide game that Blandine had been preparing for days—meticulously making posters, writing out the rules, and signing people up on a very official sign-up sheet (you had to put your first and last name, age, and signature. This girl really wanted to be sure you were committed to this game). Blandine’s thing right now is horseback riding, so her game was centered on her various pony grooming instruments—you had to memorize the names of them and then find one that was missing in the house. (This game had a very long name I never quite retained, as it was later shortened to “Cache-cache Brosse” (brush hide-and-seek) for the sake of snappiness in advertising). The winner was entitled to an extra piece of cake and a game of Memory; as I had already had enough of both of those things in the past few days to last me for the new year, I was perfectly fine not winning.

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I came back to Pessac with Sophie and Alain on Friday night, and spent the next day still with the family as all of their children and grandchildren were reunited for the holiday. Then I got ready to embark on a new adventure: meeting my friend Matthias in Strasbourg for a few days!

This was my first time really traveling since arriving in Bordeaux, so it was quite exciting to take the train all the way diagonally across the country and see a new region I’d never visited before. Strasbourg is insanely picturesque—I was constantly comparing it to Disneyland (hey, what can I say, I saw Disneyland before I saw real Europe)—and it was really nice to meet up with Matthias, a fellow Whitman French major buddy who’s doing the TAPIF program too. We rented a room from Airbnb right on the edge of La Petite France, the most famous medieval quarter. Unfortunately we had planned our trip with the famous Strasbourg Christmas market in mind, which was supposed to be open until New Year’s, but it had closed down early due to the Paris attacks (along with the cathedral tower, which we also tried to see! Bummer). The city was still lit up in all its Christmas decorations, though, and we found plenty of ways to keep busy: we visited two museums, went on a boat tour, went to a movie, feasted on some typically Alsatian things like bretzel and spaetzle, and did a whole bunch of walking all over the city. Here’s a slideshow of images from the trip:

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Now it’s back to Pessac and back to work for me—I’m getting back into the swing of learning new students’ names at the lycée (would you believe I still haven’t gone through one full cycle in all of my classes yet and am still meeting students for the first time?), wrangling my dear three-year-old (whose New Year’s resolution really needs to be to get better at using the toilet…four accidents in two days put me a bit at my wits’ end this week), picking out movies to see at the Jean Eustache (they’re showing “Bringing Up Baby” next week and I have possibly never been more thrilled), and looking ahead to a new year filled with lots of travel, visits from friends and family, and much unknown!

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Keep calm and be a blobfish

I can’t believe it’s December already! Now that I’ve gotten into a rhythm here, life seems to be flying by. Naturally, part of that rhythm has included being perpetually behind on my blog posts—especially seeing as there are basic elements of my life I meant to write about in my first few weeks here that have still gone neglected. I’m trying to begin rectifying that situation now, though, with this post on my secondary jobs.

I mentioned Sophie’s cousin Marc and his wife Isabelle a while back in my post about my apartment; what I did not mention at the time was that not only did they find me my apartment, they also helped me secure my two regular jobs outside of teaching! The first of those is directly with their family—I come once a week to help their 15-year-old son Romain with his homework and English for two hours. I didn’t really know what to expect with this job before I started—the parents told me Romain needed help in his homework “organization” and “methods,” which led me to think he might have a lot of homework to organize and a bad attitude about schoolwork, neither of which ended up being the case at all. I’ve actually been surprised with how little homework he seems to have for a high school sophomore (though maybe I’m comparing it with my own experience, which was not exactly representative). I’m supposed to help him with his homework in history/geography, Spanish, and English, although he so rarely has real assignments that I more often end up quizzing him on his class notes for those subjects from the week. He has such a good natural memory for history/geography, and I often have such difficulty reading his handwriting to decipher his notes, that one could question at times who is really helping whom… Working on Spanish with him is funny, too, because having taken several years of Spanish but a very long time ago, when you average it out we have about the same Spanish level (although really for practical purposes he’s better than me). One time we wasted nearly the entire two hours working on an infuriating Spanish word search worksheet…with no word bank, we were constantly guessing if things were words and looking them up. Normally, though, we have plenty of time leftover with the homework done and the lessons reviewed, so we spend it chatting in English. The first week I was there, Romain was more hesitant about answering me in English, but as we’ve developed a rapport he seems to have gotten more comfortable speaking English. One time recently I even convinced him to keep on speaking English as we studied Spanish (so he had to give me the English, rather than the French, translation of the Spanish word). Another week, we ended up playing 20 Questions in English for well over the allotted “work time,” which was very fun and silly. It was also amusing as Romain’s little sister, Yaëlle, played with us for part of it—she doesn’t understand much English but is a very enthusiastic participant. The biggest laugh of the evening came from one of Romain’s choices for 20 Questions. He gave me the category “animals” and I figured out that it was a fish, but couldn’t guess what kind of fish it was based on the clues. He finally told me “jellyfish,” but for me that didn’t quite match up with his descriptions of the fish, the main one being that it was “very very ugly,” so we searched “poisson très très moche” on Google Images and instantly found what we were looking for:

blobfish

The blobfish! So we all learned a new English word that night. (I had of course seen pictures of this famously ugly—though arguably sort of cute?—fish on the internet, but hadn’t known or remembered what it was called.) I encouraged Romain, half jokingly, to incorporate this word into one of his English assignments or class participation in the next week. When I saw him the next time and asked if he had remembered to use the word, he said he had forgotten and then, with a mischievous smile, erased one of the words in a sentence he had just written—”Usually I take meat in the cafeteria, but today I am taking rice only”—and replaced it with “blobfish”: “Usually I take meat in the cafeteria, but today I am taking blobfish only.” (Unfortunately this wasn’t an assignment they turned in, so the teacher may never see this gem of a sentence. Maybe for the best.)

Going over to Marc and Isabelle’s has become one of the constant highlights of my week, both because working with Romain is so fun and because I generally stay for dinner and spending time with the whole family is lovely (Romain is one of 4 children, though the oldest is not usually there). The first week when they invited me for dinner, and then offered to drive me home, I felt kind of bad that they were even paying me for the tutoring hours on top of this! But Romain’s mom has recently been telling me I’m a big help since Romain wasn’t motivated to study by himself or when his parents tried to do it with him, so I suppose it’s a win-win. I find that they would make the perfect host family for study abroad, since they’re all so warm, funny, and down-to-earth. Last week’s dinner ended in the three kids balancing spoons on their nose…I wanted to see if their mom could do it too, then I had to run to grab my phone so I could capture the moment… (From left to right: Romain, Isabelle, Yaëlle, Rémi.)

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The other job I have is with the family of one of Marc’s colleagues—I watch his four children (ages 3, 7, 12, and 14) three nights a week every other week. If we’re being fair, though, it’s a bit of a stretch to say I watch four children, even if that was how it was presented to me at first. Unsurprisingly, I spend more time with the younger ones—I pick up the 3-year-old and 7-year-old from their after-school care and from then on most of the evening is spent watching the 3-year-old, giving him his bath, etc. I help the 7-year-old girl with her piano sometimes and once I helped the 12-year-old girl with her English homework, but since she does a lot of the cooking, I’d say she helps me more than I help her. The 14-year-old boy is very much in his own adolescent universe so I don’t have a lot of interaction with him. All of the kids are freakishly mature for their age, though…I think there’s a general stereotype, at least in the U.S., that French children are better behaved, but even for France this is a little bit eerie. Imagine walking into a very big, modern, perfectly cleaned and organized house where the 3-year-old insists on using the scrubber brush himself to clean the toilet after using it, the 7-year-old invents a game to make folding and putting away clothes fun (which she does so much better than you), the 12-year-old constantly (and competently) plays the mini-mom in cooking for everyone and taking care of her little brother without being asked, and the 14-year-old calls his friend to tell him he can’t get together anymore that day because he hasn’t finished all his homework yet…during vacation. All of this makes my job a lot easier, though in a way it also makes me more nervous about messing something up.

Even in a family like this, though, 3-year-olds will be 3-year-olds. Which means adorable and many moments of smiles and joy, but also demanding of a good deal of patience, energy, and just plain time every step of the way. The first step of the evening is picking up Côme (3) and Garance (7) from the daycare center and then walking back home, which is quite the trek in and of itself. I have never done the walk back to the house by myself, but I imagine it would take me about 10 minutes; with Côme, we’re pushing 45. Besides the obvious fact of him being a small person with small legs and small stamina, it’s like walking a dog who just wants to stop and sniff at every patch of grass. For Côme, though, the main object of attraction is not plant and animal life, but cars. I am not saying this is the first little boy I’ve met who’s obsessed with cars and anything transportation-related, but I don’t know if I’ve seen anyone carry the passion quite this far before. On an average walk you can expect Côme to stop in front of the pharmacy window to admire the Christmas sets of toy cars (except now I try to take the other side of the street), in front of the mechanic’s garage to admire the various metal parts, and just anywhere and everywhere there are cars, whether parked or moving, simply to gaze longingly and point out “There are a lot of cars!” Since we’re in civilization, this means it is often hard to get Côme moving, even though I try to convince him there’ll still be more cars to see up ahead. He’s fascinated by parking, too—on more than one occasion after getting back home, he’s stayed standing still for several minutes outside the house, completely transfixed, just watching a car (or truck! or van!) parallel park. He always wants to know which direction it’s going to move and who will get out afterward.

Once we’ve arrived home, the next challenge is to get Côme moving toward the next step of his routine, which is taking a bath. I wondered for a while why it was so hard to convince him to get in the bath and then just as hard to convince him to get out, until I remembered that I’m still the same way at age 22. So that generally takes up a good chunk of the evening as well, and between that and preparing the family’s dinner, there’s only a bit of playing time left (usually with, surprise, cars). The first time I came to babysit for this family it was for 11 hours on a Saturday (because originally the schedule was going to be all day every other Saturday), so with that sort of time there was a lot more relaxation and silliness. While Côme took his nap, Garance and I did Wii Just Dance for a good hour at least, which was quite fun and quite the workout for both of us. Then with Côme we got dressed up in costumes and acted out scenes; when Garance found out that I could record video on my iPod, she became the film director. I wanted to include some of those videos here because they are quite funny, but I don’t think there is any way to insert a video into WordPress (if someone has information to the contrary, let me know). You can enjoy these silly pictures, though (and I am happy that since I last posted, WordPress has updated the options for inserting photos and they now have these nifty slideshows and mosaics):

Like always, there are more things I had originally planned to write about, but (to confirm the trend I described when I started writing this) it’s already taken me almost a week to finish writing this blog entry (not that it’s taken me so long to write, just that I’ve neglected it for days at a time), and I have plenty of more pressing things to get done, so I feel it is time to be done. At the time of finishing this, I’ve just gotten back from an extended evening at Marc and Isabelle’s—little did I know beforehand, but in lieu of the normal casual family dinner, tonight was a dinner party with five extra guests (all family members I think, though I only grasped the relation of two of them). This meant lots of delicious food (although way too many people have been feeding me dessert lately and I really need to find a way to stop somehow) and a special demonstration by Rémi (who basically studies how things work as a major, from what I understand) of this magical substance created from corn starch and water. Romain and I also worked some more on English tongue twisters (and then with Yaëlle, French tongue twisters…); Romain also showed me that he had glued into the title page of his English notebook this picture I brought him last week (hand colored because at the school I can only print in black and white), which made me very happy.

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I also shared some American lollipops that I got in the mail but didn’t want—they were thrown in with my order of must-have American products from My American Market (refried beans, salsa, canned cranberry sauce).

While I’m (sort of) on the topic of American food, I’ll take this chance to mention that I made peanut butter cookies yesterday with one of the English teachers from my school and her daughter (we then brought a bunch to share at her other daughter’s cross-country race, which resulted in a man I didn’t know kissing my cheeks and declaring I would be able to get married since I knew how to make cookies like that—as well as a bit of confusion from a couple French women who thought that all “cookies” had chocolate chips in them), and that on Thanksgiving I tried to keep tradition alive by preparing a Thanksgiving-style meal for lunch with the German language assistant (we get together once a week so I can practice my very minimal German) and then making a pumpkin pie that evening with Sophie (which we ended up sharing with the whole family—that is, the two households across the street from each other, since Sophie’s sister lives across the street, with her son and sometimes her mother too—so we had six people eating pie…and still plenty of leftovers for breakfast). Miam miam ! (PSA: French food is good too, but I figured everyone already knows that.)