24 March 2011

Should/ Shouldn't

Things I should be doing:

Getting some rest to get over this cough/chest congestion Anthony gave me while writing some blog updates
Going to read a French book in the park since it's actually nice out and I could do with some Vitamin D

Things I will do:

Teach class
Run errands
Head to Saint Lo for dinner with another assistant

20 March 2011

Finally an update!

Hello all,
Sorry for the extreme lack of updates in the past 6 weeks. There was a combination of reasons why no posts went up during this time. First of all, there was actually a lot going on for once! Between February 6 and now, March 20th my parents have visited, I visited Lydia (another assistant) in Carentan and we spent the night in Cherbourg, I went back to the States to Austin for a week, came back to France and visited Orrin in St. Etienne and just this past week Anthony has been here visiting and just a little while ago I said goodbye to him as he got on the bus to the airport. Besides everything going on, February was a pretty rough month for me. I've meet some fantastic people in France (like Lydia and Michelle, both American assistants in other towns) but their distance means we don't get to hang out very often. Solitary life has been a really large change for me, especially coming from college life where I had a huge network of friends and support systems. While I still keep in touch with people from Kzoo, emails and skype are not the same as getting to swing by each others' houses and make attaya, or sit outside the library in the sunshine, chatting with everyone who walks by.
The grey skies of Normandy and chilly weather don't really improve feelings of loneliness. It's fun to have people visiting here on vacation, and I'm SO grateful that I've gotten the chance to share Coutances/ Normandy/ France with others, but it's also not my regular life. Anthony might have seen it best, as he stayed with me in my dorm, but I don't usually visit Mont Saint Michel every other week, or get to go sightseeing. (That being said all those things are fun to do and lift my mood so I'm cramming as much of that kind of stuff as I can into the next few weeks).
Meike (the German assistant in Coutances) left on Saturday. That was always here departure date, but it seemed so far away before. While we weren't super close, we got along well and we had movie nights almost every week. It was nice to have someone in town to meet up with for coffee, or to talk about students. Her departure has marked the beginning of the countdown towards the end. There's only five more weeks until I leave (!) which alternates between seeming like it's sooooooooooooo far away and “omg, I'm leaving and need to start packing.”
The weather is slowly improving in Coutances, at the very least with the sun coming up before my classes, and lasting past the end of the day as well. It's still a bit chilly, but it's Normandy so I don't expect much. I'm doing a better job of reaching out to other assistants to hang out, especially so I'm not stuck in my dorm on the weekends with nothing to do (not that I've been to swim team in about 6 weeks, but I've decided to stop going on Saturdays so that way I can do more weekend visits).
Things are looking up here, and I don't know if it's because I'm reaching out more, or just because I see the light at the end of the tunnel. In any case, things are improving here.

If you've made it through that messy mass of text below are the updates for my visit to Carentan/ Cherbourg, my trip back to the USA, seeing Orrin in St. Etienne and Anthony's visit to France.

Anthony's Visit (Update Mini Series 5/5)

Anthony got a rather rushed intro to Paris as his bus from the airport didn't arrive until just 20 minutes before our train to Coutances left. We could have taken a later one, but I had no desire to hang around Gare St Lazare for 2-3 hours. I pulled Anthony off the bus and him on an Amazing Race style sprint to the train station. We arrived into the station 7 minutes before out train was to leave, I bought tickets 4 minutes before and we got on the train 2 minutes before. A little hectic but we made it all the same.

We were both exhausted arriving in Coutances, so we took a small tour of town and made a trip to the grocery store, but that was about it. Then again, it's Coutances, so there's not that much more to do anyway. On Saturday we took a better walk around the town, and I showed him the plant garden, the Cathedral, he sadly the missed the aqueducts (lame), but I think got a pretty good idea overall. I also headed out and finally bought an air mattress, because tow people in a twin bed does not make for a happy week. We had been hoping to go to either Bayeux or Mont St Michel, but the train and bus schedules were messed up because of school vacations and work on the train line between Avranches and Rennes.

On Sunday Lisa from choir hosted a lovely dinner at her house. Felicity and Richard (the British couple) picked us up from the school where we then had dinner with them and Lisa, her French husband Claude, and her son. We had raclette for dinner which was amazing (yummy, gooey melted cheese over potatoes and thin sliced meat- delicious).
Anthony held up well, despite some jetlag and having a slight cold.

Monday I headed off to classes while Anthony went to a lunch with Lisa and some other native English speakers. The lunch was for women who work in tourism in some capacity, and a chance for them to work on their English in a more natural setting. Lisa reported back that he did a fantastic job. 

Tuesday I had classes but I sent Anthony to Bayeux with enough instructions that he could go see the tapestry and the American Cemetery by himself. He made it there and back in one piece, which impressed me to no end.

Wednesday we headed to Mont St Michel. Due to the train work that was going on we had a long day ahead of us. We took a train leaving at 8:30am and we didn't get back until 7:30pm. Despite the long day, we made good use of the time. And by that I mean that I made Anthony take 20,000 photos and we sat in a cafe for 2 hours in Pontorson. I had a really good time and it was fun getting to show Anthony a real tourist attraction of Normandy (and make Coutances seem less lame).

Thursday evening we headed into Paris after my last class, however we didn't arrive until 9pm. We swung by a grocery store and headed to the hotel, blocking out the sound of the drunk Irish in the hotel celebrating St. Patty's day.

Friday I had Anthony going. It was his first trip to Paris so I was determined that he see all the attractions. The day started by walking over to the Centre Pompidou to check out the architecture, then over to Notre Dame where we went up to the balcony that is on the front. From there we went to the Louvre where we skipped the line and went in with the museum pass we bought him (so worth it 35 euros for all the museums for 2 days). From there we went to Sacre Coeur of general and "Amelie" fame. It started to rain so we headed back to the hotel. We were also pretty tired from walking all around the Louvre (I hope there is never a fire in there because I don't think we would get out in time).

Look at that gargoyle contemplating the city (Eiffel tower on the left!)

Outside the Louvre

Nike- Winged Victory of Samothrace

Booty booty booty rockin' everywhere! (Venus de Milo- as Anthony put it
 "I'm just so tired of looking at sculptures with arms!)

At Sacre Coeur looking out over the city
Saturday we went to the Eiffel Tower walking from up behind it aways all the way through the Champs de Mars and to the Ecole Militaire. Anthony is a museum lover, and Musee d'Orsay is one of the few places that doesn't give me museum fatigue within the first 5 minutes. And it's heated! Lucky for us, between our two passes we were in with no additional cost, and no lines to wait on. It had a lot of the pieces Anthony was expecting to see in the Louvre, so I'm glad we hadn't skipped it. Afterward, we grabbed some lunch and then walked up the Champs d'Elysee, staring at the crowds and the expensive stores (but also the more familiar like H&M). Along the way we picked up some of Anthony's favorites- macaroons.  We walked all the way up to the Arc de Triomphe and decided that our feet had enough for the day and it wasn't necessary to head up into the top.

My favorite photo I think
All that walking had taken a while so we went back to the hotel. For dinner that night we didn't feel like going far, so we actually ended up at a pizza/italian place nearby. The pizzas were good but the desserts were amazing. We shared a bowl of fresh strawberries and piles of whipped cream and a chocolate cake thing with more chocolate on top.

The next morning I dropped off Anthony at Roissybus, trying to remember that the end was almost near and not to be upset. I grabbed Starbucks outside of Gare St Lazare (soy chai latte- yummy) and sat down for a boring train ride. I looked through the many many photos we had taken thinking about all the fun- and all the fun in the SUN that we will have in Austin.

10 March 2011

At Orrin's in Saint Etienne (Update Mini Series 4/5)

For those of you who somehow don't know about Orrin, Orrin and I met while we were both on study abroad in Dakar. We hit it off right away and he is a friend that I keep very close to my heart, despite the ocean that is usually between us. Almost exactly two years after saying goodbye to Orrin as Alejandra, Dan, Thomas, Steve headed to the airport, I was on a train headed to him.
Orrin is basically doing the same program as me, but in St. Etienne (a bit south of Lyon). He has his own flat, an even an extra mattress so it was an easy visit. There's many wonderful assistants in St. Etienne, though I didn't get to meet all of Orrin's friends since it was the holidays and some were gone. Most days were spent sleeping, starting with a pizza delivery to Orrin's ground floor apartment window, a café with friends, dinner, drinks long into the night, mexican s'mores with the tortillas I brought back from Texas (tortillas, chocolate chips, peanut butter and marshmellow or fluff- a Glen Spey favorite). From the four day drunken revelry I somehow managed to make may 6am train to Paris to meet Anthony.

05 March 2011

Tehhhxaaaaaas (Update Mini Series Part 3/5)

While I wasn't planning to return to the States at all during my time in France and interview brought me back. I had applied to a program called “Texas Teaching Fellows” (TTF) which is an alternative teaching certification program. In their application process, they have a longer than average interview process. It seemed quite daunting at the outset, but turned out to be well run and reasonable. The interview consists of a 5 minute sample teaching session, a writing segment, a mock faculty meeting discussing current education issues and an individual interview. Given all these components, a skype or phone interview is not possible. So back to the land of large ice filled sodas I went. After some worrying delays and route changes, I ended up with a layover in Newark airport, waiting for my flight to Austin. It took quite a lot for me not to sneak out of the airport to the train and just show up in kitchen at home. I decided that may complicate things a but seeing as I was not ticketed through Newark on the return, and I had an interview in Austin in less than 16 hours.
Anthony picked me up from the Austin airport, and after a trip to Wal-Mart to get toiletries (Everyone who is returning fro abroad should go to Wal-Mart as their first thing back in the States because it is such a hearty “YOU'RE IN AMERICA”) and it was early to sleep.
The interview started around nine, though I got there earlier, and lasted until about 2pm. There were some breaks and a Q & A session in there though, so it wasn't excruciating, though by the end I was starting to fade due to jet leg. I didn't feel like it went the best, but apparently it did, because I week later I found out I had been accepted into the program! I'll be starting the “summer institute” on June 7ish, going through the end of July, and hopefully in a classroom in early August.
The rest of my time in Austin was nice and restful, full of English books, movies, tacos and ice cream. Leaving Austin wasn't too difficult because I was headed to see Orrin and only 5 days later, Anthony would arrive in France!