30 January 2011

Ben l'Oncle Soul and Brunch!

Thursday night I headed to a concert in St. Lo with some lovely ladies from choir. The ticket was only 20 euros and I figured it was some good bonding time as well, so despite not knowing the performer at all, i decided to go.

What a good choice it was! The concert was fantastic! Turns out that Ben l'Oncle Soul is actually pretty big- as in I was cooking dinner the other day and his music video came on!

Here's one of his most famous songs "Je suis qu'un soul man" (I'm just a soul man)

The concert was particularly fun as Bea picked me up and then we headed over to pick up Monique and Francine. They had a whiskey before we got there so they were laughing and quite loquacious.

The concert had young and old people and it was actually kind of funny to see such an age range in a crowd. The group put on a really energetic performance as well. To be honest it was actually one of my favorite nights I've had since getting to France. Live music, a good energy, people actually talking TO me and although it was something small, it just really made me feel as if I was part of a group.

Well that wonderful group of women continues to be wonderful. This morning we had brunch chez Bea. Brunch is a foreign concept, but with the guidance of "quiche counts for brunch as well as fruit salads" we ended up with a nice spread. Bea lives and her husband runs an organic dairy farm. So we were a bit out into the country, and they just built there house a few years ago and it's a really interesting departure from a typical french home. It's got mroe of an open floor plan and a spiral staircase leading upstairs!

Our lovely brunch consisted of granola bars (made by Lisa, and American), sausages (made by Felicity and Richard- Brits) banana bread (me!), teurgoule (amazing), 2 quiches (though the dog got into a bit of one of them), 2 fruit salads, homemade yogurt (Bea- she lives on the dairy farm- remember?), a prune/apple crumble, bread/regular/savory/toast, and a chocolate mousse. Needless to say- I absolutely stuffed myself. As I said to Lisa, not all concepts of the brunch translated well (chocolate mousse) but I think that actually worked out for the better!

Felicity and Richard invited me round afterward for tea and a nice walk. It was nice to be in homes all day rather than a dorm room (though I've done my best to make it my own). Felicity and I took a nice walk to digest all of that lovely food along a path that used to a train track in Cambernon. I think you could potentially walk all the way up to Cherbourg on it.

The fun of the weekend is over and now I need to work on lesson plans :(
On the brightside- Mom and Dad visit in 6 days!!

26 January 2011

Lesson Planning

I don't feel like lesson planning, so what does that mean for my students? I get to play taboo for three hours tomorrow!

23 January 2011

St. Malo and Rennes!

Sorry for the lack of updates lately, I've been away and then lazy getting back to writing.

My one Thursday class last week had been canceled, so I had a five day weekend! Wednesdays are for swimming and choir, so I left Thursday morning on an hour late train to St. Malo in Bretagne (Brittany).

St. Malo is a coast city, about 2 hours away (south and then west) from Coutances. It's a walled city, and you can actually completely walk around the old city on the ramparts. It's beautiful to look to the left and have the beach, and to the right lovely little streets.

St. Malo (like many places) is better in summer and spring, when you can take better advantage of its beach proximity. I read about it in my guide book, and had recommendations from some the of the Breton teachers here. I spent the day wandering around the city, eating galettes made with blé noir, drinking cider, smelling the ocean and scarfing down kouign amann (literally translated as “butter cake” and attempts to give you diabetes as quickly as possible) . 

It was chillier than usual, which was exasperated by the wind the whipped my hair around. I did take refuge and thought to expand my brain a little with a visit to the St Malo museum. 

Turns out that was a mistake. I'm pretty sure the museum was put together by several members of a knitting club getting together and realizing that they had some old shit in their attic they needed to get rid of. Well, I tried to enrich my mind! 

In the evening I took a bus to Rennes to meet with Julia, an assistant in Rennes. Julia kindly answered my request for a host on the “Assistants de Rennes-TAPIF” fbook wall. It turns out that Julia went to Beloit and studied abroad in Senegal with the Baobab center a year after me. We know some people in common and we got to revisit great Senegal memories through out my visit. 

As a proper introduction to Rennes Julia took me out to meet other assistants at one of the many bars. I had a great time and more real live English conversation than I'd had in weeks. The next day I headed out to explore the city a little by myself while Julia took care of some errands. I visited the old city areas and took advantage of “les soldes” (huge sales which happen twice a year) and being in a city with shops! I got a stripey shirt for 3 euros and some gloves for 2 euros- I had left mine at home expecting warmer weather.

Julia also knows all the best places for food. My trip to Rennes was constant eating. I left her apartment with instructions for the proper bakery for a “fourrée aux almandes” which is a chocolate or regular croissants filled with almond paste and amazing. I met up with her and other assistants at a high school for lunch followed by a lovely walk in the nearby park. Soon after Julia and I met up with 3 other assistants at a tea shop, “Apple Pie”, run by an Irish woman. It was like being in someone's home and lovely. I enjoyed some tea and an amazing scone.

I went for a walk with Katherine, another assistant to who had responded to my fbook post, and we met up with Lauren who is (can you guess?) another assistant.
The three of us met back up with Julia at her apartment for a drink and then headed out for a galette dinner. The deliciousness continued.
We quickly rushed over to a lecture being held by the feminism group that Julia is part of. It was an interesting lecture about women and safety in public in Rennes. It was fairly interesting but all of us who attended agreed that it needed to go further into issues and was too much of a beginner's intro in the subject. 

Julia had convinced my to stick around on Saturday, rather than taking the early train out so that I could experience the amazingness that is the Rennes Market. I'm so glad I took her advice, and I headed back to Coutances with a tiny but rich chocolate cake, galettes to prepare at home, brussels sprouts, and nems (Vietnamese spring rolls).

It was a fantastic few days and a great break from the usual in Coutances. It also reminded me how much good food rather than night after night of pasta can affect my mood, along with the importance of conversation.
Study abroad in Senegal was a lesson in learning to be with people all the time, while France has been a lesson in largely being alone. I don't regret anything, but I have certainly learned that I do prefer the former.

Now to prepare some lessons, and hopefully more timely updates this week!

17 January 2011

Mexican Food and Mont Saint Michel!

I had an absolutely fabulous weekend. The internet went out Saturday morning, but luckily that was the only bad thing to happen.

Saturday Lydia took the train out, and Michelle and Alison drove out from Ouistreham in a rented car to come visit me in Coutances. Anthony brought me salsa over Christmas break, and a big bottle of it. I figured that 1. I could never finish on my own and 2. It's more fun to share with others anyway so 3. A nacho party would be perfect. 

I showed them around Coutances- all those famous sights such as the cathedral, gardens and.... well, we also went to the movies. We've lucked out with beautiful weather, it's usually around 40-50 degrees, with a bit of wind, but that's a huge improvement over the December weather- or any of the MI weather for that matter, so I've really been trying to enjoy it.

Since we had the car, we took a trip out to Agon-Coutainville- In order: Lydia, Alison and Michelle

We got cookin' and made fajita style chicken, beans, rice, nachos, guacamole and salad, accompanied by several bottles of wines and cider :)  Michelle hosted Thanksgiving- and there's a reason. She is an absolutely amazing cook. We all helped with prep but I let her take the reigns when it came to real cooking because she does it up right. I also bought waaaaaaaayyy too much food so I'll get to enjoy her great cooking for a while. Huimin, Meike and Vika also joined us (Chinese assistant, German assistant, and Belarus environmental volunteer) so it was a full house in that tiny kitchen. It was absolutely fantastic though, added bonus, there were even enough plates and almost enough utensils for everyone!

Meike, Vika and Lydia
Michelle, Alison and Huimin
Lydia, Michelle and Alison camped out on my floor overnight, and despite some sore backs, we headed to Mont Saint Michel Sunday morning.

When my parents visit in a few weeks, we are also planning to go to Mont Saint Michel. I don't mind the repeat visits though because I have a tendency to see/ visit cool places and then learn about them afterward, wishing I could go back with a better understanding. Now I get that opportunity- especially with the children's books I got in the gift shop!

Mont Saint-Michel is so cool! I'll let the pictures do the majority of the talking, and wikipedia can probably do a better job than me on history.

Alison, Michelle and Lydia

These are only a few of the many many steps we climbed up. Mont Saint Michel is 90% stairs and 10% monks

One of the rooms inside

Looking out over the bay. The large flats flood quickly during high tide, providing a natural moat for the Mont

Mere Poulard is heavily advertised throughout. According to legend she started out selling omelets to weary pilgrim making the trip to Mont Saint Michel. You can buy that brand, and many different types of cookies as well throughout Normandy.

Me and Mont Saint Michel!

We knew we would need sustenance on our trip, and it being Sunday and a tourist destination would only have overpriced options, so we brought along some of the leftover Mexican food for a picnic in the parking lot. I don't have tupperwear or paper plates, so we had our mexican picnic in france and ate african style. It was one of my favorite meals I've had so far :D

Our picnic in the parking lot
A fantastic weekend, with some great friends that I'm hoping to see more and more of over the coming weeks, despite crappy train schedules and distance.

14 January 2011

I really need to learn the metric system

I bought 500 grams of cheese today (I have people coming over tomorrow).

I bought it at the deli counter, so I didn't really realize how much freaking cheese it was until she was handing it all over. And she had just cut into a new wheel, so I couldn't really but like --uh thanks but no thanks.

On the plus side- I now have 500 grams of cheese.

10 January 2011

Sucky Sunday Starts Succumb to Sunsets

Sorry, I went a little overboard on the alliteration

Sunday started of rather poorly, but it was nice weather out so I figured it was high time I finally found that hiking trail I had seen before. Things seemed to be working out pretty well when I found it rather quickly and headed out on my way. The ground was damp and muddy (this is Normandy) so basically I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. I started walking along and decided to go right on the fork, however this quickly led me into an area with lots of tire marks and steep hills. I decided I didn't want to be killed by a mountain biker since I haven't gotten my health insurance card from the French government yet, so I headed back to the beginning to take the other path. However my path back was slick with dead leaves from the fall, on top of muddy soil, so rather than walking back I slide on the side of my leg.

This walk was really doing an awesome job of cheering me up, huh?

The jeans were wearing through in the thighs, which I might was tried to squeeze a few more weeks out of in college, but doesn't really fly here. Once I got back I just threw them in the garbage, mud and all.

My day improved when in the afternoon/evening I met up with Meike and we drove out ot the beach to watch the sunset. It's always hard to guess what will be a really beautiful, it's an odd combination of some clouds but not too many. We saw a decent sunset- not the best here, but the smell of the ocean made up for it anyway. Then we headed back to her place where we made pizza and watched "La Vie en Rose," with a bottle of cheap red wine, bringing a much better ending than start to my day.

08 January 2011

My Shepard Moment

When I was in Senegal, one of the most pivotal points for me came when someone asked the room of people what "bergère" meant. I responded "shepard" and then stopped. I looked around the room, entirely composed of people who spoke French better than me, and realized I had been the one to answer. I was finally making it somewhere, and not completely lost.

I've been waiting for similar moments since arriving here, though it's been complicated by the fact that my French is better now, so I'm not quite so easily impressed. In addition, I don't speak a whole lot of French in my day, so I've had fewer opportunities for such a moment.

Today at swim practice, as the coach quickly rattled off our instructions (300 meters: 50 meters crawl, 50 meters crawl "rattraper")* one boy asked "what's rattraper?" In my head I quickly answered it's where you keep one hand in front until the other one catches up and touches it.

I looked around and realized that I was surrounded by native French speakers, and the boy asking was French. And for once I had the answer.

*for those of you thinking "hey, 50 + 50 doesn't equal 300" it means do this activity until you hit three hundred. So you could also be given the instructions "300 meters: 50 crawl, 50 backstroke, 50 breaststroke" so in that case you do it twice. In addition I now have a really random vocabulary of swimming terms.

06 January 2011


You know what I love getting? Mail! It makes me sooooooooo happy and increases my happiness quotient by 10 fold! Perhaps that can be your New Year's resolution- to send me more mail. I'm sure you would get some fun Frenchy postcards in return! Oh! and how convenient- my address is in the sidebar to the left!

04 January 2011

Happy New Year!

Sorry I've been a little absent, and I still have to finish the blog posts from Vienna. I'm safe and back in Coutances, I got in Saturday which gave me some settling in time and a chance to buy groceries. I'm back to "the grind" but so far happier about classes. During and before the break I had really been freaking out about my lessons, mostly because I felt they were horrible, directionless, not beneficial and off target.

Some of the teachers don't tell me what to do with their students, some are easy to figure out, others tell me exactly what to do and others it's a surprise each time. I felt like all my lessons were crap and I was mostly just being hard on myself. Having never taken any classes on how to teach, or teaching anything other than swimming lessons (I can however teach you how to do a great dive) it's been kind of difficult to figure out what to teach and what is level appropriate. Some classes it's like teaching a lifeguard course while also teaching kids to blow bubbles. I got really down on myself about it, and each night before classes would be spent with my stomach in knots hoping for it all to be over already, starting again on Sunday afternoons.

So far my classes have been going well enough, and Anthony reminded me of something important over the break- "Have any of your classes seriously crashed and burned?" "No" "Then why are you so worried, things are working fine."

I'm trying to create a schedule for myself where I'm actually getting things done during the day, rather than waking up for class and then taking naps after. This new year is bringing quite a few resolutions, some going hand in hand with each other, some to get the most out of this experience, some for when I get back to the States. It's hard not having many friends here, but I'm here so I need to make the best and take full advantage of it.

I hope 2011 brings the best for everyone!