16 December 2009

Utter Sugar Cookie Fail Leaves Kitchen Wrecked, Cook Despondent

At approximately 1:13 pm Wednesday afternoon, the small town of Vesoul, France, experienced a rare phenomenon: an utter sugar cookie failure on the part of one of the town’s young teachers, Ms. Roberts.

This paper theorizes that the mistakes leading up to this epic failure were many, and varied, but Ms. Roberts seemed at a loss to describe exactly what when wrong.

“I wanted to make sugar cookies for my class’ holiday party. Well, I found this recipe online, it said “Easy Sugar Cookies” but that was so not the case.” 

Witnesses reported growing concern as Roberts opened what she believed to be the French equivalent of baking powder and dumped it into her mixing bowl.

“Um, yeah,” Roberts comments, “that may have been baking yeast…maybe that was why it came in those individual little packets….and looked like pellets….huh.”

Further failures included the refusal, on the part of the metal eggbeater, to properly spin, resulting in a doughy mixture that somehow seemed both too dry and too sticky, and a finicky toaster oven that both over- and under- cooked the cookies. A certain amount of toaster-oven negligence on the part of Ms. Roberts is also suspected, but has yet to be confirmed.

Authorities were alerted by Roberts’s cries after the fourth batch of sugar cookies came out burned and utterly useless. They arrived to find the kitchen (and Roberts) completely covered in flour, butter and sprinkles. Every large container was dirty as well as many seemingly unrelated utensils, such as the cheese grater.

The victims, approximately 33 ½ sad little sugar cookies, are known to be in seclusion, hiding their sad little sugar cookie faces. This paper managed to sneak an exclusive image of the cookies: their flat, dry texture can be noted, along with their completely pathetic toppings: uneven scrapings of chocolate and sparse sprinkles. “The sprinkles just wouldn’t stay!” Roberts wailed.

While this fail serves as a cautionary tale for readers, it poses serious problems for the future of Roberts’s teaching career. “Sugar cookies, are, like, so basic,” Roberts explained, “if I can’t master this, what will I do when I have to design a test?  Or [gasps] punish a student?”
Further training and short-term counseling are recommended for Roberts, and a hasty and discreet disposal is advised for the cookies.

14 December 2009

Mini Christmas with my fellow assistants and a little too much Vin Chaud (though, on the other hand, can there ever be "too much"?)

Yesterday, Sunday, we were treated to a rare sunny day, cold and very clear. The air smelled earthy and wintry and I ran around taking pictures of the deserted high school campus in the sunlight, trying to learn the Nikon's many/varied/complex controls.

Here are a few of the results. I was playing around with the two dimensional forms of the buildings and the rigid symmetry of the campus and trying to remember f-stops and apertures and contrasts and center-weighted metering and all that good stuff.

In the afternoon, we three Belin assistants went to a concert in the small village of Colombier about 10 minutes to the north of Vesoul for what we thought was going to be a classical Christmas music concert in the church there. It was, in fact, delightful. But it was two hours of delight on a hard wooden bench with very little heating. The local community orchestra was surprisingly good and they played a truly diverse program: A song from Pearl Harbor, one from Pirates of the Carribean, a medley of Broadway tunes, a Tchaikovsky piece, a medley of a French singers' work, four other compositions by American composers, a modern version of Greensleeves...if that isn't random than I don't know what is! What the majority of these numbers had in common was their connection with American composers/films, which, while fine, was slightly disappointing from a French cultural perspective.

On a related, but tangential note, I have been having great difficulty finding things to read in France. The English books available are either high school reading list classics, which, by and large, I am enjoying, but they do tend to be tragic/depressing/thought provoking. After a few in a row like this you kind of need something lighter! The other end of the spectrum is Nicholas Sparks/Stephen King mass markets, which, frankly, I have never liked very much.
I'm surprised to find it so difficult to find books written by French authors, but each time I go into a bookstore or library I see the same books that we had on sale in the Book Store when I left, just translated into French. I even saw a copy of Boulder author John Shors's Beneath a Marble Sky (Sous un ciel de marbre) in the tiny local library! This is truly frustrating, however, when I am looking for books to improve my French. I have never really wanted to read Confessions of a Shopaholic in English. Why would I want to read it in French!?! I am hoping my upcoming trip to Paris will give me a chance to visit the famed Shakespeare & Co. English book shop so I can restock my bookshelf!

We made a lovely group dinner last night. A green curry with red pepper, carrots, ginger, onion....and vin chaud, the traditional Christmas drink of the Alsace region, made with spice sachets and red wine. We exchanged our little gifts around my tiny sapin de noel (Christmas tree) and drank...three bottles of red wine! Among four petite females! And then we all had to be up to decorate the lycee with one of the teachers at 9am this morning....oh. oh. oh.

13 December 2009

Un troisième marché du Noel à Montbeliard!

Just got back from visiting my third Christmas market at Montbeliard, about an hour away from Vesoul. I took the Nikon with me, hoping to play around with the Christmas lights, but it was so incredibly cold that I didn't even take it out of my bag. I was afraid of dropping it and I knew my frozen fingers would never be able to work the tiny controls! So no photos, for this one, sorry!
Montbeliard is bigger than Vesoul, but smaller than Besancon. Everybody told us their Christmas lights and illuminated buildings were not to be missed. Katherin and I set off in her tiny car at about 3:45. It's getting dark here at around 4:40, so we figured we'd be just in time for the lights to come on, but it wouldn't be too cold yet. Right on the first, wrong on the second!
We are currently experiencing a cold snap, which the Vesuliens call something like a sacaille, though I can't find it in the dictionary. Anyway, even with boots, long underwear, three shirts and a sweater, my red coat, a thick scarf, hat, and gloves, I was DYING. It was probably only in the teens, but I think I am no longer cut out for humid climates. There was the occasional light breeze, too, which under the circumstances seemed very cruel.
This marché was quite large and I do believe everyone and their mother was there. It was difficult to move along the narrow corridors of the market because there were so many people! People shoving, kids screaming, holiday music blaring, the sounds of crepes and gauffres cooking, kids on tiny ponies winding their way through the crowd...fun, but crazy! At one point all of the people around me started moo-ing, I guess to show that they were annoyed by the slow pace of the crowd.
All of this being said, the market was quite fun to browse through for a while. Kathrin and I had hot chocolate and picked up some lovely little presents for Lupita and Pam. This market had many more booths that were fine-arts related, rather than kitschy, pseudo-old -timey crafts. We saw water-colorists, photographers, some hand-made journals that made me drool (I thought of giving them the Book store's email address, but the crowd pushed me forward before I could talk to them), handmade hats and scarfs in designs from the middle ages, home-made jams and jellies, jewelry, more jewelry, raku pottery, scrap metal sculptures of ducks.....bascially everything and anything that you find at places like that.
My favorite was a fabric vendor's booth that was oozing luxurious blends of silk, wool, and fine cotton in the forms of pashminas, wraps, and scarves. There was a delicate spicy scent from the fabrics and fairy lights in the booth and stacks upon stacks of material. The vendeuse was dressed in a floppy renaissance sort of hat with a colorful brooch on it, a black scarf wound around her neck and handknitted sweater. She had a timeless face and kind of reminded me of Lorenna McKennit, with long golden hair falling out of her hat. She talked to us for a long time about the fabrics and their history, all the while keeping an eye on some other customers--a middle-aged man and his wife (who was wearing a floor-length CAPE!!! I do <3 France sometimes....) who were evidently looking for something luxurious and colorful. I fell in love with several wraps that were all much too expensive for me--but managed to resist, I am happy to say.  Kathrin found three scarves for various relatives.
After about three hours, neither of us could feel our toes, so we made it back to the car, taking turns shouting "I am SO COLD" in English, French, and German.

06 December 2009

Marché du Noel à Colmar, France!

Again, apologies and excuses for not writing in a while. Teaching has been kicking me in the butt here for the last couple of weeks.

I did catch enough of a break to have a little fun this week! Thursday the other assistants and I went to an African Dance class, which was awkward and hilarious and awesome! It was the four of us--me, Lupita, Pam, and Katherin, plus about 8 older ladies. We began by stretching and doing some aerobic stuff. I had already done a kind of intensive internet-yoga class that morning, so I was starting to feel twinges in my back and my tush as we started laid on our backs doing pelvic thrusts up in the air...then to the left...then to the right...then pulses...;) We did some warm up jumping around and then started learning a new choreography--it seemed kind of difficult at first, but looked really cool when the teacher did it,  and all the ladies were saying things like, "Good Lord! I'll never get my body to do that!" and "Oh, now I've done it, help me up!" which was pretty funny. We all really enjoyed ourselves in the end and I'll think we'll start going regularly. It's good to be able to laugh at yourself at least once a week, I think...

On Wednesday we took off for Colmar after our classes to visit the marché du noel there (Christmas market). Colmar is about two hours north, near Strasbourg, and I think we had to traverse about a million roundpoints to get there. I am learning German from Katherin's GPS and I can now tell you that "fellassen" means "exit" the roundpoint...
We stepped out of the car in Colmar and I immediately thought of Disneyworld. Everything was incredibly picturesque--so much so that I wondered if I stepped around a corner whether or not I would backs to the buildings or if they would turn out to be two-dimensional!

All the shops and house in the old town were decorated with wreaths, lights, boggles, toggles, flowers, etc. The architecture was noticeably very different from that of Vesoul or Besancon--it's clearly an Alsatian town, and I found the wood-beamed houses utterly charming--like Snow White, spend-a-weekend-here charming, not like I-have-found-where-I-will-spend-the-rest-of-my-life charming. I say this because it was so touristy, and as with the two-dimensional feeling, part of me felt that Colmar was like Colonial Williamsburg or something--you could enjoy it for a little while, but it was like someone's idea of a perfect town, just a tad creepy. And, like Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, or Helen, GA, there were busloads of plump older folks there to stagger around taking pictures of each other near fake reindeer and buy "folksy" trinkets that were probably made in China.

Also at Colmar I heard Americans and British folks speaking to each other, the first I have heard since I've been in France. At any rate, we had a lovely time poking around the arts and crafts booths and drinking hot chocolate and mulled wine while Christmas music was blasted at us from speakers attached to the sides of buildings. It was very very chilly, so after a couple of hours we were happy to pile back into Katherin's tiny car and head north a bit further to Riqswihr, a village situated in rolling foothills covered in grape vines, nestled at the foot of the Vosges mountains. Some of the Vosges had snow on the tops, and this was the first time either of the two Mexican girls had ever seen snow!

The town---village, really, was at one time a walled city. Most of the buildings and houses on the perimeter formed a solid enclosure, tightly contained, with outer gates and passages that could be locked, shutting out the world.  We found a passageway from the parking lot and followed it up a stairwell and out onto the cobbled streets of this entirely pedestrian town center. Night was falling and a nearly full moon was shining through a web-work of clouds. Christmas lights were starting to come on and it made a very warm, glowing scene. We stood, mouths agape, taking lots of pictures. There were a lot of touristy shops here, too, selling pain d'epice and holiday cookies and potholders with "Riqwehr" on them...basically the french equivalent of the tshirts that say "Sombody who loves me went here..." but the architecture and atmosphere of the town itself managed to win me over all the same. It was so easy to imagine life there a hundred years earlier, three hundred years earlier... I think the whole town smelt slightly of cedar boughs and cinnamon.

It got pretty bitterly cold as we wandered through the small marché du noel, but I think we were all enjoying this first day where it really felt like Winter--and the first time its felt like the holidays for me!

Then Friday night we were visited by several other assistants from Besancon, Luis, who we stayed with during the Toussaints break, and two Irish assistants, Laura and Rebekah. We had a nice time listening to music and learning to dance salsa and generally being goofy together.

Saturday morning we were awakened really early by the arrival of two more assistants from Bolivia. We sat around sleepily munching croissants they had thoughtfully bought on their way through town and then we headed off to the market to buy ingredients for what turned out to be a "Boli-Cuban" International Cuisine Cooperation Experiment, the results of which  were delicious. I enjoyed talking to everyone and hearing about their experiences in France as well as life in their home countries. As always, I wished I had had a moment to read up on things in Wikipedia.
"Do you know much about Bolivia?" one of the guys asked me.
"We have the highest capital of any country in the world," he said proudly, and without missing a beat, "and we grow more species of potatoes than anywhere else on earth."
And like the true multi-cultural gathering that we were, we spoke French while making and eating the Boli-Cuban meal, with background music from an a capella German group called "Wise Guys." Yes, truly, life is good.

18 November 2009

The Great, the Good, and the Strange

I got my care package from Dad, Twe and Troy today! I was so happy to get the cheerios and rainy-day mac & cheese that I love so much! The spices and contact solution were much needed and the new knives are wonderful (I cut myself only a couple days ago with our crappy kitchen knives--thank you, thank yoU!). Know I have some DVDs to watch and a new mixed cd, too! And Dad, thanks for loaning me mini-Opus. It's nice to have a friend to snuggle with on rainy days!

Today turned out to be wonderfully sunny after lunch! I took advantage of it and went jogging down by the canal. It was very beautiful, with clear blue sky and still-green hillside under Le Sabot but also quite muddy.

I slid in some mud and caught myself with my lefthand by falling on some plants. At first I thought my hand was full of stickers or prickles or something, but I realized there was some kind of chemical/allergic reaction happening. I finished my run quickly, and headed back to the house, where I washed my hand off--it was stinging and burning and starting to swell up in a weird rash. Just in time I remembered I have some hydrocortisone with me. This seems to have helped a lot, but it still feels oddly tingly. Anyone have any similar experiences? The only thing I could thing of was poison ivy or something, but this definitely looked different...

And now I'm off to see about this art class thing...perhaps I will discover hidden talents? Hmmm. Je doute. :)

17 November 2009

A French Yoga Class, Rain, and Brussel Sprouts

I haven’t done any more traveling lately since I’ve finally started teaching in some of my classes. My adventures have been more of the poking-around-town kind. I have confirmed my suspicions that Vesoul, which has only one nightclub, has at least 12 different establishments for getting a haircut, as well as at least 5 driving schools. There is one music shop, several stores selling art supplies, and one amazing patisserie with the most incredible chocolate cakes I have ever seen.

I finally got up the nerve to call (in French, of course!) and ask about yoga classes. They are located on the very far side of town, so Monday morning I managed to catch the bus down there. I was very nervous—I’m not sure why exactly, but I had the first-day-of-school jitters. I think I just wasn’t sure what to expect and I was afraid of some kind of public embarrassment involving me toppling face-first into my yoga mat or something. I was very much looking forward to some good exercise, and I was nervous that this class was to last for and hour and a half—-I’ve only ever taken hour-long classes before and I was afraid of being really sore or not following the instructions in French.

As it turned out, the yoga class was held in a basketball court with about 40 to 50 very old people. I mean like 70s and 80s old. I came in just before the class was to start and shucked off my shoes and jacket before looking around. As I hastily unrolled my towel I noticed that the other practitioners were still wearing their socks….and turtlenecks and skirts and jewelry…several of them had sleeping bags or blankets. “This is different,” I thought, as I found a spot in the back of the room.

The instructor started us out with breathing, as you might expect, but then we kept breathing for about 15 minutes…she was giving detailed and varying descriptions about different types of breaths, a sort of guided meditation breathing exercise, I think, but I didn’t follow a whole lot of it in French. I kept looking around, but no one seemed to be breathing any differently than me, so I figured I was all right. No one did the typical “Pranayama” yoga breath, either, which I was expecting.

Next the instructor showed us a very long series of simple stretching movements, which included one downward dog and one child’s pose-type thing. We proceeded to do this series three times altogether. “Okay, not too shabby,” I thought.

We then laid down again and breathed for another 5 minutes or so and did a mental inventory of our bodies, noticing if anything had changed, if we had any pain. “How could I feel pain?” I wondered, “We’ve barely done anything!” I started to feel the chill of the large, unheated room. It occurred to me that this cold space with the rows of white-haired folks all laid out with eyes closed was uncannily like being in a morgue. I tried repeatedly to banish this thought.

The instructor then demonstrated a very simple sitting twist, which we all did 6 times on each side, while breathing. Guess what we did next? YES! Laid down and breathed, noticing any differences, any pain. I reached for my socks and put them back on, feeling goosebumps on my arms, I was thinking that at this rate we would never go past a warm up stage!

Next we gently bent backwards, followed by more lying down and more breathing. I kept waiting for the actual class to start, but this seemed to be the thick of it. We had a sitting meditation, and then lay down and breathed some more. I was feeling distinctly cold.

Finally, we had a laying-down guided meditation for about 25 minutes. I noticed a lot of people crawling into their sleeping bags or covering themselves with their blankets, kind of like me of nap time in kindergarten. “Oh shit,” I thought, staring longingly at my coat and scarf on the far side of the room.

The instructor gradually led us on a guided tour of our bodies. My favorite phrases were “feel your nostrils move in…. and out as you breath… feel the blood circulate in your pubis…notice the arteries in your legs…” And then we were finished. I did feel more relaxed, though a bit disappointed. I think this instructor was basing her class off of one of the slower, more contemplative styles of yoga, which was certainly gentle and appropriate for the other participants. I am thinking of going to one of her evening classes to see if it's any different, but otherwise I might try to practice on my own…does anyone know of some good yoga dvds?

In other news, I had some fresh, market-bought brussel sprouts that I steamed for dinner tonight and they were heavenly. I am not sure that I had ever eaten brussel sprouts before coming to France this time, but I had them at the restaurant we went to on the day I hung out with the French family and I was quite taken with their light, buttery flavor. As a still-novice cook, I was thrilled to find that they were delicious with just a little salt and pepper added. I also had a cheese feast with Saint Marceline, comté, morbier, AND a new, very strong soft cheese that comes in a round orange patty with a brain-like texture (yum!). I don’t know the name, but I think it's typically from the Champagne region and the cheese-lady recommended it to me.

Weather still rainy. Not too cold, which is nice.

I have discovered a cultural center located not too far from me in a beautiful big old building. They give fairly cheap community music lessons and art lessons. Tomorrow evening I am going to sit in on a beginner’s art lesson and see how I like it. Kathrin wants to start learning the saxophone, which I am all for.

We are also thinking of taking jazz dance lessons at the gymnasium right behind the school. I never in my life would have thought this would be appealing, but after being indoors so much I am ready to try pretty much anything!

11 November 2009

10 Minutes of Precious Sunshine in Vesoul!!

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are very pleased to announce that today at appoximately 2:47PM the small town of Vesoul experienced briefly a parting of the thick clouds that had so unpleasantly obscured it from view for the past five days. Incredibly, too, the spitting drizzle stopped during this brief period, leaving new town resident, Lindsay Roberts, nearly speechless with joy and causing her to remark that she had "nearly forgotten what the sun looked like" and expressed her satisfaction that it was, as she had remembered, "round" and "warm." Roberts daringly began making preparations to venture out-of-doors without an umbrella or galoshes for the first time in days, but just as she was leaving the house she noted a bank of large grey clouds rolling in and reached for her umbrella with a sigh.


07 November 2009

Voyageant, Travaillant, Mangeant OR Travelling, Working, Eating!!

Wow, I've gotten a tad behind, so I'll start from the most recent events and work my way back!

This morning Kathrin and I made a Verrry successful run to Emmaus, France's equivalent to salvation army. We bought a pair of unbelievably ugly, yet fabulous, armchairs, the kind they don't make anymore--these are the cadillacs of armchairs, and they are surprisingly well preserved given their age. We also bought a mirror that is basically a door, complete with old-fashioned key (I'm totally taking the key with me when I move back!) and another chair. All for 20 euros. And had them delivered by some very nice guys. YAY! It feels much more like a house here now, especially since I finally put up some curtains the teachers had donated.

We had our Toussaints break until this Thursday, and so I taught my first solo lessons Thursday and Friday. Things went pretty well, all things considered. The activities I had planned with all of my groups took waaaaay longer than I had anticipated--I realized it takes until about halfway through the class for the kids to finally understand the instructions I give them (apparently this is fairly normal. The French teachers often give instructions in French, just to save time, but everyone has requested that I speak exclusively in English with the kids--its kind of hampering me now, but I hope that in a few weeks, they'll be more used to my accent and it won't take so long!!). Most of the groups were excited and cooperative. Only one group was not great and they are the seniors whose concentration is in Literature!!! Theoretically, they should have the best English level in all the high school, but they had no energy, didn't want to talk or participate, and were generally Debbie Downers. I had the feeling that I was alone in the room with a bunch of mental vegetables.... It was pretty eerie, especially since I was doing my best to be warm, encouraging, and charming. I tried several different strategies to get/force them to talk, but I am starting to think it is just their class's atmosphere--I get a very teen-angsty, 'too cool for school' vibe with them. I've already seen their group with two other English teachers and its the same....they seem to be used to more lecture-style lessons, and I think they hate their teachers....boo hiss. We'll see.
My favorite group was the last class on Friday afternoon, from 5pm to 6pm (honestly, who wants to be there at that time?!). This is my BTS group, students from 18-32 who are earning their technical certificates, a post-high school degree. Their English varies dramatically from "Quoi? Qu'est-ce qu'elle a dit?" [Huh? What'd she say?] to almost conversational. But they were jovial and chatty and even though we did a listening comprehension exercise that was pretty difficult for them, they were game enough to try.
I'm looking forward to next week, where I'll have several classes all to myself for the whole hour, but I'm nervous, too! It puts a lot of pressure on me to be Super Prepared, and since I have 12 different groups, this could easily become a full-time job, planning and teaching, way beyond the 12 hours I am required to be at the school.

I did get to travel a fair amount during the Toussaints break, which was great! I was in Besancon for four days, then in Vesoul for three by myself (it was soooooo glorious to be able to take a normal-length shower with hot water, do laundry, and cook in the kitchen without tripping over someone else--I did miss my roomies, though!). I was invited to spend one of my days back in Vesoul with Angela's family (she's one of my English teachers at the high school, and the only one who's a native english speaker. She hails from Great Britain.).
She has two awesome kids and we got to go see La Chapelle de Ronchamps, a very famous chapel that was rebuilt by Le Corbusier in the 1950's after the town's church was destroyed in WWII. I must say, this was the weirdest church I had ever seen, a very modern structure, but there was something organic enough about it to keep it appealing. I especially like the interior wall that was studded with many small, irregularly-shaped windows, all filled with different colored glass, some painted with words, "Mairie" or "brilliant as the sun" or simple flower or sun designs.

I also travelled to Dole, about a half an hour on the other side of Besancon, to stay with the english assistants there. Dole is only a little bit bigger than Vesoul in terms of population, but it has a lot more cultural stuff going on, and the old town is just gorgeous, very mideval, with a 500 year old cathedral, a river running through the town, and a tree-lined canal off the river.

I arrived on the 31ist, so Brandon, the American assistant, and I bought a pumpkin and a gourd to carve. We took them back to their apartment in the school's dormitory and helped Kheba, the english assistant from Trinidad, carve her first pumpkin, YAY! I did the gourd, and man, it was much tougher than I had thought! Later, we went out to a couple of different bars where we drank some ridiculously expensive and not very good drinks ($11 for a crappy beer???) and danced a little bit. We also snagged some glow-stick glasses and a glow-stick ball....that was kind of the highlight....

On Sunday we took a four or five hour walk along the canal--that was gorgeous, the sunlight and the fall color in the trees were extraordinary.  I went to Dijon on Monday and, since the weather was gloomy and wet, spent quite a while at the Musée des Beaux-Arts--also in part because I couldn't find my way out of the three story, labyrinthine building (all the impressionists were stuck in a garret with terrible lighting, while some terrible modern paintings had an entire floor to themselves...?). The museum's collection was quite diverse, and it was really like a treasure hunt, finding the good stuff and trying to sift through the not-so-good. I ate by myself at a cafe, which was surprisingly pleasant, browsed the shops a bit and headed for the train back to Dole. I really liked what I saw of Dijon, though, a lot of life, wonderful & varied architecture. Will have to go back.

27 October 2009

Je me trouve à Besançon...et me perd, aussi. OR I find myself in Besancon, and lose myself, too.

Hello, again, after a shamefully long break. Suffice it to say that I had a lot of trouble finding internet access for a few days, but now have both internet and telephone at my apartment in Vesoul! YAY!
I am in Besancon at the moment, and have been for the last two days. Lupita, Pamela, and I stayed with Louis, an assistant from Cuba, in his apartment at the Lycee du Duc for the last two nights, and I will be staying with Julia tonight and have a medical visit and some administrative stuff to do tomorrow in Besancon....
We arrived in Besancon at around noon on Saturday and one of my high school's English teachers met us at the train station and took us, with our baggage, in her car to Louis's place and then to see a bit of the town. Unfortunately, as some of you are all-too well aware, I have a tendency towards carsickness, particularly in small cars, and particularly with manual cars and most particularly on uber-narrow medieval one-way streets.
Now that I have explored a bit on foot and regained my sense of equilibrium, I know that Besançon is a lovely town, with cobbled pedestrian-only streets and shops, shops, shops, boulangeries (bakeries), chocolateries, etc. etc. Here is a photo of one of the main squares while a market was going on. The Doubs river runs in a horse-shoe loop around centre ville, the old town, and there are five or six bridges that cross it at intervals. There are ramparts and gaurd towers from the 16th century all over the place, the brainchild(ren) of the architect Vauban. This photo of me is in front of the ramparts of the Citadelle, built by him. One of Vauban's towers, the Pelote, now houses a restaurant where the waitstaff are dressed in medieval garb and there is no electricity. I totally want to check this out, but am told it is pretty expensive, so I'll have to wait a bit. I envision a cross between Medieval Times and Monty Python & the Holy Grail...
On Sunday, Louis, Lupita, and I went to the Musée du Temps, housed in a giant old building built by the Granvelle's a powerful family in Besançon's history. The museum was a combination of very very old architecture--thick wooden beams and sloping stone stairwells, and very new architecture-- glass walkways flung through the upper stories, and beautiful, very modern science exhibits on nanotechnology and quartz crystals that could have passed for art installations. The older exhibits told of the evolution of Besançon as a watch and clock-making town, as well as the advancements in timepieces that led to modern clocks. Basically, there were long glass cases filled with clocks and pocket watches from the middle ages, all beautifully ornate, and made from all sorts of materials--gold, silver, shark's skin... my favorite pieces looked like the Golden Compass, with all sorts of tiny dials showing not only the hours, days, and minutes, but also the movements of the planets, seasons, phases of the moon....
By the time we got to the Musée de Beaux-Arts we were a tad musée-ed out. I was still able to get excited about seeing works by Courbet, Matisse, Picasso, and Rodin. And then suddenly as we were wandering down the labyrinthine, sloping rooms, there were mummies! Two of them, to be precise, and some displays of Roman artifacts found in the Besançon area.
On Monday I met up with Julia, my friend from Colorado, and we made some tasty tasty vegetarian fajitas in the gorgeous apartment she shares with a French girl called Estelle, who is Lovely and Amazing. Estelle is an artist and the apartment has these very elegant, shabby-chic furnishings...one of those people and one of those places you would like to be/have yourself someday, but probably never will.
Julia let me come with her to her gym in Besançon and I went to a French weightlifting class, that was sort of like aerobics and barbells combined...I had never done anything remotely like this before, and so felt rather silly rather a lot. But I was entertained by the way the instructor gave directions and encouragement ('un, deux, encore, toujours!') and by looking around at the other participants, who seemed to be very very different, and ranged from Super Buff Older Fellow to Puny Anorexic Lady-HowIsSheLiftingThat?!, to overweight lady with world's Least Attractive Mullet... then I ran for a while and tried really hard not to make eye contact with the other gym-folk, since I wasn't sure what comprises a culturally appropriate way to behave in french gym...
This morning, Tuesday, I had my medical visit and visa validation, which means that I am now officially allowed to reside in France! YAY! And then Julia and I went to a giant shoe store and I found two pairs of boots....More Yay. And now I have returned to Vesoul, to have a little R&R for a couple days, sleep in my own bed, do some laundry.

12 October 2009

Les choses vont un peu mieux... OR Things are going better!

Things were much better today. I sat in on three classes, and the kids were all very young--14 or 15--and pretty agreable. One of the teachers I like most had gotten back essays from another class, written on the subject of their first meeting with me. The essays were so well-written, sweet, and funny that I got a bit teary reading them. I asked her if I could make photocopies so I could read them when I have bad days like Friday, and she said that was fine. They sort of redeemed my faith in humanity after Friday. So here are some highlights. I'm leaving the errors in because I think they are quite charming:
''The fact that Lindsay has come to see us was very original. I really appreciate that she came all this way to talk to us here in Vesoul. In addition, she was very cheerful, and we saw it we wanted to talk, we discover, and we share her knowledge. For me, I was very happy to meet some new friends with someone who had a smile and wished us know. What is really wonderful is that you could meet one person living in another country and another culture and being able to exchange living with this person.''
''I think Lindsay has some courage to come in France for one year, and alone!''
''We have a lot in common, I agreed with everything she said, except on the fact that french cheese is good! I HATE the cheese here!''
''I didn't think Americans like France. For me, American laughed at French people. But, I discovered they likes us. They likes our culture and our food. I discovered the american accent too. It's funny that Lindsay said ''I like cheese''; We are special humans, we are liked for our cheese!''

In other news, the weekend was fairly pleasant. On Saturday night we met up with some of the Spanish teachers and went to a Latin American soiree put on by the 'Committee for the Support of Latin American Peoples' in a community room in a local high school. We paid €16 for the evening and there was a great live band playing Buenos Aires Social Club-type music. The food was not as good as I was hoping, but it was at least entertaining. It was sort of a French person's idea of Latin American food, I guess, with a first course salad sprinkled with corn and tiny cocktail shrimp, a main course of chili con carne that was basically a thick stew of beans and rice with meat. Next followed a cheese course (somehow I don't think they serve camembert in Latin America, but I could be wrong), and then bannana slices served with chantilly cream and cinnamon. There were no tortillas or corn chips; but there were bread baskets filled with cut up baguettes (yes!) and wine was served, of course!
The evening was Quite long, with a new course served about every hour. We arrived at 8.30 and left a little after midnight! Keep in mind that this was at a high school, and that we were the only young people there, by about 50 years, aside from some toddlers and children playing chase under the trestle tables.
Later in the evening some couples started to dance salsa along to the music and we had a really good time watching them.
Sunday was pretty mellow--I did some laundry with our washing machine and hung it up to dry (on a side note, it is totally different to me to have a washer but not a dryer. We have these huge racks where we hang up our clothes, but since it is kind of humid here it can take almost a week for things to dry! I had kind of forgotten about this sort of thing living in Colorado!). Later, I met up with Elaine, the assistant from Birmingham, AL and we hiked up to La Motte, talking at Mach 9 about all of the cultural differences, not having internet, etc. We agreed that we should really try to find bikes around here, its kind of the only way to get to some good hikes without a car.
Sunday night we went to check out the opening event of Vesoul's Jacques Brel music festival, which was a competition between six unheard-of bands to win a chance to make a cd. We heard a kind of indifferent rap group from Besancon, then a FANtastic girl called Marina, who apparently was part of this reality tv show in France called Star Academy a few years ago but didn't win. She was adorable, and clearly a little nervous. There was this lanky guy who played lead guitar to her rythm guitar and added some perfect harmonies. It was just my kind of singer-songwriter stuff. She totally stole our hearts!
Here is (I think) a clip of what she sounds like from Youtube, but there are no speakers on this computer, so I have't listened to the clip.

After Marina came this guy called Nicolas Fraissenet came on with a larger band. He played piano and sang and there were two guitarists and a drummer. This guy totally went all out and he had a freakin amazing voice, very powerful, with a huge range. The music was pretty epic, kind of reminded me of U2. The songs were beautifully written, with really original subjects--I think one was about a little boy who watches his father driving away, another was about an old woman who reflects on her life while she is starving herself to death (?), and the last one was a very passionate number from the perspective of a goldfish in a small aquarium. Yeah. I know it sounds weird, but this guy was an amazing performer.
The last group we saw was mUch more experimental in nature, with a cellist, a keyboardist, and a the lead singer who had to play both the drums and a series of stringed instruments at the same time because (I think) the drummer was sick. The best I can describe this group is sort of spoken word rock. But there were strange noises and stuff that reminded me of Ross's 'wordless sound poems' from Friends. There were moments when you just had to laugh because it sounded so wacky, but all the same there was something compelling that tied all of the instruments together and made it impossible to stop listening. It was as if this guys were an old-fashioned storyteller, in terms of the types of lyrics, with the sounds and music as the soundtrack....
Anyway, we had to leave before the prizes were awarded because it got quite late and we all had to observe classes early this morning. I STILL don't know who won and I am super curious. I'll have to wait for tomorrow's paper!!!
Here's a clip of Fraissenet, I think:

In other news, I bought a new pillow today because the ones I've been sleeping on are abominable and giving me extreme backaches. I also finally found a large enough mug for my tea (photo above). Guess which one is mine?? Also, since I had finally put my towel through the wash, I had to find another one to use after my shower this morning. I picked a bright pink one that was in the apartment when we got here. It turned out to be way too small to be useful and I didn't notice until afterwards that it must have been used by someone working on a car or lawnmower because there were grease smudges. As a result, I've smelt faintly like a mechanic all day today.
I managed a very nice little dinner for myself this evening, with a lovely local pinot noir, and pasta with pesto and diced veggies that I sauteed: mushrooms, zucchini, onion, garlic, and roughly chopped cherry tomatoes. Kathrin and I finished the meal off with some AMAZING, creamy cheese--Saint Marcel, I think one is called, and another kind that has a very thin stripe of blue cheese running through an otherwise very mild cheese. With our cheese course we sampled dark grapes and a pistacho & dark choclate bar, to see how the flavors were all together-- and felt thoroughly decadent!

10 October 2009

Dans lequel j'apprends que tous les français croit que les Americans portent les armes de feu.....OR In which I learn that the French think all Americans own guns....Yeah.

Okay, I had kind of a bad day yesterday (Friday). I observed 7 classes, which was pretty exhausting, since I gave presentations about myself and Colorado in four of the classes, which involved me trying to explain things in very simple English and then trying to field all sorts of questions. I worked waaaaay more than 12 hours last week (the required time for assistants), but when I mentioned it to the head English teacher he said, "Oh well, you're just observing, it's not that hard..." Yeah. Right.
Towards the end of the week, I was really feeling like a zoo animal, there to be gawped at, particularly in one teacher's classes, where kids would ask really bizarre or personal questions.
Then during the last class of the day, I presented myself to a really large group of older kids, about 30 of them, and answered their questions and everything. It came up that the night before on the national French news there had been an expose on American politics, focusing on an interview with a Neo-Nazi right-winger who claimed he wanted to assasinate Barack Obama. I tried in vain to explain that this is really a minority opinion and a very radical view, not one shared by the majority of Americans. I thought it a bit odd when one kid asked me if I had a gun, and when I said that I didn't, and tried to exlpain that not that many people in America do, the teacher said "Well, when I was in South Carolina, everyone had guns!" "Yes," I tried to backpaddle, "but it's a little different in the South, you know, people go hunting, and..." but I could see that no one belived me. Then when they started their lesson, I realized they were studying Michael Moore's film, Bowling for Columbine. Aha.
Now, I have seen Bowling for Columbine, and I thought it was really good and thought-provoking in a lot of ways. But these kids were watching it not as social commentary or as Michael Moore's opinion, but as if this was American History. They were studying the cartoon part of the film that critiques and pokes fun at the United State's fears and subsequent massacres, i.e., fear of being persecuted led to the Pilgrims arrival in America, fear of Native Americans led to massacres, fear of black people led to the Ku Klux Klan, etc. etc.
Here's the link, if you want to see what I'm talking about:
Bowling for Columbine cartoon
Now, this is about parallel to watching South Park in order to learn about American family dynamics...it might be an interesting supplement, but if this is all you see, you are going to wind up with an incredibly distorted view of American culture!
The students in this class took turns reading the transcript of the cartoon sequence aloud, and they all did a worksheet to see if they understood what the cartoon had said. I sat there, totally shocked, while they were reading, "Don't kill me big black man!", etc. etc.  in monotone voices...
At no point in the class was there any discussion of how this was a caricature, exaggeration, etc.
I began to feel truly uncomfortable, like the students were looking at me askance...I felt misrepresented, judged, and condemned, and I had no opportunity to say that this is not how "everyone" in the US really thinks or behaves. I was nearly in tears by the end of the class, and afterwards I tried asking the teacher if they had talked about exaggeration, satire, etc. and she said "Yeah, yeah, the kids totally understand!" But I was unconvinced. I later tried to explain to another English professor how awful it had been for me, and she responded by saying "Oh, I thought every American had a gun, too!"
Great. Good. Cool. Okay.
This is the first experience I have had this time around with anti-americanism, and while I sort of expected it in the first few days, I guess I was lulled into a false sense of comfort by the nice townspeople and teachers....now I am wondering if people are nice to me because they think I have a gun! Okay, not really, but I feel kind of disillusioned and super sensitive. It's harder here than I had thought, because I am the first American most of these kids have ever met, and they have LOTS of misconceptions, but because they are so familiar with American music and tv shows, they aren't openminded to hearing things that are contrary to their expectations/perceptions. I guess it's far more dramatic and exciting to believe that all Americans are drug-addicted, promiscuous, and violent...and I feel sort of powerless to change their perceptions, like the proverbial kid with his finger in the dyke. It's also hard to feel like I am the representative of an entire culture, or rather, many cultures. I don't think many French kids get that America can really be compared to Europe, rather than compared to France, Spain etc. They don't understand how vast it is, or how many different beliefs, lifestyles, dialects, etc. it contains. Sigh. I'm not sure if this post really makes sense, I'm probably still too close to the situation to explain it properly.
On the bright side, the marché this morning was nice and I bought some really tasty cheese. Tonight is the Latin American soiree, where we will have chile con carne! Hooray for Mexican food!
Missing you all like crazy!

07 October 2009

Autres Pensees, On a Cimetery, Teflon, and Super Marys

*We, the assistants, have discovered that our nearest neighbors are those in the cemetery just beyond the auto-route that lies about 50 feet from the apartment. Somehow, it wouldn’t be that creepy if this were a really old cemetery, with cool historical tombstones and all—but this is the newer cemetery, where the local folks are interred on a fairly regular basis. I’m not really sure why, but this creeps us out quite a bit.

We stumbled across the cemetery on the way back from climbing La Motte (more pictures available on facebook). We did not find the main track or path up to La Motte on the way up. It was strange, but all the signs that said “La Motte” and indicated the direction were only visible on the way back down from the Motte. I feel this would make a great Eddie Izzard sketch, [insert British voice] “Yes, thank you, we’ve just been to the Motte, and now we’d like to go elsewhere…” So we wound up struggling up a dog track through a densely forested part of the hillside, hopping over tree trunks and such. Fortunately, I had worn my hiking boots, but the other girls had only skate shoes and converses, plus the bags of produce and bread we had just purchased from the farmer’s market, so we took turns hauling each other up the steep embankments and laughing a lot as our produce went flying.

La Motte consists of this open-air monument to “Notre Dame de la Motte” (Our Lady of the Motte), basically the local version of the Virgin Mary, and it’s essentially a steepled pavilion housing a large statue of Mary, painted white, but with large flakes fallen off around the face, giving a very mottled sort of look, like when vanilla ice cream has chunks of chocolate in it. Mary was put in place by the residents of Vesoul in 1856, and she faces South. The coolest part of La Motte, to me, is the sort of grotto or cave underneath the main monument, with a smaller, brightly painted statue of Notre Dame de la Motte, lots of flowers and lit candles, some smaller Mary statues (mini-Marys?) and tons of plaques, like the ones I mentioned seeing in L’Eglise Saint Georges for Sainte Therese.

I love these plaques because each one seems to represent some momentous occurrence in the life of the donor, and I like to imagine the stories behind the plaque. One plaque from 1920 reads “Thank you for two healings.” Another says “For healing Mamma- M and Y” and lots of them read “Reconnaissance à Marie” which I think in this context means a sort of sighting or direct experience of Mary. And many of these plaques date from around the first and second world wars.

I know that many Christian monuments in France were originally sacred pagan spots, and the book I am reading at the moment, The Discovery of France (brilliant, check it out at the Boulder Book Store) suggests that each village’s Mary was a little bit different from the next, that it was really “their” patron Mary, and that special affection was given to the statues themselves, so that when priests tried to substitute weathered or, er, “ghetto” Mary statues for new ones, the villagers often became rather violent. Having very little knowledge of the Catholic Church’s rituals, I am totally fascinated by this apparent combination of Christian and pagan belief. In particular, I wonder why there are so many Marys in the little grotto (do more Marys equal more results? Like how the Captain Planet kids combine their powers to create Captain Planet—do all the Marys combined make a Super Mary?). And I wonder why the grotto has been given so much recent attention, when the larger statue on top of the Motte seems almost abandoned to the elements…

*It might not have been clear from earlier posts, but there are a large number of students who live at the high school from Monday through Friday, demi-pensionaires, who live in dorm-style buildings called internats. On weekends, the kids leave for their respective homes, which generally aren’t too far away anyway. Since French establishments are very conservative with lighting and electricity, and since there is a fence all around the school property, there are no outdoor lights on the weekends. Fortunately the moon has been bright lately, as I am still looking for a little pocket flashlight for the weekends. But thanks to these kids we can theoretically have dinner and breakfast at the canteen (the school cafeteria). I’ve eaten several times in the canteen for lunch, where I can visit a little with the other teachers, but the food at dinner is, well, not as good, so I prefer to make little sandwiches and pasta at the apartment. Hopefully, I will be able to branch out and cook other things, but since we are missing so many basics (an oven, a cheese grater, a large skillet or wok-type pan, basic spices, etc) and since most of the existing items have been extremely badly used (try eating eggs with bits of Teflon for breakfast. Yummy.) I think I will have to ease into cooking in France. So much for learning to make French meals while I’m here!

A side note: Hopefully it does not sound like I am complaining! I really feel quite lucky to have an inexpensive and, I think, safe place to live. I really like the town and how welcoming most people have been so far. And we’ve had exceptionally good weather while I’ve been here. These experiences and differences are just my mini culture shocks, I guess, and these things are easy enough to get used to—like the fact that I wake up most mornings to the sound of chairs scraping the floor in the classroom on the other side of my bedroom wall. It doesn’t bother me too much now! I just find telling you all about these things to be therapeutic!!

In other news, I observed three more classes today, and “presented” myself with a short power point presentation, consisting of a map of the US, and a few pictures of Boulder, Atlanta, etc. I also included a few pictures of Tuscaloosa, because I wanted them to have an idea of how different landscapes look in different parts of the US. I included a picture of a tornado, thinking that would be kind of novel for them to hear about, and also a photo of Moundville Archaeological Park’s Indian mounds, thinking that they might be interested in hearing about Native Americans. I tried to speak slowly, simply, and clearly while explaining the photos, but there was a lot of whispering and speculation when the teacher asked them to summarize what I had said. Some of the students thought that the grassy mounds were for BMX or mountain biking, others remembered hearing me mention burial mounds and thought the mounds were a mass cemetery—this evolved into the idea that Americans “fait du velo dans le cimetiere!!” (go biking in the cemetery!). Yeah. I can really see how gross cultural misconceptions have their beginnings.

Later in the class, the teacher wrote a date I had mentioned on the board, “1000 A.D.” and prompted the class to define the abbreviation “A.D”. One girl said “Oh, avant Dieu!” (Before God!). Hmmm. Close. Partial credit for effort. The teacher said something like, “Uh, that’s open to debate, I guess, but most people know it as Anno Domini.” Later still, I was trying to very simply explain how Stone Mountain in Georgia was formed, since the students couldn’t quite tell what it was from my picture. I mimed lava flowing out of the earth and solidifying into granite. [This is tough to mime.] The professor tried to explain that the lava solidified into stone. “Yes, but what is inside the mountain?” one girl asked. “Well, let’s think about this” said the teacher, kind of encouraging her to think of the answer herself, “you have rock on the outside…so on the inside…there’s probably more rock.”

In one of the later classes I had much harder questions to answer, like from the young man who asked me what Americans thought of French people. What sprang immediately to mind was “Frogs. Freedom Fries.” But I tried to proceed with the utmost diplomacy. Others asked questions about US foreign policy, the war in Iraq, etc. In one class where hardly anyone spoke, everyone made “boo” sounds when George W. Bush was mentioned and noises of approval when Barack Obama was mentioned. Interestingly, people here LOVE Barack Obama. He even made the cover of this year’s dictionary. The French dictionary. With French words. This seems incredible to me, since, as you may know, Barack Obama is not French. I asked one of the teachers about this and he explained that when French people really love or admire someone, they treat them as though they deserved to be French.

05 October 2009

Les petits differences OR The Little Differences

Little differences / quirky things I’ve noticed:

*Toilet paper comes in black, red, and pink (Nicole: guess what you are getting for xmas??)

*I am an amazon here, towering over nearly all the other women and a fair amount of the men. Big crowd at the market? No problem. But when talking to other people or waiting in line, I find myself slouching down to be at their level, mostly so I can hear better! Occasionally it makes me feel oversized and awkward, like the clumsy adolescent who keeps making mistakes. In this case, the mistake is that I didn’t stop growing when I reached a respectable height. And, sadly, if I ever need to buy shoes here, it might be difficult to find my size! Keep in mind that I am only five foot six—I wouldn’t exactly consider myself “tall” in the States! And you know that scene in Lost in Translation, where Bill Murray is trying to take a shower, but the showerhead is at, like, chest level? Yeah.

*I had forgotten or maybe never fully experienced the “French stinkiness” when I was studying abroad in Annecy. Well, I’ve experienced it now! I think most men do not wear deodorant, so there is often a very ripe, er, manly scent—a sort of stinky aura, really, that surrounds them. Since it is customary to kiss on the cheeks when meeting friends here, and since personal space is, in general, less than in the States, I have had a few really trying moments, especially when taking public transport, where I’ve been squished up against some very friendly and helpful, but Stinky French man. I haven’t really noticed this with women yet, but if I ever find somewhere to do yoga….well, let’s not imagine that just yet!

*The walls in our apartment are very very thin, so thin that Kathrin, the German assistant, can probably hear me setting down my glasses on the nightstand at night. There is a family who lives above us, and it is sometimes hard to tell if someone has just entered and is walking around Our apartment, or theirs. Also, since there are no rugs or carpeting anywhere to absorb sounds, and the ceilings are quite high, there are a lot of echoes and everything sounds even bigger, louder and closer. For instance, I am sitting in my room reading, when suddenly I hear a great CRASH! I rush into the kitchen, thinking someone has fallen down the stairs outside the apartment, but it is only that a spatula has fallen onto the floor from the drain rack. Happily, a teacher has just given me an old rug for my room, and it feels much less like a cave!

*My high school students are old enough to buy alcohol and, I guess, cigarettes. I keep seeing little clusters of kids sitting in a circle, smoking, just outside of the school grounds. This has been pretty weird and a little disturbing so far…some of them look like they are twelve, with braces and pimples and everything, it just seems wrong! Even the kids who aren’t 18, but look like they could be, can purchase alcohol, since no one checks ids. I tried to explain how different it is in the States to a group of kids, but I’m not sure if they really understood.

*One of the English teachers told me that many of his students are completely unused to any kind of creative writing or self expression at school. He had assigned them to write poems about themselves, following a rubrick like, “I dream of……” “I cry when…..” and finding adjectives and short phrases that identified them. This was apparently totally novel, and some of them had a really hard time being creative, and not censoring themselves. I thought this was really strange, since, when you walk around the school grounds, they are all dressed so expressively, so individually, with a huge range of personal styles, much more so than at an average American high school. There are posters and flyers for different musical groups, and I’m sure the kids are bubbly and expressive outside of the classroom. The teacher told me that this is one of France’s great paradoxes—it’s a cultural mecca in many ways, but the school system is still backward and kind of oppressive, kind of smushing students down into “ideal pupils” for the bacc exam. Even getting them to talk in class is sometimes hard, they are so used to lecture-style learning.

Today was the orientation day in Besancon, which mostly consisted of a LOT of paperwork! I did get to meet some more English speakers (and non-english speaking assistants) and it felt really good to talk to people who are having the same problems and to compare travel horror stories. (One girls baggage was lost when she flew into Paris, so she didnt have her clothes or toiletries for TEN DAYS when she first arrived! She wears a size ten shoe, so finding replacements was nearly impossible, she had to borrow shoes from a man she met! The airline company finally returned her luggage and it was broken and ripped up...). In general, apart from the internet problems, I feel very very lucky! Miss you all, though!

02 October 2009

Enfin! Quelques images! OR Finally, some pictures!

Finally I have a few images of the apartment and the view from my window of the town to upload! Sorry there aren't any of the town yet--I'm working on it! Pictured are my new slippers (Yay slippers!) because the French dont belive in carpets or rugs, apparently; the view from my window, our kitchen, and my bedroom from several angles!

This was my first real day of observing classes today. I sat in on three different classes, with two different professors and it was VERY interesting to see how they held class and the differences in how they taught English. It seems like its a real challenge to get the students to speak in English--they are quite shy--but very ready to talk amongst themselves in French! I think I will learn a lot about teaching from these different professors--sometimes axactly what NOT to do! For the first class the teacher decided to just sort of improvise introducing me, so we sat in a circle and she had me tell the students a little about myself and then let them ask me questions. I thought they were pretty quiet, but after the class she thanked me and said it was the most energetic she'd seen them so far, and she thought that I might be able to make a real difference in their perception of english class! This makes more sense when you consider that learning english in high school here is NOT volontary! They begin learning english in junior high, and I think for some it is really just one of those things you HAVE to do, like spelling tests, or the dentist. It seems that they are not allowed to do very many fun activities or conversational things, either, since all of their work is meant to prepare them for the Bacc, this huge exam they study for all of high school for that determines whether or not they can go to university. So, hopefully I'll be able to provide some fun and interest for them! Also, I've noticed so far that at least one teacher makes some rather grievous errors in English on a very regular basis! Yikes! Hopefully  I can provide, er, an alternative option....