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.