28 September 2009

Dans lequel je me rapelle que les francais sont des mangeurs competitifs OR In which I am reminded that the French are champion Eaters

My first weekend has passed with beatiful weather and lots of things to see. On Saturday, Lupita, the Spanish language assistant, and I tried to go to the outdoor market, but were too late. We wandered around the towns shopping district and found a fabulous local museum housed in a convent ( le couvent des Ursulines) that was built in 1690. The bottom floor featured archaological exhibits from the local area-- greco-roman funerary steles, neolithic stone tools, the skulls of some cave bears and teeth from mammoths. The top floor is dedicated to some wonderful paintings done by local artists from the 1700-1800s. My favorites portrayed very realistic scenes of peasants and local folk going about their daily lives in the fields and on their doorsteps. This group of painters paid special attention to the eyes and they were all incredibly luminous and lifelike.
After the musee, we found l,eglise Saint Georges, the local catholic church, rebuilt rather late, in the early 1800s (practically new, here). The church had the usual niches for all the saints, but I was struck by how many people had put up plaques to say thank you to their saint when their prayers were answered. Saint Therese seems to be the special saint for this area and a lot of people put plaques up around 1940-1943, something like ¨¨Remercier a Saint Therese 1942 G.D.¨¨ . I found that very sweet.
Saturday evening, Lupita and I made some seriously tasty sandwiches from half a baguette, with mayonnaise so delicious and fattening that only the french could have created it, a wonderful local cheese, and some slices of cold pork.
Sunday, however, we were completely outdone. One of the Spanish teachers invited us to her house to eat and then to visit a local man who made his own wine. I thought we would probably eat at 2 or 3, so I made myself a big breakfast of eggs and toast, juice and tea, now that I have overcome my fear of our little propane stove and the matches (okay, am overcoming my fear--its a work in progress). So I was very surprised to see that the table was already set when we arrived at 11.30am. We sat down almost immediately with the whole family, and another couple of teacher-friends, so there were 8 of us in all and we had:
First course:
a series of cold meats, ham, pate, bologna, and some others that I couldnt identify, each paired with appropriate accompaniments to offset the flavours, like capers, tiny yellow tomatoes, a peach slice, a mini seaweed salad, etc with a light white wine.
(at first I thought, oh, nice and light, a perfect little midday meal...)

Second course:
Patates au gratin with the uber-tasty addition of mascarpone cheese and boeuf bourguignon (like Julia Child!) that had been cooking since early early that morning, served in extremely generous (almost painful) portions and accompanied with red wine.
(I realized my mistake, and remembered my wonderful meals with Danielle, my host mom, two years ago, when I felt I needed a small crane to get up from the table...a premonition of things to come!)

Third course:
Salade vert with a light vinnaigrette and some local cheese, frommage du brebis (ewes milk).

Fourth course:
A marvelous flourless chocolate cake;
Fifth course:
and an apple tarte, followed by coffee or tea. Naturally; I didnt realize there was apple tarte to come, so by the time this was brought out, I was more horrified than pleased; it really would not do not to try at least some of everything, and its really rather insulting here not to eat the majority of what you are given...and so I was reminded of how the french spend a great deal of time in their lives practicing the sport of Endurance Eating... and I am but a novice....
How are the french able to leave their houses, much less fit into car, bus, airplane seats you ask? I think the secret lies in the idea of eating very little for breakfast, then a huge meal for lunch, followed by a small meal or snack for dinner, with no snacking in between. It doesnt hurt that all of the ingredients are marvelously fresh, with no processed foods used.

After this extraordinary repast, we all stuffed ourselves into a series of very small cars; (best moment of the day for me was when one of the men said to other, with a certain amount of pride, *we should take my car, its much bigger, I have a VW Golf sport!*). And we proceeded to take some very lovely but windy roads into the country for about two hours. Now, many of you know that I suffer from rather debilitating carsickness--suffice it to say that this was, for me, a mortal battle, trying to hang onto all that food.

Finally, we stopped at the tiny, picturesque village of Champlitte, where the old chateau has been converted into a huge museum of daily life. This beautiful building was filled with room after room of displays--the dentist, the mill, the chapel, the kitchen, the store, etc, all set up with antiques from the local area to resemble life from the 1600s-1800s. The amount of time and detail that went into this was truly incredible. The musem curators had managed to collect everything from old dental tools to giant bed cabinets! My favorites were a real life gypsy caravan and a giant puppet theater that rivals the one the Von Trap family had in the movie The Sound Of  Music.
Eventually, we made our way up the town to the wine guys house, which was, of course several hundred years old, and featured a truly beatiful old stone cave underneath for keeping the wine. We tasted his chardonay, rose and pinot noir, with the grapes all grown by him just outside of the village, organically cultivated and produced. We also got to climb up ladders and peak into the vats used for fermenting the grapes during their verious stages of production. Sadly, I really couldnt understand him well enough to comprehend the winemaking process, but he looked just like the farmer in Babe, so I was content imagining him bursting into song to heal a sick pig.
After all of this excitement, we piled back into the car and I pretended to be really interested in the countryside, hanging my head out the window, so as not to puke all over the backseat :)

25 September 2009

Comment je suis arrive en France et mon confusion suivant...OR How I arrived in France and my confusion following.

And so it came to pass that I and my three pieces of luggage arrived on the doorstep of the high school (lycee) in France, bruised, tired, sweaty (me) and stained, lumpy, and heavy (the luggage). We took two planes, three trains, two taxis, and two buses. And now there were two sets of three stairs ahead of us, all that remained of the journey from Boulder, CO USA to Vesoul, France. Naturally, seeing as it was lunchtime, there was a gaggle of students outside the school, gawping at Luggage and me. Naturally, they stared, fascinated, as i heaved all three bags, one after the other up the first set of stairs, rolled them individually to the foot of the second stairs and heaved them up.
Eventually, I was able to talk to the head english professor and meet a couple of the other english teachers, all of whom are very nice. Everything is very disorganized so far, and i have found that you have to go talk to several people in order to accomplish one simple task. Such as: refilling the large bottle of gas that attaches to the two burners that form the stove in our little kitchen, which  found was totally empty when  tried to make pasta last night. Or procuring for me a set of the three different keys it takes to get into out apartment and also the 6 or more keys one needs for the school buildings and cafeteria...whew!
As it stands currently, communication with the outside world is rather limited. There is no phone, tv, or internet in the apartment and internet access is available only in the teachers lounge during school hours, on weekdays. Apparently last years bunch of assistants never really bothered to make the bureacratic push for these items, and they made a very bad impression, having trashed the apartment, all of which we now have to rectify.
I think that convincing the administration that the Internet should be `right up there with 'Liberte, Egalite, and Fraternite° will be the first battle i pick.
Aside from these frustrations, I think I am fairly lucky. Rent at the school is very very cheap, I believe, and the school is large, with a great arts program (they specialize in dance) and a friendly staff. Both of the english teachers helping me so far have waxed lyrical about how great the students are--it seems a lot less formal than i had thought--they joke around with the students, who are very polite.
I have not gotten to see much of Vesoul yet, I have been so busy with all of the administrative stuff on the campus complex, but tomorrow there is a big outdoor market and I am looking forward to buying some fresh fruit and looking around the Old Town (the veille ville, which dates from the 14th century or so!) as well as sticking my fingers in the hornets nest that is the french cell phone system.
On Sunday, the spanish language assistant and i have been invited to have lunch with one of the spanish teachers at her home, and take a little trip to a small local vineyard to taste some wine (now is the time when they bring in the grapes). I am super excited about this, this lady has been like a surrogate mom so far to the spanish assistant and has been very kind to include me in things, too (its all a bit political, i have noticed, but basically the teacher in charge of me is too busy to really look out for me the way the other assistants are being looked after; fortunately, there are maybe 8 english teachers, most of whom i havent even met yet, so maybe i will bond with one of them and they can help me!!!!!).

My current plan is to buy a french sim card and then use prepaid phone cards to pay for minutes. It might be possible for you folks to use skype to call my french cell phone number--you would have to pay a couple of cents a minute, but i think it is far, far cheaper that way than for me to use a regular pay phone or the cell phone, but i will keep you posted! In the meanwhile, here is my address at the school:

Attention Mlle Lindsay Roberts
Lycee Edouard Belin
18 rue Edouard Belin
BP 50289
70006 Vesoul Cedex

Just like that.
And I think I will sign off for now. I love and miss you all! Ill try to have more updates soon!

05 September 2009

Les premiers pas...or Baby Steps

 Welcome to my blog! YAY! 

This blog is for friends and family to follow my (mis)adventures in Europe and will hopefully be a good place to keep in touch. I have about three weeks until I leave for La France, country of amazing cheese, wine, body hair, art, culture, etc. I am preparing to be a teacher assistant in an English class for a French public high school (or lycée) in Vesoul, close to Besançon, and near the borders of Germany and Switzerland. Here is a google map overview, actually. And this site lists a few of Besançon's highlights, including a giant astronomical clock from the 1800's here.

I don't yet know where I will be living, whether in a room at the school I will be teaching for, or in Besançon, the larger town. I am also not sure how to get from the EuroAirport, where I will arrive (near Fribourg, Germany, Basel, Switzerland, and Mulhouse, France) to Vesoul or Besançon. Interestingly, the EuroAirport is the only airport in the world that sits on the border of two countries, which may make customs very interesting. So I'm not sure if I will spend my first night in Mulhouse, which seems to have a train directly from the airport, or if I will want to make it to Besançon or Vesoul that first night.

I am sort of mired in loose ends at the moment, trying to do last minute tasks like selling back textbooks and (hopefully) defering my student loan until after my return. Also deciding whether to take bike and/or skis with me. I did get Skype recently, so if anyone would like to chat with me you can find me by name or by the username "Booktress."

I am looking forward to seeing many of you before I leave, but I know I will miss you all very much while I am away. Please let me know how you are doing!!
Lots of Love,

On a final, awesome note: I have stumbled across the lunch menu for the elementary students of Vesoul. They have a four course meal every day with some rather incredible items--Monday, September 28, for instance, the children will have grapefruit for hors d'oeuvres followed by ravioli for the main course, then a cheese course with a cheese called "Coeur de Nonette" (Nonette's heart??) and finally, for desert, chocolate mousse. Um, I must find a way to eat lunch in a primary school...that sounds pretty fabulous. With a different, special cheese every day, it's no wonder these kids will grow up with the greatest palates on earth. And this is just one of the many reasons why I am sure my time in France will be very very interesting.