Wednesday, May 12, 2010

new blog

On the off chance you're checking back here post-France... My best friend Ali and I have started a new blog Sally & Ali. Check one, two!

Monday, May 3, 2010

and just like that...

It's over. I apologize for the delay in this last post. I've been carried away with all things American i.e. public bathrooms, a Braves game, Sonic, etc. So before I continue to be swept away with patriotism, I will tie up the loose ends... Last week was sure a strange one. I kept telling people it was my last week, but I didn't really believe it. It seemed too good to be true. But we'll get back to that in a minute.

Wrapping up... First the teacher I always worked with in class got sick. So, quite unfortunately, I didn't get to say goodbye to about 60 students. On Wednesday my tech students surprised me with a little going away party. They brought in all manner of food and drinks and we just sat around talking and preparing one last something for their American pen pals. I gave them one last letter, from Kendall, and instead of writing a letter back they decided they wanted to make a video saying hi to all three of their pen pals. You can watch their attempt to declare the French as the best at BBQ (*cough cough cough cough cough*) here:

Pen Pals from Sally Anderson on Vimeo.

My last day I gave a little gift to my students in English club and one of them started to cry. It was a really touching moment for me and made me think that if I made that much of an impact for this one girl, it was worth it. I could walk away happy.

I also walked away happy because I got to leave the Bomb Shelter behind:

Da Bomb Shelter from Sally Anderson on Vimeo.

The last blog posts pretty much sums up everything to be perfectly honest. I'm shell shocked that I made it back to the USA. There were so many sleepless nights where I really didn't think it would be possible. Once I escaped Trévoux, before taking my trans-Atlantic flight back home, I kept waiting to be kidnapped by the French government to be dragged back there against my will. It wasn't until I made it to the top of the escalators at the Atlanta airport and saw my parents that I truly believed I was in America. I began to cry and the first thing I said to them was, "Please tell me I never have to go back again!" And, of course, I don't. It's the most liberating feeling in the entire world, no joke. I've gone from a nightmare to one of the sweetest dreams I've ever had. I keep pinching myself because it all seems too good to be true. I'm not exaggerating:

Meeting Captain Kirk from Sally Anderson on Vimeo.

The past 7 months were a crazy and unexpected ride. And since I began my documentation of this journey with "Once upon a time" and a reference to Beauty and the Beast, I think I will finish it with "And she lived happily ever after." No, I did not encounter an enchanted castle or Prince Charming. And no, I don't know what the next chapter holds for me in any way. But, as I've said, this chapter of my life is over and that's "happily ever after" enough for me!

La fin.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Samwise the Brave

I’m posting this entry from the school where I’m scrounging up some internet. As you can imagine, four days in Trévoux without internet was absolute torture for me. There I was with no Skype, no roommate, a dead town, and a stuffed animal who, while as loving and comforting as she can be, has been a mute these 22 years. And satisfying as gazing up at my nearly nonexistent paper chain was, I had to turn to my DVDs for some real entertainment and, I’ll admit, illusion of companionship. When you’re all alone, it’s nice to have other voices floating around even if they’re pouring from your computer. Many fictional characters have grown near and dear to me this year, but allow me to turn to an old favorite.

Don’t let the life-sized cardboard cutout of Legolas I got for my 16th birthday fool you. Much as I have always loved quoting the infamous, “Something draws near, I can feel it,” his words are not the ones I want to focus on just now.

My first month in France I watched The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. At the time I felt overwhelmed by the seeming impossibility of making it through this program. And like Frodo I had wished that none of it had happened. Everything seemed to have gone so horribly wrong. Fast-forward through six months of you-know-what and here I am at the end of it. So it seemed to me very fitting to watch the last two thirds of the saga, which my mom had so graciously brought to me in Nice.

At the end of The Two Towers, I found myself crying over the speech of a small, but courageous hobbit…
Sam: “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo; the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. Those are the stories that stayed with you; that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”
Frodo: “What are we holding on to, Sam?”
Sam: “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”

Now, I am by no means comparing my passing trial to that of destroying evil. But I hope you can see the parallel I’m trying to draw here. In October I cried myself to sleep holding my mom’s hand in a hotel room in Lyon. In November I was frustrated over a lack of classes. In December I had to ”get naked” for the French government. In January my family pushed me onto a plane back to Paris. In February I nearly quit over the discouraging words of a colleague. And in March my impatience to be home was nearly tangible. As I told my best friend Ali on Skype so many months ago, I had to train my eyes to strain to see the silver lining each and every day i.e. students excited to practice English with me in the hallways, teachers happy to see the results of my lessons, etc. Any “Hi, Sally!” from a student passing by was a victory I had to cling to. Any call, e-mail, letter, prayer, fleeting well-wishing thought from all of you along with these little victories of mine have been the good that have kept me fighting through this. They have been what have kept me going. I am absolutely stunned to be standing on the brink of my last week here because at the beginning I didn’t even want to start. I immediately wanted to walk away. But what I wanted and what I knew I had to do were two very different things. And it’s not with amazement in myself that I’m about to close this trying chapter of my life. It was all God. I cannot credit one shred of this accomplishment to myself. Because if it had been up to me, I would have dropped this program like The One Ring and gone home with my parents in October.

I’m not saying the past seven months have all been horrible. I have, of course, enjoyed getting to know my students and traveling all over France with Sarah and a few others. And I know other English assistants who had a very different and positive experience and I’m happy for them. Mine was hard to swallow, but I can appreciate it for what it was and for all that I learned. The greatest of which are that God is good and God is faithful. To quote Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.” And now to use “bad English” that I would never dream of using in the classroom… Ain’t that the truth?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

planned awkwardness

The whole purpose of Sarah and I coming to the Champagne region was, naturally, to drink champagne. Thus, we set about selecting three champagne houses where we would get a tour of the cellars and a champagne tasting.

Yesterday we did a day trip out to Epernay, famous for its champagne thanks to its Avenue de Champagne. House after house on this street is devoted to the making of bubbly. First stop: Moët and Chandon, the makers of Dom Pérignon. The tour was a very scripted, but very informative description of the process from the vine to the shelf. The champagne was light and fruity and then we were on our way to champagne house #2. After a long walk down the never-ending street, we finally arrived at Mercier. Walking into the foyer we were face to face with a huge wooden vat that once held 200,000 bottles worth of champagne at the World's Fair. It came second only to the Eiffel Tower. Needless to say, Mercier was an innovative man and is considered the Willy Wonka of champagne. He used to take people up in hot air balloons over Paris for tastings. How cool is that?! Sarah and I had decided to treat ourselves to a tour in English instead of French. But as the time for our tour grew near we realized... we were the only English speakers there. Which meant a personal tour from a charming young man. At first it was very awkward turtle. Especially considering that the tour through the wine caves is done on a laser guided train meant for 50 people. But, no, it was just the three of us in the first car driving around. At one point our guide said, "Say hello!" I turned and saw a worker and waved to him. Well it turned out that the guide hadn't finished his sentence yet and was going to say, "Say hello to the longest hall in the caves." I got a lot of grief for that one! Woopsies! During the tasting he told us that their motto is "Fresh, fruity, intense, and spontaneous." He proceeded to confide in us that he thought this saying was ridiculous, but asked what we thought of the champagne. Of course we said it was "Spontaneous!" Despite its awkwardness, it was a hilarious time and we really enjoyed it.

Today, we went to a tasting in Reims at Veuve Clicquot. For those of you who don't know, "veuve" means "widow." It was the widow of Clicquot who was the genius behind the brand and the business. I would say this was the best tour as far as understanding the history behind the brand. We learned what absolutely everything on the label means and it was just the most interesting of all the tours. To top it off we got to taste their La Grande Dame from 1998. The bottle costs 119 euros, which is probably why it was the most expensive tour of the three. But it was worth it! I've been spoiled!

Paris week and then Champagne... I'd say it's been a great spring vacation. Tomorrow it's back to Trévoux where I will be without internet (NOOOOOO!!!!!!!!) for exactly one week before flying home for good. That is, of course, if volcanic ash doesn't get in my way. If I have to go through Japan, I don't care, I'm gettin' out! Please pray that for once I won't have any transportation nightmares! Cheers!

P.S. I tried adding more pictures, but my internet connection at McDonald's (yes... I know) is not very good! I'll try again at school next week. Sorry!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Paris week: highlights part 2

1. After our day trip to Pierrefonds, Sarah and I did some unwinding with Mme Chauchat who exposed us to our first live showing of Nouvelle Star. For those of you who don't already know, Nouvelle Star (or "New Star") is the French version of American Idol. I already had an appreciation for the show because they discovered Thierry Amiel for me years ago. But, still, I had never seen it live. Last Wednesday was the first round after the auditions. It's done a bit differently over here, but I loved it. I never watch American Idol back home, but Nouvelle Star is amazing!!! Here are my two favorites. First we saw Luce. Yes, the song is in French, but you can appreciate her talent all the same. Sarah and I haven't been able to stop singing her rendition and we really want her to be our friend:

Then we saw Benjamin. He's 16 and just like my students of the same age, he is the perfect example of how much difficulty the French have with the 'th' sound in English. But he's adorable and I kind of want him to be my friend too:

2. I went and visited my host family from study abroad. It was nice to see the Coulots and that big old house I loved so much. But I have to confess, the best part was being reunited with Skipper, the dog.

3. A Chauchat guided tour around the Quartier Saint Louis, one of the oldest quartiers in Versailles.

4. Throwing a belated birthday party for the Chauchats' oldest grandsons, Grégoire and Alexi. Sarah and I played Mexican Train with them and it was just a fun way to get to know them. Dinner consisted of American hamburgers and fries, which were so delicious! It was followed by their birthday red velvet cake (made with mix brought over by my mom) since we knew Mme Chauchat had never had one before. Alexi proceeded to quiz us about all the American rappers we knew. His pronunciation of their songs=hilarious! Such a fun night!

5. My failure to resist collection of The Pogues' first 5 albums for 19 euros at FNAC.

6. Renting bikes and riding around Le Grand Canal in Versailles. We were a bit nervous because it's been years since either of us had ridden a bike, but it came back surprisingly fast. We sang "Do-Re-Mi" as we merrily went along through the most beautiful palace grounds in the world. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the water was sparkling, ah, it was bliss! I want a bike now more than anything. It was an afternoon perfectly spent!

7. K&K episode 333. I've listened to this expat podcast called Katia and Kyliemac for about 2 years now. Saturday night was their 333rd episode and they did a live broadcast at a pub in Paris. It was a big celebration and people had flown in from all over the world for the shenanigans. And those who couldn't, like my best friend Ali, called in and left voicemail messages, which were played throughout the night. We got goodie bags and snacked on hors d'œuvres such as Peeps and M&Ms, which was one sweet reunion. And I finally got to meet Katia and Kyliemac, which was awesome! If you listen to the podcast, you'll understand, but you just feel like you know them. So it was a real blast to be there. There were 3 minute discussions of topics such as "cheese: the stinkier the better?" and "Parisians: bastards or survivalists?" It was hilarious! Definitely a lot of expat camaraderie going on.

Paris week was a major success! It was more than we could have hoped for. But it wasn't perfect. There were lowlights too. For example, getting stuck in Paris for 2 hours after K&K because the strike didn't end when it was supposed to and we couldn't get a train back to Versailles until 1 am. I know everything sounds just lovely because I'm on vacation and everything, but I can't tell you the amount of times I've said, "I've had it! I want to go home!" Public transportation being the number one aggravator of such commentary. Also, saying goodbye to Mme Chauchat... never fun. It. Was. Awful. Seriously, this woman is amazing and I don't know what I would have done without her this year.

So yesterday Sarah and I bid farewell to Paris week and made our way to Reims. The entire town is under construction, which is a bummer. But there are some cool things. Like... this morning I found a pain au chocolat et banane (that's chocolate and banana, people, chocolate and banana!) and wandered around the cathedral, which has Chagall stained glass windows. Otherwise the only really cool thing about Reims is the fact that my late grandad marched through it during World War II. In all honesty, we're a bit bored here. But that's ok because tomorrow we're day-tripping it out to Epernay for some champagne tastings!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Silence, s'il vous plaît!

In other words, "Quiet on set!" That's right! On Wednesday we finally made it out to Pierrefonds. The castle is straight out of a fairy tale, perhaps why it was chosen to represent Camelot, and it looms high over the town. Sarah won major friend points all day for putting up with all my squealing and grabbing and going, "A big car! I wonder if it's Bradley and Colin!" Just so there's no further confusion, Bradley James plays Arthur and Colin Morgan plays Merlin.

The Château de Pierrefonds was closed for lunch when we first got there. As we waited to go inside all these vans kept pulling up and all manner of film equipment was being unloaded. I've never witnessed a film set before and it was absolutely fascinating. If any of the crew are willing to switch jobs with me, make yourself known! At 2 o'clock I wandered into that oh-so-familiar-looking courtyard where Prince Arthur had slayed so many mythical creatures. No sooner had I paused to take a picture of mammoth structure that I turned and saw Bradley James and Colin Morgan walk right by me. Arthur, I mean Bradley, was in his chainmail and I have to admit I was struck speechless. It's a very weird thing. I've never been around an actor before, but seeing him dressed as this character I couldn't distinguish between the two!

Once Sarah could finally snap me out of la la land and what was apparently some intense blushing, we toured the castle. La la la, yes it was enchanting, but I was distractedly peeking out of every window to see any signs of filming. After walking through the parts of it that we could (some of the rooms were closed for filming) we sat outside with the rest of the tourists, all English speakers and fans of Merlin. I only just started watching this show since coming to France. And I've generally referred to it as a guilty pleasure, but apparently this little quest has turned me into a groupie. Bradley and Colin came down to talk to the fans, but when I was one person away they were called back on set. Oh well! It was still really neat to get to see them and be on a working set. I'm not sure which episode of season 3 we were there for that day, but I can tell you to watch for the episode where there's what looks like a saracen attack on Camelot, possibly a dismembered skeleton, and Arthur having a sword fight in the stairwell. Ah! It was just such a unique opportunity! I can't believe they were actually filming and I'm so glad we got to go!

P.S. There's almost nothing funnier than seeing the knights of the roundtable taking pictures of each other with their camera phones! Except maybe "Prince Arthur" lounging on the front steps of the château, rocking his Oakleys.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Paris week: highlights so far

1. Singing Pocahontas with Mme Chauchat. It happened.

2. Seeing a ballet at the Opéra. Ok, first of all this building is ridiculously grandiose. Gold everywhere and Chagall painted the ceiling. Secondly, the ballerinas are incredibly talented. And young. This puts my life into harsh perspective. But I'll let it slide because they were so friendly afterwards. At least the one we met (she once lived with the Chauchats). The only downside to this long awaited experience was that the Phantom of the Opéra apparently forgot I was coming.

3. Hillsong.

4. We went to see the equestrian spectacle at Versailles' royal stables. This is, I suppose, Versailles' answer to Austria's Lipizzaner stallions. It was... interesting... but the horses were beautiful, even if their blue eyes were a tad creepy.

5. Georges Centre Pompidou. We got in for free. Thank God, it was free! In and out and 20 minutes! I think that's a new record.

6. American Breakfast. Sweet reunion with pancakes.

7. The Clash of the Titans. This movie was awesome! Flippin' awesome!!!

8. Java Chip frappuccino, I've missed you, darling!

In other news, I still hate French public transportation. Our train for our day trip out to the castle they film Merlin at was delayed by 15 minutes. This was enough to make it so we would miss our one and only chance aka bus to get to the Château de Pierrefonds. So we ran to to the ticket counter and got refunds for our tickets. Majorly bummed because they're filming there as we speak. Prince Arthur, your damsel is in distress! But never fear, seven months of travel hell has transformed this dilemma into a not-so-impossible feat. This has to happen!