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!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

the pen pal project

I have just sealed what is probably the last letter from my tech students to my friends back in the United States. And, I've got to say, I did it with a great sense of accomplishment. At first they were dubious of the assignment, but upon learning they would corresponding with American girls it was approached with great enthusiasm. The letters from Kendall, Alex, and Amanda all came different weeks, but back to back. So each class those three weeks was devoted to ceremoniously opening the girl's letter (i.e. with a pair of scissors), reading it out loud, high-fiving, winking, fist-pumping, and then, finally, writing a worthy response. Some took the task very seriously. Others treated it more like a long distance dating game i.e. some of them said "I will be 21 in October" just to make themselves sound older. There was a lot of "No! You can't say that!" and "There's no way you're asking that!" on my end. But it was all very good humored. They've been bragging to everyone, and I mean everyone, about this project. Consequently, this has gotten more students in the class (it's optional). I, for one, have been rolling on the floor laughing over some of their commentary. Once I know Amanda's gotten her letter, I'll be sure to tell you what they said. I don't want to spoil the surprise! Boys will be boys and they are no exception! Here's a picture they insisted on taking, courtesy of my Mac's built in camera, to show their new trans-Atlantic friends.

Yesterday we finished with Amanda's letter. As you can see, it was quite impressive! She even included a mixed CD for them. So now the boys think they're hot stuff. They were as devoted to writing back to her as they were for Alex and Kendall. And seeing them concentrate so hard and working out how to say certain things, I just swelled with pride. And I'm not the only one who's impressed. Their English teacher told me she's never seen them so inspired to work before. It's ironic because before I had even met this class I was told that their English was very weak, they were older (around 20), and could be very hard to handle. Even then I was told that if I didn't want to work with them, I didn't have to. But over and over again, I have walked out of that classroom impressed. They have worked so hard this year. Everything has been approached with enthusiasm, perhaps with a desire to show off, but enthusiasm all the same. This is the only group I've seen every week over the past seven months, so it's been very special to watch them improve. I guess I'm a sucker for lost causes, but I'm so glad I didn't turn the opportunity down.

And now it's spring break! First this means what Sarah and I have dubbed "Paris week." We're not really staying in Paris, but we're planning on doing a lot there. Home base will be Versailles and we couldn't be happier! From there we're going to Reims in Champagne. We've got two champagne tastings lined up and I'm so excited! After that I'll come back to Trévoux for a weekend of cleaning and packing. And then it's 3 days of class and bye bye Bomb Shelter! Eeeeee!!!!!!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"Yzma, put your hands in the air!"

There is something about being reunited with a friend you haven't seen in a long time that is really incredible. Immediately you fall in step with each other; reading each other's thoughts and laughing at jokes that no outside party could ever understand. At least, that's how it was when Sarah and I met up with my best friend Ali in Paris this past weekend! The three of us haven't been in the same place since we graduated last May. But it seemed as if no time and all the time in the world had passed since then. Everything and nothing has changed.

We were immediately set loose in the heart of Paris where the three of us had bonded in the first place during study abroad three years ago. Three years! Unbelievable! We had lunch in the Latin Quarter before window shopping turned into actual shopping in the Marais district. In the late afternoon we met our friend Brita by the Hôtel de Ville for drinks. So it was even more of a study abroad reunion! For lack of time's sake, we had dinner at an American restaurant I will not mention on the Champs-Elysées. I will say it's the trendiest one I've ever been too, but that's all! I think you know what I'm talking about. Then we ran across the street to see Alice in Wonderland in 3D. The March Hare was by far my favorite and we were quoting him the rest of the weekend. We snuck in American sodas we had bought at the Thanksgiving store earlier. Root beer never tasted so good, except perhaps in a root beer float!

Saturday morning we woke up bright and early to make our dreams come true. That is to say we went to Euro Disney! I know, I know, this makes for my third visit. But I had to go with Ali! And besides, I'm convinced you can never go to Disney too many times. It never loses its luster in my childish eyes! It was pouring down rain all day long, but the crowds were still swarming everywhere. Unfortunately this included the rudest bunch of tweens I have ever encountered in my entire life! But no matter, nothing was going to dampen our spirits physically or mentally. We skipped our way through that park without a care in the world and it was magical! I'm not sure if any group of 20 somethings has ever quoted so many Disney lines or sung so many Disney songs in the span of ten hours. I desperately wanted to find Peter Pan, but characters at Euro Disney always seem to be in hiding/running away from guests, darn frogs. The rain wasn't helping. Mark my words, one day I will find him at Disney and it will be "just like we dreamed it" (the theme song for this park, which we were belting every 10 minutes). We were smart enough to start with our favorite Space Mountain, which ended up having technical difficulties the rest of the day. But it was ok. It just made an excuse to go on rides we'd never been on before i.e. Star Tours, the carousel, and Buzz Lightyear Lazer Blast. We finished on Buzz Lightyear and I've got to say it's the most awesome ride ever! You go on these cars from room to room shooting lazers at targets on the bad guys through the whole thing, points and everything. It was like living a video game and it was awesome! We also ate at the Blue Lagoon, which is the restaurant right next to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, so you can watch everyone going by on their boats. It was definitely worth the splurge. Especially the crème brûlée i.e. they set the crème on fire right in front of us! Ah! It was just so much fun! We all were in dire need of a break from reality and there's nothing like magic carpets, prince charmings, and spinning teacups to do the trick!

Easter Sunday Ali and I went to Hillsong. It was incredible! If I could have joined that church on the spot, I would have. But what a glorious way to celebrate! We met up with Sarah in the Latin Quarter where we went and got Nutella crêpes at our favorite crêpe stand. Sarah and I had both given up Nutella for Lent- very difficult to do in France, if I may say so- and it was one sweet reunion! We had this hunch that everything was going to be closed because it was both a holiday and a Sunday, but it really wasn't a problem. Everything we needed to be open was. We walked all over town and finally made it to the Eiffel Tower. Everyone was there. Everyone. I have never seen so many people there midday. Literally, we all had to hold hands to make it through the crowds together.

But... ah! What a wonderful weekend! I, for one, am missing their combined company already! There's just nothing like being with your besties. Nothing! I haven't laughed like that since the last time we were all together. Here's to it not taking 11 months next time! Thanks girls! And, "I need lots of chocolate and a Diet Coke please!" hehe.

P.S. I took a ton of video at Euro Disney. It'll take me some time to edit, so sit tight!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Doors of Trévoux

Last weekend my Mom insisted on seeing all the pictures I've taken over here thus far. When I showed her all the photos from Trévoux, she said it was like "The Doors of Dublin." If you've ever been to Dublin, you'd have seen post cards with pictures of all the colorful front doors around Dublin. So, to give you a better idea of the town I'm living in, I give you "The Doors of Trévoux."

In other news, tomorrow morning I'm meeting Ali and Sarah in Paris! And on Saturday... *five-year-old-squeal*... WE'RE GOING TO EURO DISNEY!!!!!!!!!!!! Happy Easter everyone!