Friday, March 28, 2008

Almost forgot again...

Off to Mont St Michel this weekend! Super excited!

Random Tidbits from the Week

My collection of goodies from the kiddies really increased this week. I got a bracelet, a necklace, and a lanyard. I'm rolling it in!

This week I really noticed the difference in how quickly the CM2 and CM1 can learn and retain information. The CM2 are golden with all variations of conjugating "be," while most of the CM1 still want to say "he are." Very interesting.

I'm tired. Why didn't I sleep more this morning?

I may finally be breaking into the French social scene. After English Conversation Club (that I'm doing through the inspection for other primary teachers) I went out to have a drink with some of the teachers, one of whom is cool and young (I've never met a 29 year old primary school teacher here!). Friendship possibility? Yes. Then two of the teachers from one of my schools invited me to go to a soirée célibataire (singles night) with them at the bowling bar this coming Wednesday. Granted, one is about 10-15 years older than me and the other at least 20, and I am kind of terrified of going to a singles night, but at least we should s'amuser bien (have a good time). And who knows, perhaps I'll find the Frenchie of my dreams. (insert laughs reel here)

Best quote EVER from a girl in my monster class who I actually like. We're learning forms of "can": I can play x sport, I can read, write, etc.
Me holding flashcard of someone reading. L's hand shoots up in the air. "L, what is this?"
L: (super excited and enthusiastic) I can play book!

I had to stop class for a couple minutes because I was laughing so hard! She's so cute. Earlier this year she waited until I came in for English class to have her birthday party because she wanted me to be there.

These are the types of things that make me want to stay another year!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Almost forgot....

Best part about Strasbourg: IT SNOWED!!!! It didn't stick, but at least this Michigan girl got a little taste of what winter is really supposed to be like. I was the idiot running around with her tongue hanging out of here mouth :)

Of course that meant that it was freezing. It was worth it!


For our Easter holiday weekend (no school yesterday!) I took a little trip to Strasbourg. Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsace region, which switched hands between France and Germany as a result of several wars. Until the 20th century in fact, when France got Alsace back after WWI, German was the language that most people spoke. Strasbourg is super cute. The old, traditional houses are made of plaster and timber and painted different colors, and the centre ville is surrounded by the River Ill. I spent a lot of time just walking around and looking at the houses and getting to know the city. It was really interesting to be in a city in France and yet not really feel like I was in France, it felt much more international. And yes, I heard German everywhere, all the time.

I hit up four different musuems. I'm kind of cheating to say that though - three of them are in the same building and not terribly large. I saw the Museum of Alsatian Life, which I really found interesting. I like learning about how people live/d their lives, seeing the traditional clothing and cake molds and things. Remember, me = nerd. My favorite museum was the Museum of Archeology. I love that stuff. I love seeing the history of human innovation and discovery. Who first thought it might be a cool idea to stick a seed in the ground and see if it would grow, and why on earth did they even try it? Or to make pottery? And not only to make pottery, but to decorate it and make it beautiful? What in the human soul demands that there be some sort of ceremony for the dead, and a life after death? I find this stuff fascinating. They also featured skeletons with congenitive abnomalities or diseases and that was super interesting: the spinal cord of someone with spina bifida, the skull of someone with some kind of eye problem (didn't understand exactly what, but something about how they operated on it and the person survived. Wow!). Then in the Merovingian section (time right after the fall of the Roman Empire, or early middle ages) there were two skulls that had been altered during the persons' lifetimes by binding. The skulls were peaked, they had been tied during infancy to grow like that. It was frustrating though because they had absolutely no explanation as to why it had been done and what purpose it served, so I will have to try to do some research. I also saw their Beaux Arts Museum (definitely skippable, I kind of cruised through) and the Decorative Arts Museum. These three museums are housed in an old palace, so the DA part preserves the old decor (and also has a china exhibit that I didn't look at). I like seeing fancy rooms. I also saw the glorious gothic cathedral, bien sur. Didn't do any shopping, because my bank account is completely vide. Man do I need our next paycheck!

Food in Strasbourg: as you might expect, lots of sausages, beer, and potatoes. Cheese too, actually. I wasn't so impressed with the traditional dishes, however. I liked all the potatoes and cheese stuff, who doesn't like crispy sautéed potatoes with melted cheese? The problems were flammekuchen (or tarte flambée) and kugulhopf. Flammekuchen is basically a very flat pizza crust, spread very, very thinly with fromage blanc, topped with onions and lardons (pieces of ham) and then baked in the oven. They've created other versions too, since it's like pizza, so I had one without lardons and one that had tomatoes and olives and onions. I wasn't impressed. I am not a big fan of thin crust pizza, and I like cheese and sauce on my pizza. I don't really see what flammekuchen has to offer me. It's hard to eat, too, crispy crust doesn't cut very well. Kugelhopf is a cake, looks like a bundt cake. I think I might have just had a really bad version because it's supposed to be sweet and eaten at breakfast, but the one I had was nearly inedible - dry as a bone, not at all sweet, just nasty nasty. It tasted like what I would imagine the non-gluten, non-dairy, non-sweetened cakes taste like. Yet again France left me wanting a gigantic burrito or a really spicy curry or Italian goodness from Rome. I've been craving Thai food recently, I might have to get some of that soon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

In and out of love....

Little shout out to any Bon Jovi fans/New Jersey natives with the title there.

I fell in and out of love at the laundry mat today. There was and adorable old French woman sitting in there doing her laundry when I walked in. She was doing a ton of laundry and had about three machines occupied. We said our "bonjour Madame" because of course, even though we're total strangers, in France you always have to saluer. I was already enamored because she was cute and little and old, but fell even more deeply in love when I saw her.... get ready for it.... eat her lunch out of a tupperware container!!! Yes, I saw a person, in France, doing laundry during the two hour lunch break and bringing a sad little tupperware lunch to go with them. I was convinced that she had some kind of connection to America. I had to stop myself from looking over at her and grinning.

Sadly our love affair came to an end when her laundry was done and she went to use the dryers. She had just finished putting one of her loads in a dryer when another woman came in with her laundry to dry (it's very common in France to only own a washer; lots of people line dry or they take their stuff to the laundrymat) and occupied another dryer, leaving two open dryers. Little old lady goes and grabs her re-useable Monoprix bag and just puts it in the third dryer, to save it I guess. Well, there were like three other washers besides mine being used, I assumed she had a bunch more stuff to put in there. This leaves one dryer available. My stuff finishes so I stick it in the dryer. By this time another man had walked in. The other washers finish, and they make this terrible beeping noise until you open them, so the man walks over and opens his washers but stays in the laundrymat, clearly indicating that he's waiting for a dryer. Little old lady's last laundry machine finishes. She proceedes to take out half of the stuff that's in the washer and then put two towels in the dryer that she had been saving. Two towels. Did I mention that these dryers are enormous, like the size of three normal dryers? And that she could have just put it in the other one she was already using? And then her other dryer finishes. She takes out half the stuff in there, leaves the rest and turns the dryer back on! Meanwhile this poor man is sitting there very patiently. I felt really bad for him. If it were me I would have been very annoyed.

And so my love affair came to an end. Someone who was that inconsiderate of another person could only be French. Not a drop of American in her.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Things I don't get

I learned something that really, really surprised me today. One of my big complaints about this program is that they don't give you any teaching materials, except for the basically useless Mallett Pedagogique. So I've been whining for a while now about how much easier it would be if they just gave us books, why do some schools have books and others don't, why don't they really support English education in this country, blah blah blah.

I've been participating in a "groupe recherche action anglais" - it's a group that reunites teachers who are interested in how to teach English to maternelle through CE1 (preschool through second grade) and I've always noticed that the teachers talk about "I bought this in Paris for x amount of money" and I thought it was pretty bizarre that they were always buying it themselves. Shouldn't it come out of the school district budget? So today I finally asked about it and they told me that in France textbooks aren't bought by the school district, they are bought by the teachers. Each teacher is given a certain amount of money to spend (I think they said it's like €25 per student!!!!) and they use that to buy all classroom supplies and textbooks and workbooks for the kids, which means that they have to spend a lot of money out of their own pocket. They complained about it but said that at least they can choose whatever book they want to use instead of in the US when the school district decides on and buys the books. I was completely shocked. What messed up country doesn't allocate enough money to buy BOOKS for their students???? I find it really ridiculous. So of course I had to look up how much the US and France spend on public education. As a percentage of total government spending, the US spends 15.3% of the budget on education, whereas France spends 10.6%. And at each level of education - primary, secondary, and tertiary - the US spends more per student than France, most markedyly in primary education. The US spends $8,243 per student at the primary level whereas France spends $5,236. I'm not remarking on the quality of education, just the amount spent. Think of what an extra $1000 per kid could buy in France! So much for trying to get complete sets of English education supplies in each of my schools....

And don't even get me started on their choice of books to use teaching English. I keep getting shown the Cup of Tea series and I think it's pretty bad.

Another thing, or person really, who I don't get is Pantsless Neighbor. Yes, we continue to have pantsless encounters. When in public places he's always wearing pants but in the lycée he just doesn't. At least we haven't had anymore encounters where he was in briefs! Maybe he's taken to wearing boxers just for me, so he doesn't have to run and put on shorts when I happen to show up? But why wouldn't he just wear shorts anyway? I mean, I'm the same way about wanting to change out of my jeans at the end of the day but I always put on pajama pants or sweat pants, I don't just wander around in my skivvies and answer the door half-naked!

Then there's his bizarre status of being sort of a friend, but not exactly. We've been spending a bunch of time together recently because of the recent municipal elections. I mentioned that I was interested to see what goes on in France during the elections so last weekend I hung out at the newspaper office while they were getting the vote totals for all the tiny little communes here, and of course we had to discuss the elections on the hall after th final results came in (him without pants on, comme d'hab) and then on Sunday he took me to the mairie (city hall) to see what voting is like (pretty similar to the US but no machines anywhere to be seen). So because of all this we have finally exchanged numbers so that he could tell me when to come over and where to meet, etc. Good sign. And I had thought that yesterday (Sunday) when we went to the mairie that I was tagging along while he took pictures, but it turned out that he just took me because he thought I was interested and he had nothing to do there on official paper business. He's really busy with the paper all the time, so it was super nice of him to just take 45 minutes or an hour out of his day to drag the dumb American to the elections. But he rarely shows any initiative to see me, except for this election stuff, and I get the feeling that if I didn't knock on his door or run into him in the hallway every once in a while he wouldn't make the effort instead. Is it because French people are so private that he feels awkward about knocking on my bedroom door? Or does he find me annoying and wish I would just go away? It's not like he's unsure if I'm in my room, all he has to do is look out his window and see if my light is on! Also, at the lycée we never bise (the kissy kissy thing) but when we met up at the mairie we did. Do we not bise at the lycée because he's pantsless? Or maybe I was just lucky enough to be housed next door to someone who is just as awkward as all the people I went to college with (my university is famous for having lots of awkard people)! I just can't figure these Frenchies out. Insights are welcome.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Thankfully this was a rather uneventful week, so no repeats of frantic and ridiculously long posts (I didn't realize how long that last one was until like just now. Wow, sorry to everyone who actually read it!).

I'm in the middle of my sixth month with this program, which means that I have less than three months of teaching left because we have another big break coming up next month and some random long weekends in May. I can't believe this program is almost over already and that time has gone by so quickly. I know the rest of is will fly by, and I'm both happy and sad about that. There are some things I really can't stand about living here. To be flippant I'll list the horrible UHT (ultra high temperature pasturization) milk at the top of the list, but also things like the train strikes, some French behaviors, and most of their medical system, just to name a few. In that respect I'll be happy to get back to the US (where there are also a lot of things I can't stand, but hey, at least they are part of MY country and I have the power as a voter to fix them. Can't vote in France).

But this week I realized that I have made some kind of a life for myself here. Like when I went to the bakery yesterday. I haven't been in there in quite a while because I've been buying bread from Monoprix but the woman at the counter still remembered me and asked how my French was coming along. And at Monoprix, where I've somehow made friends with one of the check-out ladies. And when the professor at the lycée who I'm friends with asked if we could start having coffee during the week and speak English together. And how I have figured out the Paris metro system and am really starting to know (parts of) that city well. And when my kids see me in the town and run up all excited to give little bisous. And how this week I realized that I think I finally have this lesson planning thing figured out. And when one of my CM1 monster-class kids gave me a drawing on which she had written that she hopes I'll be here next year too. And how much I like the vast majority of the kids I teach and will be really, really sad to leave them.

Which brings up the topic of renewal. Considering the fact that as recently as December vacation I really wanted to quit and go home, it seems ridiculous that only three months later I'm thinking about staying for another year. I honestly can't believe it myself. What has changed since then? I hated the same things about France then as I do now. I guess I have just gotten used to being here and tried to do more to make myself happy. A lot of it is that I don't have horrible treatment anymore, so I have more free time to enjoy myself and relax and not be running around crazy busy and stressed. The things that I like are the same: my job and the kids (most of the monster class excluded), the people I work with (not that we're close, but they're nice to me at least), being able to get to Paris easily, and getting to practice and improve my French. And to add to that, the fact that I do feel more comfortable being here. The big question is, do I like it so much that I want to stay for another year? I I did apply for renewal, even though at the time it was just to keep my options open, in case. Now it seems to have become a real option. Renewal of the assistant contract is actually pretty rare because they give the preference to new applicants, but I think I have a better chance than most because Picardie is not a very popular region. Fewer people want to be here, therefore fewer new applicants to take spots the renewers want. So I'd say my chances of getting renewed aren't so bad. But would I take the renewal if I get it? I would only take it if I got assigned to the same inspection and the same schools. But am I romanticizing the situation because I've had a good couple of weeks? Could I tolerate being an ex-pat for another year, especially during an election year (I'm a politics junkie)? Wouldn't renewal be punishing myself doubly, because it would be even harder to leave after spending two years with the same kids?

Lots of unknowns. Which reminds me of a great quote by Gilda Radner: Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


I live in a lycée professionnel here. I obviously do not work in the lycée, but they have a professor's hallway that they rent rooms out of to whoever needs them. So on the hallway there are eight bedrooms and a common kitchen, toilet, and shower. Six people live here: me, another American assistant, M, who also teaches somewhere else, Pantsless Neighbor, and two guys from Guadaloupe. We haven't really known what they were doing here, only that one of them had told me when they first got here in October that it was some kind of technical exchange. It's not an ideal situation living at the lycée: no wifi, and we are responsable for cleaning all the public areas because "we're adults, and can take care of ourselves" but we do have some perks, like being able to use the computers in the professor's lounge until 10:30 PM.

There have always been annoyances with the two of them, mostly involving making the kitchen incredibly disgustingly dirty and getting water all over the floor in the shower room. But the one, Gary, who is enormously tall and also bulky (not fat but strongly built) has been a real nuisance to M. He was interested in her and would ask her out, to which she always said no and made it very clear that she wasn't interested in him. Btw, why is it that French guys can't take a hint? No, I'm not interested, end of story. So Gary became kind of surly when he finally got the clue that M wasn't interested and stopped being polite. And actually in December the proviseur and agent comptable of the lycée had a meeting with all of us who live on the hall to lay down certain basic rules that we had to follow because Gary was being a jerk. He wasn't locking the door of the lycée on the weekends and he would get back really late at night and make a ton of noise in the main entrance hall so that the agent comptable, who lives right above it, was woken up. He also wasn't paying for meals he ate at the cantine, just jerky stuff like that. It also sounded like there had been some kind of incident between him and a student, but they didn't go into details. They told us at that meeting that the next person to violate these rules would be kicked out.

Well, Gary stayed, although I can't imagine that he was following all those rules. Then over the recent February vacation he started bothering M again. She only left for part of the vacation, so when she was here he would walk into her room without knocking and just stay there trying to talk to her, refusing to leave despite her requests. Then the last Sunday of vacation, right before the rentrée, M, Gary and I were in the professor's lounge on the computers and she said something to me in English on her way out. Gary left shortly after her. Apparently he followed her upstairs and banged on her door for about ten minutes, yelling and demanding that she come outside and tell him what she had said to me. He was convinced that it was about him because he's clearly completely insane and mentally unbalanced. M told the proviseur adjoint the next day, who advised her to go to the commissariat (police station) to make a main courant (literally a running hand, but basically a police report). She didn't think it was that big of a deal and didn't do it. The administration of the lycée offered no other intervention in the issue. Then this past Tuesday the agent comptable called M into his office to tell her that Gary would be leaving in about a week and we were both really happy that the situation was going to be resolved.

Wednesday night I decided to make myself dinner in the kitchen. Usually I eat in the cantine but I had decided recently to make myself dinner on Wednesdays because I have time to and it saves money (dinner at the cantine costs over €4!). At the same time I was doing some cleaning in the kitchen, because it was disgusting, with special antibacterial wipes I had bought at Monoprix. Gary walks in, kind of huffy, and wants to make his dinner. So he asks when I'll be finished. Admittedly I was a little cold to him because I'm not a big fan of his and said that it would probably be another 30 minutes, maybe longer because the kitchen was so dirty and I had to clean it. So he says something about there only being a couple of dish towels to clean with and I said that I had bought my cleaning stuff myself. He says something that I don't understand, I asked him to repeat himself, he says it again, and again I don't understand so I just didn't respond. He left the kitchen. I finished cleaning and there were no garbage bags left in the kitchen to throw the antibacterial wipes in so I went looking for some and saw some garbage bags in the hallway, so I just dumped the wipes in there and go back to the kitchen to finish making my dinner. Gary comes in, very upset, and says "that garbage is not for the public." I think to myself what ridiculousness is this about private garbage??? but I simple looked at him and said "no?" and he's like "you take out your cleaning things and you put them somewhere else." I know already that he's totally crazy and he's obviously in some kind of mood so I'm just like fine, I'll do it. He repeats himself, I said okay, again, and he leaves. By this time I've finished cooking so I just take all my dinner back to my room to eat because I don't want anything else to do with him for the evening. M is back and ready to make her own dinner by this time so I warn her that Gary is crazy today. She had also bought new garbage bags so I went and got the wipes out of Gary's private garbage and put them in the new bags in the kitchen. Problem solved, right?

After I finished dinner I went down to the professor's lounge to use the computers. Gary was already in there and we ignored each other. M came in a few minutes later and Gary left a few minutes after that. Then after a few more minutes he comes storming back into the professor's lounge. He stands right next to my chair and shoves a tissue in my face, yelling "you didn't take your crap out of my garbage." I told him that I did, trying to be very calm. He keeps insisting that I didn't take out the wipes, I keep telling him that I did, to the point of explaining that I used special wipes to clean the kitchen. He starts screming "do you know me? do you know me?" As I said above, he's a big guy, very intimidating in a situation like this, and I'm starting to get freaked out. I squeak out "no" and he's like 'do you think I'm an idiot?" and unfortunately I had to say "no." M speaks up at this point telling him to leave me alone, so he screams at her to shut up, she yells back at him to shut up, and he picks up my water bottle and throws it across the room, aiming at her. Luckily it hit the wall far above her head but the entire thing shattered so that there was water and plastic all over. M and I both yell in surprise, and then Gary rubs his piece of trash in my face. Molly jumps up and hurries out of the room to find the agent comptable, who as I mentioned just lives upstairs. Gary runs after her, and I ran out in the other direction, totally freaked out. Luckily I saw the light on in the classroom of a professor who I'm friendly with. I run to his room, where he's working with a couple of students, and start blathering, hysterical and nearly crying, in extremely bad, probably uncomprehensible French that Gary went insane and threw a bottle of water in the professor's lounge and that M had run to the agent comptable. He tells me to sit down, that I'm safe in his classroom, and runs over to the agent comptable's place. I was so upset I was shaking, I can only imagine what the students thought about the whole situation. Anyway, the professor comes back in a few minutes and gets rid of the students. I'm a little calmer by this time. He tells me that the deal they have worked out for the evening is for M and I to sleep in the girls' dormitory, where the entire hallway is locked at night so no one can get in or out. In this way we won't be anywhere near crazy Gary or have to risk seeing him in the hallway and being attacked again. The professor, we'll call him P, starts arranging his room and trying to calm me down but I still can barely speak. M and the agent comptable arrive a little later and the agent comptable escorts us to our rooms to gather our things for the night and then deposits us in the girls dormitory. The surveillant, or RA, tells us that Gary had in fact harrassed her before and even come up to the girls' dorm and knocked on the door, looking for her or students, who knows. By now it's only 9 PM. M and I try to go over what had happened and discuss but we were both completely terrified. Among the thoughts that went through our heads were what the hell are we going to do for the next week until he leaves, the amount of physical danger we were in, the fact that he is obviously a threat to everyone at the lycée and should be kicked out immediately, why hadn't he already been kicked out if he had already caused so much trouble, why were we the ones being punished for him being insane? Things like that.

Needless to say, we didn't sleep much that night. We got up together the next day and ran down to our rooms together, petrified that we would see Gary, and arranged to meet in the professor's lounge when we got back in the afternoon to go talk to the agent comptable. During the day I wrote a very long email to my conseillere pedagogique explaining what had happened at the lycée. When I got back in the afternoon she had written me back saying that she was "stupified" that such a thing had gone on and very upset and ashamed, etc, and that she had spoken to the proviseur adjoint. M comes back, we decide that we're going to make a police report. I printed off my email, because I figured it would be a lot easier to just have them read what I had written rather than try to explain orally in French. Agent comptable has left for the day. Thanks jerkface. So we go to see the proviseur adjoint, show him my email, he encourages us to make the main courant and tells us that Gary will be leaving the next day (Friday). It's clear that the only reason Gary will be gone the next day is because that's his decision and that the lycée didn"t do a damn thing to make him leave. The PA's solution to the situation is to stay in the dorms for another night. He even has thegall to say "of course, if he were staying for another month or two it would be adifferent issue." Yeah, what would you do, kick us out of the lycée for our safety? I raised the issue of what would happen if Gary didn't leave Friday and we were left all alone at his mercy in the lycée, and he said in that case we could stay in an apartment that he keeps in the building some of the lycée workers live in. He only uses it to have lunch with his kids. Then he says we could even stay there that night if we wanted, which I accept, M was going to stay with another assistant in town. So M and I go to make the police report, and the officer didn't seem to care too much, probably because he's leaving, although she did agree that he is psycho. We go back to the lycée to retrieve our stuff for the night while there are still people around to help us if Gary goes insane (though still spending as little time on the floor with our doors locked as possible), I drop my stuff off at the PA's apartment and then we walk to the other assistant's place (in a foyer) to have dinner. Clearly we weren't going to be at the lycée unless we had to be.

When I got back to the lycée after dinner P, who had also offered to stay around to supervise us during the evening, was just leaving (it was late, the alarms were going to be set). We talked in the hall for a little bit. I shared the full story with him, he was horrified, and also said that he was horrified by the attitude of the administration and had apparently had a long chat with the agent comptable that day about how stupid it was that Gary was being allowed to continue living there and the AC just kept going on about the reglements interieur, the rules of the lycée, and how he didn't have the right. P also said that all of the professors were extremely upset by the entire situation and the administration's response. Essentially they had washed their hands of us and refused to take the necessary steps to assure our continued security at the lycée, where we have never caused a single problem. I spent an okay night at the PA's place.

Fridays I don't work. I had a previously scheduled appointment to see my conseillere pedagogique in the morning, so before I left I went to pay a little visit to the AC. This was a bad, bad half hour. I started by showing him my email. His first response is to say that he understands the situation isn't fair, but that's just what has to be done because of the reglements interieur. Apparently there was no contract signed governing our behavior at the lycée and he doesn't have the right to kick people out according to the laws of France, even if they don"t pay rent (and I am pretty positive that isn't true, lying bastard). He goes on about how we have to go to the police about the situation. I tell him that we did and ask if it's the police who can kick him out and he says "oh no, then it has to go through the judiciary system and there's a trial with a judge" as if I were a moron who didn't know anything about how courts work. Essentially he tells me that there is nothing that can be done about living next door to a violent person who has assaulted me, that I have no real recourse. I asked what would happen if it had been two students and he says "oh yeah, it's the samething, the parents have to settle the issue with the police." I KNOW that is not true, because P had told me that if students were to do this they get kicked out. I'm just totally shocked by his attitude and the situation. He has the gall to throw the Declaration des droits de l'homme at me to justify the fact that Gary has rights too, and that as adults we all have the liberty to behave as we please and that we all live in solidarité. Where is his solidarité for M and me? The only good part was that while I was there Gary made an appearance at the secretary's office, apparently to turn in his keys and leave, and the AC said I could check in when I got back to make sure he was really gone.

I went to the inspection (school district offices) to see my conseillere and ended up talking with her and the inspecteur (superintendant) about the situation. They were horrified by the attitude of the administration, practically called the AC a liar for the things he had said to me, and were very supportive in general. It was refreshing to hear normal French people think the whole situation was ridiculous. They also said that if Gary hadn't been leaving that day they would have intervened further. And I also found out that the proviseur himself is pretty sick and not working, so the PA is in charge of everything. Interesting.

When I finally got back to the lycée, late in the afternoon because I didn't want to be there, of course getting really nervous that Gary hadn't actually moved out, I spoke with the concierge for a few minutes. He's going on and on about what a pest Gary had been and how ridiculous it was that he had stayed that long. He said that if it had been the old proviseur who retired a few years ago this would never have been allowed, Gary would have been kicked out in the fall. The proviseur's secretary came in while I was speaking with him and also expressed her solidarité with M and me. The concierge also said that there had been a meeting with students, teachers, and parents to re-do the reglements interieur that afternoon and showed me the document, said that everyone knows exactly what happened. But then based on what P said when I saw him briefly and said that I heard there had been a meeting and he said "I think there will be, I'll keep you posted" I'm confused as to if it already happened or will be happening or if a different meeting will be happening. I also found out exactly what Gary was doing here. He was in a program called GRETA, which is job training for unemployed adults. He had failed his program.

It's nice to know that the vast majority of people here are on our side but the scary part is that the ones with power, the ones in charge, refuse to take real steps to help people in situations like this. I'm so glad that Gary is gone and I feel much better, but I can't help wondering, what if something like this were to happen again? I also can't believe that they would totally abandon their duties to keep the students safe. Gary was obviously a threat to everyone, who knows who would have been his next target? Especially because he was obviously getting more violent and crazier by the day. And if he knew there wouldn't be any consequences, what would stop him?

It's been a tough week. Here's hoping the next one will be better and not involve violent assaults.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


So Lauren and I finally arrived in Greece, after missing our flight due to snow. My first impression is that it has an awesome metro system. Every station was fully handicapped accessible with both escalators and elevators, quite clean and easy to use. Luckily for us everything was in English as well as Greek. My Greek reading skills aren't really up to par, different alphabet and all you know. However, that was about the last thing that impressed me about Greece for a couple of days. We found Athens to be dirty, ugly, and sketchy. I felt completely safe walking around Rome late at night in the dark but once the sun went down in Athens I really didn't want to be more than a few blocks away from our hotel. The touristy areas seemed fine, but you know, just didn't want to take any chances. Once you get out of Athens the rest of Greece is really beautiful. And everyone who I mentioned this to who had been to Greece said the same thing, that you use Athens to see the famous stuff that's there and then hightail it for the islands or the countryside.

But on the bright side the food in Greece was quite good. Our first day we decided to do some exploring of Athens and ended up wandering for a long time, a lot of it in the dark and not feeling safe, looking for a restaurant because most places seemed to be either little sandwich carry out or too pricey. We finally found this whole street of restaurants, of course right behind our hotel. Brilliant. We chose a little taverna that had great prices and a huge menu. Because it was late by now and we were hungry we ended up ordering a ton of food. Sixty euros worth! About an hour after we got there they even had a live band playing traditional Greek music! We were going to leave after trying to finish our food (didn't succeed) but the owner/waiter wouldn't let us leave and instead brought us over a pitcher of wine, so we ended up staying through another pitcher and two hours worth of music. One of the guitarists was extremely attractive, and we had a little moment where we made eye contact and smiled, but it wasn't meant to be. His whole family came in to watch him play, and Lauren and I were exhausted so we left. And that's how I lost my chance at a Greek musician boyfriend. See a pattern in this trip yet?

The next day we ended up sleeping until noon! We tried to go to the National Archeological Museum but it closed at 3 and we didn't get there until like 2:30, not really enough time. Instead we ended up at the archeological site of Hadrian's Library and wandered around the gigantic flea market in that area for a few hours. The weather was gorgeous so we could sit outside and have coffee in hte sun. That was true in Rome too. Sunshine was a nice change after clouds and rain all the time here in Picardie! After another great Greek dinner we tried to have a night out at a bar, where we were the only people there for a couple of hours, but I got free salsa lessons from the DJ! He was kind of in love with Lauren, it was pretty cute.

The next day was busy and frustrating. We finally made it to the National Archeological Museum, which was really really neat. The treasures from Mycenae were beautiful. Again, got to see lots of stuff I had learned about in art history class so that was fun. In general I prefer Roman sculpture to Greek sculpture. I love how realistic is is, you feel like you're really looking at a person, instead of how overly idealized the Greek sculptures are. They also had a really nice section on votive offerings to Asklepios, the god of medicine. Back in the day before antibiotics or anything resembling modern medical care people who were sick used to make pilgrimages to temples of Asklepios. They would spend the night there sleeping on the floor and the god would appear to them in a dream, telling them how they could heal themselves. I found it very moving. How awful must it have been to rely on dreams, to be so desperate for health that you paid a craftsman to make a miniature model of a foot, or a hand, or whatever body part you were having trouble with? And how miraculous a "cure" must have felt! They would pay again for an entire miniature temple in the god's honor after a cure (obviously this was only for the extremely wealthy). It really made an impression.

After the museum we tried to find the Acropolis. By which I mean we wandered the long way around FOREVER because it wasn't really marked. You'd think it would be pretty easy to find, it's kind of hard to miss a gigantic rock mountain. But no, we wandered, wandered, wandered, asked for directions, were told it was five minutes straight ahead. 20 minutes later we finally got there, trudged all the way up the mountain ..... and I at least was disappointed. They have everything roped off from pretty far away so that you can't get very close to it, and then there are only a few things up there. The Acropolis Museum was closed because they're building a new one. I just found it really anticlimatic to be up there. I was also in a bad mood; Lauren and I had just finished a big long conversation about how much we hated Greece so I guess I wasn't really in the mindset. And really, after seeing everything in Rome, I was bound to be disappointed. I am much more interested in Roman ruins and history than Greek ruins. But the views from the Acropolis were amazing, and I did get to see the Parthenon and the plaster casts of the karyatids that Lord Elgin stole (and that can now be seen in the British Museum).

The Parthenon. One of the other joys of travelling in the off season is that everything is under construction to be pretty for the high season. Greece is particularly interested in rebuilding things.

I find these karyatids (female figures) really pretty and can't wait to see the real ones! At the temple of Athena and Poseidon.

This is a shot from the walk up, looking over part of the sprawl of Athens.

We decided to improve our mood by taking a break for some well-deserved milkshakes at the Haagen Dazs store. Yum-o! We had another huge Greek dinner, featuring some lovely lamp (lamb is often miswritten as lamp on menus, but made for a lot of fun "I love lamp!" jokes). We tried to hang out at one of these super busy and popular cafes after dinner. And by after dinner I mean like 11:30, because they get started late in Athens.

The next day we got up for our island day! Most of the famous Greek islands (Santorini, Crete, Mykonos) are too far from the mainland for a day trip so we went to Aegina, one of the Saronic Gulf islands that was only about an hour away by ferry. The day started out grey but became gorgeous and sunny. There wasn't a whole lot we could do in the little town (sites required cab rides or biking) so we spent the day wandering down one arm of the harbor, looking for food, eating for like two hours, wandering down the other arm of the harbor, playing on rocks, wading in the Aegean, then getting drunk at a cafe. Not our fault! They had this amazing drink called a Water Mellon - so co, grenadine, and orange juice. We had some dinner, got oggled by the townies, and hopped on the ferry back to Athens. All in all a great day!

Looking out into the sea from the rocks we were playing on.

The next day we got up at the crack of dawn for our day tour to Mycenae, allegedly the home of legendary King Agamemnon, who led the expedition to Troy. This was another great day. We took a big bus across the Corinth Canal (which separates the Peloponesus from the rest of Greece) and through the countryside to the site of Mycenae. We got to go inside one of the tholos, or beehive, tombs, which are exactly what they sound like, large rooms built into the
mountains that are shaped like beehives. Then we entered the citadel of the city itself, which I thought was pretty fantastic. The ruins were fun but the view and the weather were really the best part. The air was so fresh, I didn't want to get back on the bus!

To the right is the famous Lion's Gate entrance to the citadel. The walls are so massive that later civilizations called them Cyclopean, believing that only something as huge as a cyclops could possibly have built them. Kind of like the aliens building the pyramid theories.

One of the shots I took from the citadel. Nice view, huh? Probably nicer when everything is in bloom.

After visiting Mycenae we had lunch in the modern town of Mycenae, featuring amazing blood orange juice fresh squeezed from their orchard. This was the best part of lunch. Blood orange juice is really good, and I found some made by Tropicana at Monoprix, so you should try it!

After lunch we took another drive through the countryside to Nafplion, a very cute little town that was the first capitcl of modern Greece, and then continued on to Epidaurus and the shelter of Asklepios. Epidaurus has the most perfect accoustics in the world, and it really is true that you can hear someone speaking normally perfectly amplified at the very top of the amphitheater.

The shelter of Asklepios was one of those temples where people would sleep, waiting for a cure. It was the largest in Greece, but was completely destroyed by an earthquake around 400 AD. Greece is now trying to rebuild it! So we couldn't actually get close to the site. Then we left to return to Athens, driving along the Peloponesian coast, past adorable seaside communities, beautiful views, and even some of the area that was burnt in the fires last summer. I had a great time and am now a huge fan of day trips and planning to take a couple over the next vacation on my next round of travels.

That was our last day in Greece. We left the next morning to fly back to France. And now I'm teaching again and already looking forward to the next vacation! I've never travelled before now and I am completely hooked. I'm planning to do London, Dublin, and Edinburgh over the next vacay, complete with day trips to the countryside. Anyone interested?

Saturday, March 1, 2008


Unfortunately my time in Prague with Joanna came to an end all too quickly and I was off for the next step of my travel adventures in Rome. Lauren, the other assistant who I was travelling with, met me at the airport and we went to our hotel together. We had an amazing offseason rate on our hotel room - 55 euros a night with breakfast included! And our hotel was literally down the street from the Colosseum:

Let me start off by saying how much I LOVED Rome. It was without a doubt my favorite stop of this vacation and I can't wait to go back again! The city is beautiful and there is history everywhere, it seems like every other building is "something," I just loved the atmosphere and the lifestyle. Especially the fact that all Italians wear sunglasses everywhere all the time. Also, the men in Rome (and Italy in general) are absolutely gorgeous. I have never seen so many good looking men in one place. Most of them were security guards, police officers, or soldiers, and you know what uniforms to to a guy: they make him even more attractive. So it's clearly the ideal city! Why didn't I studay Italian again?

We got to Rome late in the afternoon and decided to do the Night Walk through Rome, one of the self guided walks in my Rick Steves' Best of Europe 2008 book. Well, we didn't exactly follow the walking path he suggested (Roman streets are a little confusing!) but we ended up seeing almost everything we were supposed to see, plus some! For example, the Trevi fountain (yes, I threw a centime in!)

That's the Trevi Fountain, but you can barely see the water because there are so many people there. Rome was flooded with tourists even though it was February, I can't imagine what it must be like in the high season. We walked everywhere in Rome and only took public transportation when we had luggage going to and from the airport. Actually that was true in every city we went to. I don't know how we had enough energy, personally. Maybe because two of my dinners in Italy I had both pizza and pasta along with bruschetta? The food in Italy was amazing. So much better than French food. It had flavor, you didn't have to eat pig products if you didn't want to (I am so freaking sick of everything here being made out of pig. Jews and pigs don't get along), and really, who doesn't like pasta and pizza and bruschetta?

Our second day in Rome we went to the Vatican Museum and had a guided tour. I liked the tour but I felt like I didn't get to see everything I wanted to see. Duuuh, it's an enormous museum, it would be impossible at a tourist to see everything in a few hours. So we got the highlights and a really great lecture on the art in the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel is AMAZING when you see it in person. Literally every available space is painted. They don't let you take pictures in the chapel itself, and they actually had people standing around enforcing the no pictures/no flash rule which I thought was great. It really irritates me in museums in France when people take pictures with flashes of everything. Overtime the flashes will ruin the artwork. And we were lucky enough to run into some other assistants from our area at the Sistine Chapel, how rnadom is that? We knew we would overlap in Rome a few days but hadn't made plans, and it ended up working out. We had a big pasta lunch together and then Lauren and I went back to check out St Peter's Basilica. Word to the wise: the museum is about a 15 minute walk from the Basilica itself, turn right and folllow the signs. St Peter's is quite impressive, and we were lucky enough to be there during a mass. I don't know who leads masses at St Peter's, but I imagine he's kind of a big deal. Since we were there so late in the afternoon there was no line to get in.

After that we tried to find the Pantheon and ended up wandering around for a super long time and kind of lost. Like I said, Roman streets are confusing. But we found it eventually and the interior definitely is amazing. It was turned into a church after the fall of the Roman Empire so everything was preserved, and it's hard to believe it's almost all original. My pictures didn't turn out very well though, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

The next day was Classical Rome day. We started off with the Colosseum, then went to the Forum, then had lunch and tried to go to the Palatine but it closed at 3. Too bad! So instead we wandered down to the Circus Maximus and around to the old Jewish Ghetto, then saw Trajan's Forum on the way back to our hotel and dinner. Oh yeah, and gelato. There was a gelato place across from our hotel and we had gelato every night! As I have shared, I took Latin back in the day and loved it so for me it was really special to actually see in person all of these sights that I had learned about in class. It's hard to imagine what it all looked like at the height of Rome's power, but I got one of those super cool Past and Present books that have the plastic overlays, which was really helpful and probably my favorite souvenir ever. Rick Steves was also a great help. I am in love with that man. I think the Forum complex is the hardest to understand because it was so massive and used to stretch all the way from the ruins by the Colosseum up past our hotel to the Trajan's Market area and where the Monument to Vittorio Emmanuele I is now. That will only make sense to people who know a little about Rome, but basically, it was enormous. Another word to the wise: it takes a long time to work your way around all the ruins, so pace yourself and take a break when you need to. There's lots of random rubble just sitting around that works well as benches.

Views of the colosseum, exterior and interior

Looking down into the Forum from the Arch of Titus, and the courtyard of the residence of the Vestal Virgins. Do you know what they did to them if they didn't stay virgins during their time of service? Buried alive.

Our next day was the last day in Rome (or so we thought....) and we saw the Palatine Hill, where all the wealthy Romans and later the emperors used to live, and then left on the train for Florence.

I liked Florence, but not as much as Rome. It definitely didn't need more than the two and a halfish days that we were there. The city itself is interesting to look at, although I didn't find the architecture all that special, but the big thing to see is the artwork inside the Uffizi and Accademia art galleries. I enjoyed those galleries a lot, but here's my other word to the wise: don't spend too much time on the Gothic altarpieces at either place (esp at Uffizi) because they all look the same after a while and the later stuff is more interesting. Really, how many times do you have to look at altarpieces entitled "Mary and Child?" Just concentrate on seeing the change from the Middle Ages, how they couldn't realistically represent the body or perspective, and how that changes when you get to the Rennaissance. I think a lot of the problem for me is that I have only the sketchiest ideas of what all these religious events and subjects being depicted are so I miss out on that whole element of the art appreciation. I'm not sure why it's important to represent certain emotions or elements in them, so after a while I just tune them all out. Michaelangelo's David was really fabulous though. I wasn't expecting to like it so much, but it makes quite an impression in person. He's really beautiful. The Uffizi has a great collection of Botticelli, including his Birth of Venus and Primavera. Seeing those was definitely a highlight, as well as some of the other famous works I've learned about. Another highlight of Florence was seeing Santa Croce, which is where Michaelangelo, Machiavelli, and Gallileo are all buried but more importantly has gorgeous frescoes all over the back walls and the little square chapels. I'm afraid my pictures don't do them justice:

This is inside one of the square chapels along the transept, looking up towards the ceiling. The most impressive parts of the Duomo are the exterior, the facade of which was put on during the 19th century to match the bell tower, and the amazing painted dome:

The rest of the interior is actually quite plain!

Think they did a good job matching the two?

The other best thing about Florence was the discovery of Pappa al'Pomodoro, an amazing amazing tomato soup that is really more like tomato sauce. It's really thick and loaded with cut up tomatoes, a few olives, and some pieces of bread and seasoned amazingly. I'm in love. I have to figure out how to make it. I'd never even heard of it before, so I think it's a real regional specialty that isn't well known other places.

We tried to leave Florence, and were delayed for two hours by various train mix ups. First our train was a few minutes late, then once everyone was on board they told us to switch trains, so we all got off, then they told us to get back on, then they told us to get off again. Then we waited for about an hour and a half until another train finally came and took us back to Rome to get our flight to Greece. Well, we get to the airport to check in for our flight, and it's been cancelled. Why? Because it was SNOWING in Greece! Apparently this happens every ten years and we were just lucky enough to witness it! We couldn't get another flight out for two days, so unfortunately we had to stay in Rome a little longer. Too bad, right? We were able to stay at our same hotel and spent our free day in Rome just rambling around and being very Roman. You know, eating a lot, having gelato, taking a coffee break, hanging out in piazzas. The next morning we flew out to Greece.

The only bad part about Italy (besides the train ridiculousness)? Not getting an Italian boyfriend. Sigh.