Total Transfer Time

Dear all you wonderful people,

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, this blog will be porting over to my new and improved website. This is the last post that will appear on the WordPress site. To continue reading, please click here for the new blog, including instructions on how to subscribe.

Thank you! Bon voyage!




Call it a face lift, call it spring cleaning, call it an upgrade, call it whatever you want. The blog has gotten a makeover!

And, a complimentary new feature: it’s now linked directly to my website. Which has also gotten its own makeover. Take a look:

Now, this dual posting is only temporary. To give all my lovely readers fair warning, I will be exclusively using my website to blog, starting in a few weeks. It’s a new feed, so go sign up (just to the right, once you’re there). See you all there very soon.

Happy spring! Or fall! Or rainy season! Or…April. Happy mid-April, everyone.

For now

And now, here follows the less abstract, yet just as sappy retelling of the events surrounding my departure from L’argentière and my subsequent intercontinental move…

Tuesday was the first hard day.  My last market.  Oh, I’m going to miss the food.  The creamy Brie cheese (which I think I accidently snuck past customs), the sanglier sausage (that’s wild boar), the sweet Vendanges d’Octobre wine that isn’t sold outside of Ardèche, the chestnut liqueur, the cartagène that’s only homemade — note: I swear I’m not becoming an alcoholic — the imperfect yet perfect-tasting mussels, the green peppers as big as your head, and the bread…I could go on and on.  I already have.  Sorry.  But in nine months I had almost become French, or at least a country girl, at least in the sense that I had crafted strong ties with my marchands at the market.  Had to say goodbye to them.  And to their food.  Sigh.  Thank goodness for New York.  Tant pis (too bad) on the import prices…

But Tuesday was also hard because it was my last day of teaching.  I didn’t expect much reaction from the kids, since I had already told them I’d be coming in Thursday to say goodbye.  But no lessons stayed on track, inevitably jumping the rails when one kid would ask if I was ever coming back.  Or if they could visit me in the US.  Or where I lived in New York.  And one of my CE1 groups ended the way it began: with tears.  My first day, one CE1 boy cried because he was intimidated by me, confused, and couldn’t grasp the concept of repeating anything not in French.  Sweet boy, really.  Then, my last day, my little wistiti (pet name), the girl who first started giving me hugs, started crying without any mention of me leaving.  Sweet girl.

Wednesday was fighting bureaucracy in reverse!  Well, not “in reverse” as in they have problems with me, but in that I had to undo everything I had done in September.  Cancel a bank account, put away all the pictures and cards on the walls, pack my life back into two suitcases, try to find the right box to send books back to the States, and get confused by my internet account.  Again.  Some things I will never understand.

Not everything was in reverse, though.  I finally finished translating a book of French poetry into English.  I had the complete honor of presenting the final (-ish) copy to the original author, my dear friend who runs the bookstore.  He even recognized a few words, from the little English he knows.  And I can boast that I’ve completed a real project, translating French literature into English.  This is what I’ve always wanted to do.

That evening, I got to go to a modern ballet, if that’s what you’d call it.  L’homme à la tête de chou, created by Serge Gainsbourg.  All the way in Alès, an hour away, down one of the straightest roads in all of Ardèche, not that that’s saying much.  The school treated me as a going-away present, and I went with the CE2 and CM1/CM2 maîtresses, who have season passes.  We had a ball.  And on the way home, conversation turned to skinny dipping in the rivers in the summertime, which is apparently a perfectly normal thing to do, even for families.  Must coincide with the tie-dyed Speedo number…

Thursday.  My last day at the École Albin Mazon.  My, how time flies.  I tried not to cry.  It didn’t always work.  The kids practically showered me with gifts, collective and individual — a little book filled with notes from each one of them, letters, flowers, Pokemon cards, marbles, and a painting by one of the CM1 kids that I have to send home by post.  Cries of “Ne part pas!” and “Don’t go!” still echo in my ears, and I wish I was exaggerating.  I mean a lot to those kids, I would venture to say more than they mean to me, which is saying a lot.

And what have I learned from all this?  Oh, lots.  This year has been my harder than I expected, and all the more rewarding because I not only survived, but succeeded in what I set out to do and enjoyed myself quite a bit along the way.  Tears and heartaches are a normal part of life, and now I know what I need to do to lessen them.  I had my fair share of adventures and became completely self-reliant, while forging new friendships and strengthening old ones across an ocean.  I learned that I still have lots to learn.  But that does not affect the fact that I can still help other people, even if I don’t fully know what I’m doing.

As for what I promised from this blog?  Well, I may not be one to judge, but I am also my own worst critic.  Even so, I would say that these writings lived up to my three-seasons-old promises: rants and raves, check.  Homesickness, almost too much.  Heroics, depends on your definition, but yes.  Happiness?  Of course!  Awe, toujours (always).  Aptitude…sure, why not?  My own special brand of eloquence…well, I try.

And with that, dear readers, I permit myself to take my leave of you, but it is only as I leave France: for now.

Bordeaux, toute seule

All alone in Bordeaux (And yes, this post is about spring break…I realize it’s over a week late!)

Originally, the second week of spring break was going to be spent in Bordeaux with another assistant friend of mine — she’d start in Spain, I in Germany, and we’d meet “halfway.”  But then the train strike hit, and she couldn’t get out of her town.  Ironically, she told me that she wouldn’t be able to meet me only 20 minutes into the 4-hour train ride to Bordeaux, the last leg of my journey there, so I figured I’d just stay there, since I’d already be there.  Besides, spending four days by myself in Bordeaux sounded much more appealing than finishing out the week by myself in my little tiny village with nothing to do.

But as it turned out, my expectations (and, thus, the title of this blog post) were proven wrong.  Bordeaux is a very friendly city for tourists, much more welcoming and accommodating than Paris (although I still love Paris more…).  All tours of everything are consistently offered in both English and French, bikes are available to rent on almost every corner, the tram is very easy to figure out, and people are just generally more laid back.  ‘Course, this is also partially because Bordeaux has undergone a pretty large renovation and/or facelift within the last three years.  The tram system, the backbone of their public transportation system, was only put into service 2.5 years ago.  The Bastide quartier across the river, where my hotel was, only got pulled out of an industrial slum 5-10 years ago (depending on who you ask).  The Office de Tourisme has transformed into a friendly, open service instead of a dingy little back office, according to one of the workers.

So I had fun.  I met people.  I met people without prompting, nor a common interest.  Shocker?  I went on two wine tours, coach bus rides to a couple chateaux in a certain appellation outside of the city, where we got tours of each chateau and we tasted some good wine.  Tuesday was Entre-Deux-Mers, and I spent the entire time with two French girls, one from Paris and one from just outside of Bordeaux, and we had a blast.  Then, on the way back to the city, I met two Australian guys who were a month into their 4-month tour of every single part of Europe they could possibly see.  We chatted, I met them later that evening at a student bar where a football (yes, soccer) game was playing — Barcelona v. Milan, for some sort of qualifying to some European cup.  I’m horribly lax at anything sports-related, but it was awesome fun.  Thursday’s wine tour was Médoc, and I spent the whole time with a Canadian girl who was spending the year studying at the university in Lyon.  I met people.

Any time I spent alone was by choice, which is how it should be.  I biked along the sunny promenade at the river’s edge.  I took a walking tour of the city and then expanded it on my own.  I wandered the oldest still-open museum in France.  I sat in the gardens by the reflecting pool, which occasionally became sea-spray jets.  I climbed to the top of the tallest bell tower and heard an accordion down below.  I found an amazing crepe place.  I saw a French movie with Gerard Depardieu.  I saw an old classic movie, “The Red Shoes,” in its original English, and cried at the end.  I perused shop after shop and bought a summer dress made in Nepal.  I saw Lisa Hannigan sing on French TV.  I wandered into a game shop that had Magic cards — Rise of the Eldrazi packs on the shelf three days before the big release parties, because some non-Magic-player accidentally put them out, so the owner had to get special permission from Wizards of the Coast for any Magic dealers in Bordeaux to sell Rise of the Eldrazi early.  I got stopped on the street by two older men who asked me what “ong-kin-tong” meant in English, and I almost walked away, until they showed me the book they were reading about jazz — it was honky-tonk.  (Still haven’t figured out how they knew I spoke English.)

Apparently, you can do a lot on your own.

What I’ve learned: “lonely” is not the same as “alone.”  And although I have at times been painfully lonely out here, I have never been alone.  I have lots of old and dear friends who care about me, and lots of new friends, or even passing companions, just waiting to waltz into my life for an hour or a few days.

Tidbits, Vol. VI — Germany, beyond German


I kid.


Even though I’ve been admiring the breadth of European history for some time, I’m still amazed whenever I go to a city like Tübingen.  There’s such a great mixture of history and current events — the university was founded in the 1400s, there’s still graffiti up from student movements in the 1960s and 70s, there’s an old castle with a French motto carved into the gate, and it still has today a huge student population, about a third of the city.

I’m very glad I’m no longer in college.  I would much rather go to a restaurant or pub with friends and have a good meal and a couple drinks than go out to a club and get wasted.  I had almost forgotten how much pressure there is to partake in the latter at school.

“From Hell” is a very creepy movie.  Good, but creepy.

On a related note, I had also forgotten how much I enjoy going to the cinema sometimes.  In two weeks of vacation, I went to see three movies, plus four others at my friend’s place.  The closest cinema to me is a 20 minute drive away… which is difficult sans car.

Porsches are pretty.  In spite of my pedigree, I’m not one who can name most cars in the blink of an eye, besides ones that are owned by people I know well, so I didn’t know much about Porsches before going to the Porsche museum in Stuttgart.  And all I can say, after an hour of staring at Porsches, is that Porsches are PRETTY.  And powerful.  I think I want one.

Pink Floyd’s music can be treated well by a philharmonic orchestra, but the singing should be left to the group.  Especially when a rock orchestra, who actually plays rather good Pink Floyd arrangements, decides that in their infinite wisdom they should have four classically trained opera singers sharing vocal duties during the concert.

Although it’s not fun to let three years pass in between times to see a good friend, you know they’re a good friend when you can just pick up right where you left off.

Ich spreke kein Deutsch

I don’t speak German (thus, the spelling is an educated guess)

Spring break began with quite a number of shocks, some pleasant, some challenging.  Challenging: train strike was still on.  Pleasant: I figured out how to work around it and finished a full day of travel only two hours late.  Challenging: I can’t understand anything beyond guten tag, bitte, danke schoen, and random words that look like English.  Pleasant: my German friend is still awesome.  Well, not actually a surprise — I knew this already, and it hasn’t changed — but his patience with foreigners still amazes me.  Also pleasant: everyone else in the apartment, plus the majority of other friends I met, all knew enough English that they were round about my level in French.  Wow.  Two trains of thought stem from this.

First, I haven’t been to a “real” foreign country, meaning one where I don’t speak one of the official languages, in three years, since a spring break trip to Italy.  I had almost forgotten what a feeling of confusion, difference, ignorance, and loss anyone will feel upon arrival to a place where you do not understand the language.  You can’t ask for directions, you can barely order meals (and that’s only if you recognize anything on the menu), you don’t know how much anything costs, public services are incomprehensible and unrecognizable, and you have to rely on facial expressions and body language to figure out what anyone is saying.  The utter dread that quickly follows can creep in or flood you, but it will come.

Scared yet?  It’s actually a good thing.  You figure out how to communicate anyway, and you become exponentially more grateful for people who comprehend the words that come out of your mouth than you ever thought possible.  Enough taking understanding for granted.  In short, your mind opens to different ways of doing things, and you learn that you can survive something you hadn’t really thought of before.  (Granted, all this is exaggerated compared to what I experienced this time around — I’ve been to Germany before, and German is much closer to English than, say, Swahili).

Second train of thought: as internationally ignorant as Americans are thought of by many non-Americans, there is a slight excuse in a catch-22.  Take language and politics as an example.  Every student at the university that I met was proficient, if not fluent, in English.  They tend to know quite a bit about current events and government in the US, if only the name of our president and that health care and immigration are huge debates right now.  Conversely, not many Americans are fluent in German, and there wouldn’t be many who could name the political leader of Germany right now (it’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, for the interested).  But everyone looks to English as the language to know, to America as the country to know about.  Are you a little French student?  Learn English.  Are you a German university student?  Study about America.  Are you a Korean businessman?  Learn English.  Et cetera.  If you’re American, there are certain areas or languages that should interest you more than others (the EU and China and the Middle East, for example, with their respective languages), but you don’t have one superpower to look to.  The need to learn another language to be understood by more of the world is not nearly as pressing.  So while I’m not defending the inability of some Americans to see past the end of their own nose, I do claim a reasonable excuse to not know German.  Or Chinese, or Arabic, or Italian, or Spanish.


Here begins a series of backlogged entries, all stuck in my mind until now, when I returned to having free rein over my own computer.  I’ll try to catch up quickly — especially since I’ll be leaving France for good (for now) in four short weeks.

Travel in Europe

Yes, yes, I’ll write all about Germany later, but for now, the traveling portion.  I was very lucky on Monday — only one of my three train legs were cancelled due to the strike.  That leg, the 2nd, between Valence and Paris, got improvised to a Valence-Lyon-Paris trek, where I sat on a baggage rack for two hours between Lyon and Paris.  It was actually fun, and more comfortable than I thought it was going to be.  Also more comfortable than standing inbetween the cars for two hours, which lots of people did.

Now, I’ll be traveling again in two days.  The French train strike is still on, but only in the southeastern part of the country, which I’ll avoid until next Friday.  So, technically, I have my tickets, and the trains should be running.  But there’s a volcano that’s erupted in Iceland, which has closed all European airports (except those in Spain and east of oh, say, Turkey) until, at best, Sunday night, at worst…uh, who knows when this volcano will stop spewing ash?  So my guess is that most trains I take will look like some French trains did during the strike — like refugee trains carrying passangers with more luggage and slightly better clothes.

This is, of course, assuming that I actually go to Bordeaux, which is the plan for the second week of vacation.  My friend, who I’m supposed to be meeting there, may not be able to make it.  I think I’d still want to go, even if it’s by myself, but we’ll see.

P.S. Longer Letter Stories Later