Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A real vacation update: Salzburg

Leesa and I flew into Vienna on Saturday afternoon of the first weekend of break, took the bus to the Westbanhof train station, and hopped on a train to Salzburg. Salzburg is three hours by train from Vienna, and it's a beautiful drive through the Alps. They had compartments on the train so we took up a whole compartment with us and our luggage and relaxed.

Scenery in the Alps out the window of the train

We were hosted for our first day by Leesa's lovely friend Claudia and her husband and adorable daughter. We were treated to homemade apple strudel (!) and a tour of the city. We saw the beautiful Mirabell Gardens (my favorite part of the city, naturally), walked down the famous Getreidegasse, a large pedestrian shopping and eating street, and saw a lot of churches. Salzburg was at one time ruled by prince archbishops, so church officials who were princes because they ruled the city of Salzburg, so there are 47 churches in this city of 150,000. It is predomoinantly Baroque architecture and very well preserved, stradling the river Salzach and snuggled into the Alps amid snow-topped mountains. Famously the home town of Mozart, they have many different monuments, parks, and plazas deidcated to him, Mozart concerts all the time, and two of his homes have been turned into museums. There is even a Mozart candy!

Claudia's daughter is in one of these photos... can you find her?

Interconnected squares in central Salzburg, looking up to the castle


Looking across the bridge from the New Town to the Old Town and Nonnberg Abbey

View from one of the bridges on the Salzach

Medieval street in the "New Town"

Statue of Mozart in Mozartplatz

Reconstruction of The Dancing Master's House, where Mozart and his family lived after he became successful and known across Europe

Mozart Gebursthaus, where he was born, and where they lived in a small apartment before he became successful

Fountain in Mirabell Gardens

Anyone recognize this from a famous musical?

Cherry blossoms in the gardens

Hydrangeas in the orangerie

Mirabell Gardens looking up to the castle on the mountain

And a special treat... guess this is one way to drive the Jews out of town:

(Judengasse means Jew Street)

Last day in Budapest tomorrow!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Since I am being horribly lax in uploading photos and telling you what I'm up to on vacation, you can all check out Leesa's vacation blog to see her fantastic photos.

Currently in Budapest, heading back to Paris on Thursday, spending the night in my small town in Picardie to drop off luggage, and then going to Brussels for the weekend. Still need to book a place to stay for the first night. Ooops.

Noticing a pattern of forgetfulness here?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

When we left our fair heroine...

.... she was frantically dealing with the blood pressure issues caused by the Lying Awkward Yogurt Stealer. Happily for our heroine, she had two whole weeks of vacation to look forward to starting the next day, as she would be skipping school to go see her jerk specialist doctor in Paris and then stay overnight with Leesa before jetting off to Eastern Europe.

Somehow I managed to finish packing before midnight, so I was able to get some sleep before getting up for the 8h22 train into Paris. I was slightly agitated because of my upcoming appointment with the jerk. You never know if the appointment will disintegrate into a screaming match where I tell him what a jerk he is and he calls me non-compliant. Actually, none of that has ever happened except him calling me non-compliant (which is not exactly true, I just happen to think he gives incorrect medical advice and so I do what I think is right). So I got off the train at 9:40, thirteen minutes late for whatever reason, and as I'm walking into the main hall of the Gare du Nord I stop cold in my tracks and my jaw drops open in shock.

I had forgotten my passport!

I have no idea how I forgot that I needed a passport. It honestly never crossed my mind when I was packing, despite the fact that Leesa had reminded me to pack it, I just never at one single point thought that I would need my actual passport. I checked twice for photocopies of my passport, but never the actual passport!

I was very calm about the whole situation. You can't do without your passport, so the only thing to do was to go back to my town and get it. No point in being upset over the situation, it just has to be dealt with. I stored my luggage and went to my appointment, ready to return to the Gare du Nord afterwards and get back on the train.

The funny part about the passport debacle is that because I was so calm and focused about going back to get my passport I was in the perfect mindset to see the jerk and ended up having a completely painless appointment with no yelling or name calling. At least one good thing came out of it, right?

Then I spent a couple hours doing the aller-retour to my town to pick up my passport. Unfortunately they are doing work on the train tracks so the trip took much longer than it should have, but it was my own stupid fault for forgetting the passport so I can’t really complain.
And so the passport debacle finished with me 20 euros poorer and having wasted an entire afternoon, but it was all towards the purpose of vacation, which I am enjoying very much. We're currently in Vienna and leaving for Budapest on Saturday. I can’t promise any pictures, since I also didn’t even think about bringing my camera USB uploader connector, but whatever, I can blog about it and add photos later. In the meantime, you can check out Leesa's other blog for pictures.

Seriously, how stupid do you have to be to forget your passport before going on an international vacation?!?!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why Yogurt Stealing Prof is a Liar and Made Me Miss My Bus

As you are all azare, we've been having some problems with people stealing food on the professors' hallway at the lycee where I live. I did go to speak to the agent comptable about this problem about a week ago, and he said basically tant pis and that it was our problem to regulate. He is a jerk (more about that particular issue later). I knew I had to confront the yogurt stealer, but this is clearly a very delicate issue. I don't have any hard proof that it's him, only very strong circumstantial evidence (the fact that he always replaces whatever he's stolen with yogurt from the cafeteria, where he eats all the time), so I decided (with some advice from Mom) that I should just mention that some is stealing yogurt and ask if it had happened to him to and express my dismay at the situation.

So on Thursday this past week he was at the bus stop when I got there, and I knew I had to say something. I started off saying that we were having problems with stolen food on the hallway and asked if anyone had stolen his food. So he kind of smiles, looks down at the ground, and then looks back up and says "yeah, someone has taken my food too."

WHAT!!!!!!!! YOU LIAR!!!!!!!!

I was shellshocked. What kind of moron just lies about the food being taken? What a jerk! What kind of an idiot does he think I am? But I was so surprised that I couldn't think of anything to say except for "yeah, it's so rude, I don't know who would do that." He tries to justify his innocence by saying that he eats in the cafeteria anyway. Then I eventually composed myself enough to use my best displeased teacher voice and go on and on about how rude and mean and inconsiderate it is to steal food. Of course I didn't have enough presence of mind to tell him that whoever it is is replacing the food they steal with yogurts from the cafeteria, not as though it would have made a difference anyway because he clearly thinks that he's really pulled the wool over my eyes!

And I was still steaming when the bus came up and I got on right after him. I got off at the train station to switch to the other bus line, and as I was crossing the street I stopped cold.

I had gotten on the wrong bus!

I was mildly hysterical, because at this point I had missed the bus I needed to be on to get to my Thursday school (instead I had gotten on Friday school bus). I made a panicked, incomprehensible call to Thursday School (C School, where I teach the CLIS class and my genius CE1s) to tell them I had missed the bus. Then I decided to call a coworker who sometimes gives me a ride when we're at the same school (and invites me over to eat frogs' legs). She was nice enough to come pick me up and drive me to C School on her way to V School, so I ended up getting there anyway. But geez! Quite a morning.

I had been so discombobulated and confused all week anyway because I hadn't taught Thursday and Friday the week before (I was sick), then Monday was a holiday, and I was just completely disoriented. I had been worried all year that I was going to take the wrong bus one day, and now I finally did it. Hopefully that means I won't do it again.

But clearly the moral of the story is that it is Lying Awkward Yogurt Stealer's fault. What a jerk. We are now enemies. There is bad blood between us. I mean really, LYING about getting his food stolen? His food was stolen because he ate it! He could have just said he hadn't had anything stolen and didn't know anything about it but no. He LIED. I do not like liars.

And to top off a frustrating week at the lycee, remember the work they are doing on the hallway to make it all spiffy and new and give us a new bathroom and kitchen? On Tuesday they took out the shower. And just left it like that. We haven't had a shower on the hall since Tuesday. I've had to go down two floors to the cafeteria and shower in the locker room for the cafeteria workers. This is not fun early in the morning and makes me have to wake up earlier. Supposedly they are working for a few days this coming week on the hallway, and we had better have a shower by the time I come back, or else I will be complaining. See how the agent comptable is a jerk?

But now I'm on VACATION for two weeks! I will try to relax, and man do I need to. Wait until you hear the crazy story from Friday before I left.....

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Thoughts About Female Friendships in France

Since coming back to France from my summer in the US my friend D, with whom I was such good friends last year, has been almost completely absent from my life except for the odd café meet up on a Wednesday afternoon or occasionally being available on a Friday night to see me. What happened, you may wonder?

She got closer with her boyfriend so I am no longer necessary, because she has someone else to fill her weekends and Wednesdays.

By contrast, when I thought I was going to have a boyfriend when I got back to France, I planned ways to divide my time between D and him, because she is my friend and important to me and you make time for the people you care about.

I think the main difference between French and American women is French women consider their female friends disposable. The most important relationship in their lives is always their significant male other; girl friends are there just to fill the gap between boyfriends. "Chicks before dicks" does not exist here. Once you have a boyfriend, you can stop seeing your girl friends because you no longer need them to help you find a man. D will occasionally remark that she doesn't see me, or other girl friends, as often as she used to, but is clearly unwilling to sacrifice time with her boyfriend in order to see us. Her priorities, and the priorities that French society has laid out for her, are clear: get a man. That's the only relationship that counts.

I went to see the Sex and the City movie with D last year. She loves SATC, she said, because the women are always there for each other, through thick and thin, no matter what. That kind of female relationship just isn't programmed into French women. Sure, you still see your girl friends every once in a while when you're in a couple (because you might break up someday and need the girls to help you find another man) but it's nothing like the American idea of girl friends who continue to see and phone and email each other all the time, in or out of a couple.

This is my interpretation of the elusive French woman, would be interested to hear the thoughts of others. Interestingly, I've also noticed that men seem to have friendships more like the typical American female friendship. Comments also welcome on this topic.

I've been watching a lot of Sex and the City this weekend. I really miss my girl friends at home.

Also, still looking for ideas re: my last post.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Upgrading and Updating

Update on the job situation. I had a rejection from a university where all the lecteurs from this year decided to renew, so scratch that one off the list. Still haven't heard from anywhere else, but I'm not too concerned since everyone I talked to told me I was way early to be calling about being a lecteur.

On that same note, I am concerned because I'm trying to apply to all the IUTs (technical universities) in Paris and I'm really stuck. I can hardly find anything online about any language program whatsoever at the IUTs (even though I know they exist!) so I don't have any phone numbers or email addresses except the general information number. I've called these general information numbers, and they have been generally unhelpful, giving no information or connecting me to other unhelpful people who tell me to try the general number again. *sigh* Any ideas? It's getting really late now to be applying (even though it seems that Paris has a general end recruitment date of April 30th, it's still late to be applying) and I'm worried that I haven't tried hard enough to get a job if I want to stay next year and therefore by default will not be staying. *sigh*

In other news, the renovations on the hallway are apparently going to upgrade me to a new shower and a new kitchen! They just told me today. Next week I won't have a shower for at least Tuesday (although they have provided me with an extremely inconvenient substitute) but then I will have a nice sparkly new one (all for myself since no one else on the hall showers). Big thumbs up to no more showering in mold and falling plaster. And a new kitchen! How awesome is that? Maybe they'll give me a burner that actually works! Or a real oven! I could make cookies and cakes all the time!


Better hope for the sake of my waist line that they don't give me an oven.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hall Gossip Part 2

I have come to the realization that the other people who live on my hallway don't shower. I think the Smoking Prof showers occasionally but that's about it. There is never any water in the shower when I go in there to shower, everything is always in exactly the same position that I left it, and I don't hear anyone else in there in the mornings. That means they go the entire school week without showering. Gross.

Having said that, someone did shower yesterday and then put on some cologne - clearly a date called for the desperate measure of bathing. At first I thought it was Yogurt Stealer, which would have made me really upset that he can get a date and I can't, but since he was in the computer lounge last night and did not smell like cologne, I guess it was one of the other guys. Maybe Smoking Prof's mystery girlfriend is back? Don't you think it's weird that she hasn't stayed over again since that one evening? Maybe one weekend in the lycée was enough for her! Or maybe they can only steal moments together every few months because of the whole affair issue (the idea that they are having an affair is pure speculation on my part based on the fact that it makes for a very interesting story). I really wish I knew what the deal was.

I may have evidence that the stealer of the plat congelé was indeed Awkward Yogurt Stealing Prof. Remember how he left me yogurts and stuff to make up for stealing my yogurts before? Well, I had another one yesterday, which I am guessing was to replace the plat. Apparently yogurts are good to replace every type of food he steals, including frozen pasta dishes taht have no yogurt in them whatsoever. Of course the plat that he ate wasn't actually mine, it was Smoking Prof's, so his pitiful attempt at making up for eating it are going to the wrong person.

See, if I really thought he didn't have enough money to eat and was therefore stealing food I wouldn't mind it as much, but I think he's just too forgetful to remember to keep enough food around, and then when it's late and he gets hungry he figures he can just eat someone else's food, essentially punishing everyone else on the hall for the fact that he is is a flufferbrain. Time to stop being an infant and take responsibility for your actions, dude.

They are doing some kind of work on the hallway. I think they are sprucing things up because the rectorat will be coming at some point to decide how much the lycée can charge for the rooms next year. It's very annoying because they make it impossible to use the bathroom and they make tons and tons of noise - what is with French men and the constant whistling? I'm staying home because I'm sick and need to rest. Can't they keep it down? Or at least get a radio and stop the incessant whistling?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hall Gossip

Apparently who ever is stealing food on our hallway is at it again. Smoking Prof told me that last Thursday someone ate a frozen meal of his. What in the heck is up with this? Remember that my angry sign about only eating what you bought is still on the fridge door. We discussed a bit the different possibilities for who had eaten the food - surveillants, students, someone on the hall. Surveillants have no motivation to take the food, students would probably not steal a frozen meal (where would they warm it up? Why would they stick around the hall long enough to warm it up?). So we're left with someone on the hall. Is Awkard Yogurt Stealing Prof moving on to frozen foods? Or is someone new at work? Is it really so hard to remember to buy food to eat? Smoking Prof jokingly said that they should pay teachers more to stop the food stealing. Umm, considering the fact that I make about half (or maybe even less) than full-fledged secondary school teachers make, YES.

This is getting ridiculous. I will be speaking with the agent comptable about this issue before the end of the week.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A week spent in English

Last week was the Week of English. I haven't spoken this much English with people not related to me since I was in the US for December break.

It started on Tuesday when I met up with another girl from my town who works in one of the clothing stores. She picked up on my accent and immediately told me - in English - how much she loves speaking English. So we got together last week and spoke in English for a few hours over Perriers at a local café. I was very impressed by how well she speaks English, especially since she hasn't had much opportunity to speak it since last fall, but by any evaluation she spoke quite well. I think it was still more impressive that she was actually willing to speak with me in English. Most people here refuse to admit that they know a single word in English and are scared to speak to me in English.

Here we find a huge difference between the French and the Americans. If I were doing the assistant program in the US I know all the teachers at my school would have pulled out every word they could think of in French (bonjour, au revoir, and baguette probably being the only ones) to make me feel more at home. The French are so nervous about making a mistake that they would never dare to even say "hello" (unless they are of the creepy old man variety, or the annoying lycéen variety). This is a product of their education system and teaching styles, but that is a post for another day.

Anyway, Tuesday was a big success and it was really nice to meet up with English Buddy. Then on Wednesday I met with some local teachers and my conseillère pédagogique at the circonscription (elementary school district offices) to chat a bit in English. There were five teachers there, discounting myself and the CP, and only three of them talked. They (and my CP) speak English pretty well. We did have some vocab problems. They kept wanting to say "learn" instead of "teach," which is funny because in French they don't really distinguish between the two words and I had to explain it about three different ways before they figured out the difference! They also kept wanting to say "sympathetic" instead of nice. Do they not learn faux amis in France? But it was indeed a very sympathetic gathering, and we'll be doing it again on May 27th, so mark your calendars. All anglophones welcome.

Then on Saturday I was in Paris and saw my friend Amanda from Brandeis, Animesh, and Leesa. It was a busy day! Amanda and I went to a French Masorti congregation, which is roughly the equivalent of the Conservative movement in the US. Conservative is between Orthodox and Reform - women are equal to men, and we've discarded a lot of the silly laws, but we are still more traditional in our observances than Reform, while at the same time being a bunch of flaming political liberals. It was interesting. There was a guy from Congo there! I wish I were nosier and had asked him if he was a Jew by birth or by conversion. I mean really, Congo! That's maybe the last place in the world where I would expect to find Jews. But I just looked it up, and yes, there are indeed Jews and there is even a regional Chabad office. Click this link for a hysterical story about Jews and Chabad in Africa. There are also several African tribes who are of Jewish descent as determined by genetic tests, cultural practices, and some historical proof. Fascinating.

By the way, did you read about the rabbi in the Obama family?

Anyway, so Saturday was a lot of fun, even if I didn't get to eat Indian food because I had to get on the last train back to Picardie at 8 PM. I really am in a convenient location to get to Paris, but it's so annoying that the trains don't run later than 8, it really ruins my (mostly non-existant) social life.

I think my English definitely improved last week, probably at the expense of my French. It's nice to spend time in a language that I speak fluently and that I don't have to constantly think about verb conjugations and gender agreement and other gramatical ridiculousness.

Then on Sunday I woke up with a sore throat. And it's still sore today. I'm definitely sick. This is actually pretty amazing because it's only the second time I've been sick this winter (if you don't count the constantly drippy nose I've had since November). Considering the state of my immune system, that's a pretty good record. Last year I was sick all the time, including a bout with pneumonia (which I should have been admitted to the hospital for, but I'm stubborn).

Now here's hoping I don't get the chicken pox that's going through one of my classes.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Nice is nice

The last stop on my Febrary vacation travels (although it was actually March by this point) was Nice. My goal in Nice was mostly to relax and look around. I did make a point of stopping at the Musee National Message Biblique Marc Chagall, which is full of absolutely beautiful paintings. Chagall is one of my favorite artists, his use of color is amazing and emotional and evocative. I also enjoyed the fact that these are paintings I can easily explain to myself, since they were all Old Testament stories. I know the Old Testament pretty well, the New Testament only very vaguely, and it's hard to interest myself in the endless paintings of saints whose names I don't know and religious symbolism I don't understand. But give me something like Jacob's Dream and I'm right at home:

Or Adam and Eve Chased Out of Paradise (interesting that Eve has red hair)

And The Visitors, depicting Abraham recieving three angels announcing that he and Sarah, at the ripe old ages of 100 and 90, would finally have a child. Why is Abraham protecting his, err, private areas? Because he had been circumcised shortly before the arrival of the angels. This teaches us that we should always welcome and be kind to strangers. How amazing is the red in this picture?

I absolutely loved this museum, but I was too cheap to buy the €20 book about the paintings in the museum and I am kicking myself now. In any case, the museum is a MUST SEE if you are ever in Nice. And if you go, please buy me the book.

Nice is a beautiful city, full of colorful stucco houses like the rest of the south, although considerably more elegant here. A friend from Brandeis, who is currently a lecteur at the university there, was kind enough to host me for the weekend, and it was lovely to connect with him again. He doesn't live in one of these apartments, unfortunately!

And of course the ocean. My pictures don't do it justice at all. It was so relaxing and wonderful to walk up and down the Promenade des Anglais/Promenade des Etats-Unis, stopping at a bench to just look at the ocean or read something on my Kindle. The weather was gorgeous, but of course that is typical for Nice.

And now I get to prepare for my upcoming spring break travelling extravaganza with Leesa: Salzburg, Vienna, and Budapest, and then I'll head to Brussels for the last weekend. Meanwhile I've changed my plans for the upcoming Easter mini break. To save money I'll be taking day trips around the Paris region. I'm definitely going to Chartres, and other possibilities are Fontainbleau, Chantilly, Compiègne, and Senlis. Maybe Rouen.

PS How lame am I for posting twice on April Fool's Day and both posts being completely serious and without one single joke? Totally totally lame.

*Chagall painting pictures taken from the web

Musically Frustrated

I'm finding myself increasingly frustrated with my choir. I've already posted that this choir is very different than every other group I've ever been in: the director plays our parts for us on the piano, over and over, until we've learned them, inevitably everyone forgets their parts when we put it all together, and we have to do this all over again, and we don't finesse the pieces the way I'm used to in my other groups. Some of the members don't even read music, which I always thought was a prerequisite for being in a choir.

These past few weeks it's really come to a head. We had another concert on March 22, and I thought we were going to completely bomb because everyone seemed to have forgotten the music to everything. Not good. Luckily it went much better than I thought and we only had a few mess ups, nothing major. So now we're learning new music. We've started working on Haydn's The Creation, an oratorio along the lines of Handel's Messiah, but about the story of the creation according to Genesis. It's a fantastic piece and I'm excited to be working on it. The choir is planning to perform it at a Christmas concert with the city's orchestra.

Yes, weve just started April, Christmas is a long time from now.

So why are we starting now? Because it's a long piece and it takes freaking forever to play everyone's parts over and over again in tiny pieces. I learned to sight read in choir, which means that I can look at a piece of music and be able to figure out relatively accurately how it's supposed to sound. I find Haydn to be rather easy to sight read; he's from the Classical period (think Mozart) so the music makes sense and doesn't have any weird atonal stuff or wacky intervals. Everything we have accomplished over the last two weeks over four hours worth of rehearsals I could have done in a half an hour by myself in my room. Because we have to sit through everyone else's part being played a gazillion times it also means I hardly sing and spend a lot of time sitting around doing nothing. Rehearsals are terribly painful to sit through. It will get better once we've learned more but right now it is a big waste of time.

I don't consider myself a great musician, and certainly not a great singer. There is a lot about music I don't know, I have technique problems, and my voice is not that great. But whatever skill I may have makes me one of, if not the most talented singer in the chorus. Supposedly I'm the only soprano anyone hears. It's very gratifying to my ego to be complimented on my ability to learn music quickly and be confident in what I'm singing and to be told that I'm an asset to the soprano section, of course, but I would much rather be a medium-level talent in a better choir! I'm not challenged by what we are doing, and in fact I find it mind numbing. I amuse myself by singing the other parts, looking ahead and learning the other choruses, or even bringing my crochet project, but I'm really frustrated.

I'll stick with the choir, because I love to sing and I love singing wonderful classic works, but it's becoming a real chore to drag myself there every night when I know I will hardly sing or accomplish anything at all.