These are the things I say or do. While in France or some other country in the neighborhood. Enjoy.

Monday, December 26, 2005

I'm dreaming of a salty Christmas

Christmas was spent walking around Le Havre with Anne and her sister Kate. We ate good vegan food for dinner and Kate and I laughed loudly about, well, everything, in Anne's room while she was talking to their mom in Meg's room down the hall. She could hear us through the wall. Much fun, and a memorable Christmas away from home.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Tickets to concerts and drinking at clubs now I have the time to update, even though I'm convinced that nobody is reading my blog. Sad for me. Last night I went out bar hopping with a whole bunch of French people that I met through my contact in the Tandem program, Caroline. I ended up having a ton of conversations about American vs. French society and political systems, as well as this fascinating discussion about socialism with a guy that works in the industrial sector here named Guillaume. All in all, it was great fun. We started out at Le Bistrot, where there was this performance art show, uh, thingy. A lady read poetry to pictures she had drawn that she showed on a slide projector while this guy that looked EXACTLY like Sean Penn made all sorts of weird sound effects on a computer using ordinary things like a slinky. Sometimes her poetry was really good, even though I didn't understand it all, and sometimes she just screamed very loudly in French. It wasn't the normal jazz, but I liked it. After that we went to three other bars, two that I had been to before. I got a bit tipsy and tried to call my brother after I got home (didn't work for some reason) and then tried to call Brant (also didn't work for some reason), so I ended up screaming at the nasally-voiced operator in a phone booth in France at 3:00 in the morning.

I just finished Aldous Huxley's Island, and it is absolutely phenomenal. I think I'm going to read it a second time. Basically it's the opposite of Brave New World. He envisions science blended with pragmatism and spirituality to create a perfect society. It's a bit East meets West philosophy, and the blending of the two makes the people of the island of Pala completely blissful. Of course there's drugs involved (it's basically the same as soma only it enlightens you, somehow...) and the main character is an outsider to the society, much as Brave New World. Unfortunately, the underlying question of the novel is whether a utopian society can exist, and if so, for how long. You have to read it to find out what Aldous has to say about that.

It's Christmas here tomorrow! So Joyeux Noel and Bonne Année! I'll be heading to Paris Monday for a week, so you won't hear from me for awhile. I may try to put something up tomorrow when I can get free internet at Anne's house. Until then.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Paris and Back

So I have 'bout five minutes to tell you all that's happened in the last, eh, 5 days. And on an azerty keyboard as well. Guess I'll have to go all Mike Faris and make a list. What has this world come to?

¤Went to Rouen Friday after teaching and watched/participated in karaoke at this club called the Undgerground. There were lots of 17 year old French boys macking on each other.

¤Saturday spent the day in Paris with two other assistants and saw the Eiffel Tower, Arc d'Triomphe and some other cool stuff like the Champs Elysees. Outta time!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Technical difficulties?

My school is closed for the vacation, which means I actually have to pay for internet access. I'm at an internet café right now, and I'll try to update from here pretty often, but we'll see how lazy I am... Don't expect too much in the next couple weeks. Especially pictures. Or insight.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Yay, Pictures!!!

So, here are some pictures of my friends, my trip to Provence and other adventures. I might try to get a photo album together somewheres or a gallery or something. Maybe on the prestigious

Here's one of almost all of my assistant friends. From left to right, it's: Nora, Mirja, Geri, Lucy, Arthur, Sadie Anne, Meg, and Jon the Limey. This was before I arrived at a party where I got drunk with Jon, and Anne got really, really drunk and made an ass out of herself by trying to do an English accent all night.

This is my best friend in Le Havre, Jon. He comes from England and I make fun of his accent all of the time. We play video games and drink a lot together. He's gone for two weeks, which makes me sad because now I have to hang out with only girls with nobody to save me. Mon dieu!

This is from when we made mulled wine (vin chaud) at my house. Mirja, centered in the picture, is the one that made it. Meg is sitting in the background and in the close foreground is Samah, the assistant from Yemen.

"What is this product?", you must be asking. Well, I saw this sign in Aix-en-Provence and had to take a picture. It was at a little shack that sold french fries and pizza and such. Pussy is supposed to be like a Mr. Freeze or Icee, but the name is much, much better. It comes in two sizes: small and jumbo.

This is a bicycle I saw in Avignon. I just thought it was cool, colorful, and very typically French.

I went swimming in the salty, salty Mediterranean sea in Cassis. I got rocks and sand all up in my pants and pockets and had to take the bus back to Aix with a wet ass, but it was worth it.

We were walking along the promenade in Nice and this was on the wall. It's a tile mosaic of a mushroom (1up!!) from Mario Bros. There were no signs or anything else accompanying it. It was just there next to a beach in the south of France. Make up a story.

This is Anne all gussied up for her birthday. She's my travelling buddy and a very good friend.

Ok, the last one, I swear. This is the Arena in Nîmes from Roman times. It's just there, and you can go inside it and they hold events and stuff still. It's called "Les Arênes" in French. Anne and I went up to the top and you could see all of Nîmes from there.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Buy Chirac!

Today I went to this meeting at the IUFM, a school for future teachers of primary school. It’s called the Tandem program, and though it has a sort of lame name, it turned out to be pretty helpful. The idea is that you get some future French teachers in any subject together with some English assistants of about the same age, and they speak in French for half the time, the other half in English. Everyone wins! Despite being poorly organized by the lady directing it, the conversation I had was splendiferous. I got paired with these two girls, one named Laure and the other Caroline.
We started in French, and I must say that I rocked it. Today was a good day for speaking French, I suppose, so I got lucky. We were supposed to talk about whatever, but had a sheet in front of us with possible talking points, which included university life and the American and French school systems. It was really informal, and we pretty much just chatted for 45 minutes in French.
When we switched over, it was amazing how these two seemingly confident ladies in French changed so much. Laure was embarrased to talk at all, really, so Caroline, whose English was excellent, and I talked about, well, everything. She studied literature in college, and had read ‘On the Road’ and ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ and detested Samuel Richardson just as much as I, but liked Henry Fielding. We ended up with talking about politics and campaign finance reform in the U.S. That’s where the title for this post comes from. She’d mentioned campaign commercials in the U.S., and how it seemed like they were trying to sell the candidate as a product. “You wouldn’t see commercials in France that said, ‘Buy Chirac’” I couldn’t stop laughing because it is so, so true… “Buy Obama in 2008!” In France there really isn’t this idea of the President as a celebrity or moral leader. He does his job as President, running the country and such, and that’s it.
I talked to my students once about this. They were very surprised at Clinton’s impeachment trial over Monica Lewinsky. They said that if Chirac, or another President, did the same thing, it wouldn’t even be news. In fact, they said, there have been presidents who have had affairs, etc. and it wasn’t a big deal. As long as he’s doing his job, they said, he’s fine. The other matters are his own personal life.
So what does this say about America, then? Are we fixated with the President as a celebrity? I believe so. We want our President to be this looming figure of strength in many senses, morally and physically included. “The cult of personality” applies well here. Who are President is as a person and personality matters just as much, or more, than his actions in office. Why else would each candidate spend about 200 million dollars on their campaign? Why else would we elect Bush or Reagan? Or, to a lesser extent, Schwarzenegger? It’s the idea of a leader as someone not in place to solely go about the task of making laws and governing, but representing the values of our nation to others. What he does in his personal life matters in that regard. I do think that this is part of representative democracy (republicanism with a small r) and part of our Puritan past. We still have a lot of roots in the Puritan ideology, whether we like to admit it or not. You can’t show breasts anywhere in the U.S. without it being considered pornographic, while here they have them on huge signs in the street and nobody really whines.
So I guess the idea behind the President as a hero is something very American. I don’t doubt other countries do it as well, but I think we are particularly susceptible given our proclivities toward celebrity status (Hollywood…need I say more). The French view Chirac as just some schmoe they elected to get a job done. We want our President to save us from the cold, harsh world. Then I must ask, why the hell did Bush get elected?

This is a picture of me at Les Falaises in Étretat. I look like a dork, but I wanted to see how easy it was to upload photos to the really, it's a test. Hope I passed.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Bike or die

So, I finally found a bike. I went to Rouen and met up with this other assistant from Minneapolis, Rachel. We went to their pawn shop there, called Cash Occas', which means 'cash and carry' and I found an old blue Motobecane with yellow striped tires for 39 euros. Not bad. The seat sucked, and the pedals needed to be replaced, but other than that it was in great condition. I happen to have brought a seat with me, and I could buy some platform pedals for cheap. So I bought it.

Really, this post is about the past week or so. It's been busy, which is more than I can say for other weeks here. I went to Rouen on Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday of last week. Monday was for my last training day, and after I went out for drinks with some of the other assistants. Here's what I wrote in my journal for that day:

"I think it’s all been a product of being cooped up in Le Havre with Geri and Anne and Meg and Jon. All of my friends are swell people, just a bit too pessimistic for me. I spent the evening in the company of Jon and Geri, well enough, but with some other assistants who were just so positive about their experiences here, and about everything. They didn’t moan about every little thing like the cold or the bad kids or what have you. They had fun doing whatever and enjoyed themselves. And I am going back to Rouen to see them tomorrow and fix their bikes (yay!).

And of course there’s a girl involved. Named Rachel. From Minneapolis who loves bikes and her city (I love both…). We talked about bikes and Minneapolis and the Seward Café and the Midwest, etc. And of course the girl has a “boyfriend”. Though in a very loose sense, as she admitted herself. Maybe I have a chance, but I’m just so excited to have some new, cool friends to ride bikes with. This has been a great day that started out pretty lousy. We went to the train station, butt early as always, and the trains were late. Well, “indefinitely retarded” to be exact. Why? Because someone had thrown themselves in front of a train between Le Havre and Rouen. So we bought our tickets, hung out a bit with Tina and Dania and Arthur and all of the other assistants. We got on our train that was supposed to leave at 7:56 at 8:02. And waited. And waited. Jon watched me play solitaire, Arthur slept, and Dania took off to get something and never showed back up on that train. Geri moaned about, well, everything. And we waited. And waited. Finally, the train left the station about 9:45. So we got to the training day in Rouen just late enough to miss the morning session and have a nice little chat with Olivier about good ideas we’d had while teaching...
...So we had the rest of the training, and that was all boring and pretty much useless. Then I got to go out drinking with the rest of the assistants, which is where I met these new people and got to hang out with Josh, who is really, really, really cool and we talked about books and literature, something I’ve been moaning about not being able to talk about.
And tomorrow is another day. In France. Where I will get up and translate an article in French into English with a bunch of cool French kids and hopefully find a bike to carry me around with Rachel, her boyfriend, and Karolina. It should be the most fun I’ve had in awhile. This is all coming together, and all it took was a day outside of the monotony that I have created for myself. Last week was a slump. Today I feel vital and alive and busy and crazy smart."

As it turned out, I didn't get to meet up with the others in Rouen on Tuesday, but rather on Saturday. I fixed their bikes up with all of the tools I brought, and we went for a little ride. They made me Indian food for dinner, and some hummus by mashing it up with a fork. Rachel taught me a new way to cut up garlic, where you just let the knife kind of smash it into a mush. It's sweet.

Friday night was Anne's birthday, so we went to a crêperie and had some genuine French crêpes and cider. I had one with tomatoes and mushrooms in it, despite the fact that the batter had milk and eggs. It was yummy. After Saturday in Rouen I came back here and went to a party at Jon's, where I drank a lot and we ended up playing Max Payne until 4 o'clock in the morning.

Yesterday I cleaned my apartment and did laundry. At 4 I had about eight people over to my tiny room, where we squeezed in and had mulled wine (vin chaud) made by Mirja, the German assistant. Geri, Samah, Mirja and I exchanged gifts (we each picked names out of a hat and bought for one other person). I got a sweet scarf from Samah that's really warm, and I made Mirja a picture frame thing to put her photos in for a collage. It was easy because I dumpstered a picture frame and stapled a rainbow-striped material (also dumpstered) on the mat for her to put her pictures on. She liked it. I used the same material to painstakingly hand sew a pillowcase for Anne's birthday. So all of the gifts I've given as of yet were hand-made and free. Yippy! After the wine we went over to Anne's for our traditional Sunday vegan dinner, and had our largest gathering yet of eight people. It just keeps getting bigger...

Well, today. I rode out to the bike superstore and bought a whole bunch of parts for my bike. I wish we had a small shop here, but alas, there is only Go Sport! in the mall, which sucks like Gart Bros., and Decathlon, a huge biking/swimming/running/hiking/everything warehouse that doesn't suck as bad. I had to get a new bolt for my seat post because the other was busted, and the guy seemed put upon to search for it in this one little toolbox tray. They didn't have walls of tools or Buster the cat or Matt Maxwell like Skunk River Cycles, but I guess I got what I needed. Makes me miss Ames...

So, I'm almost finished retuning my bicycle. New seatpost, pedals, brake levers, bar tape (yellow=hot) and everything. I'm going to hack off the handlebars and turn them upside down into bullhorns, but I need to find either a hacksaw or a pipe cutter. I'm hoping either will be very cheap at the hardware store, or I can track down the janitor Febrese and see if he'll help me.

The last week has been phenomenal, in other words. I feel like I've got ahold of the language and the people and I have lots of really cool friends all over the place. We'll see what the Christmas break brings, eh? Pictures to come next week if I'm not lazy.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Punk Rock means tired feet

First off, Mike wrote: "Why do you have to teach about Christmas? The English language has nothing more to do with Christmas than the French language. And it's not like you have to teach Christian consumerist culture to a bunch of atheist commies - you're in France, not a utopia."

He's kinda right. However, in teaching Christmas what I really do is ask them what they do for Christmas, and then basically tell them we do the same thing with a few minor differences. For instance, most families open their presents at midnight on the 24th here. And they eat salmon and escargot as well. Oh, and leave coffee for Santa, instead of milk. It's good because they can get excited about something they know about, and talk about it. That can be rare.

That said, my idea kicked me in the teeth yesterday. I had one class of about six students. I asked them to tell me about what they do for Christmas, which they did. Then I asked each one what they wanted. Two of the students are Muslim, and when they said they didn't want anything because they didn't celebrate Christmas, I felt like a complete fucking idiot. In the interest of fairness I wanted to maybe ask them about Ramadan, but then I didn't know if they would feel good about me equating Christmas with that month of fasting and celebration. So I basically went really quickly over what we do and moved on to something else. This won't be the last class, as well.

Personally, I usually forget that Christmas is a religious holiday, since I'm not religious. I don't teach about the christian aspects of it, because it's illegal to teach about religion in France, and frankly I don't want to teach about the christian aspects of it anyway. I talk about Santa, giving presents, the tree, leaving cookies, etc. This works pretty well, as they are all still about 15 and have tinges of excitement leftover from when they were younger.

I end up teaching less about consumerist culture than I do about the cultural/traditional mythology surrounding Christmas. I try to focus on what you do with your family, what you eat, when you do these things, etc. Getting them to describe it in English is challenging enough as it is, without me trying to discuss the overconsumption and blatant hypocrisy of the "Christmas Season." It works well to act excited and surprised when each class tells me they open their presents at midnight, or when I get up on the chair to mimic putting up the star on the top of the Christmas tree.

All in all, I'm less conflicted than I was before. I thought they would want to talk and talk about what they wanted, etc., but in actuality they are interested in just expressing the traditions they have with their families, and occasionally distancing themselves from little kids who actually do believe in Santa Claus.

The title of this post needs to be addresses. Last night I was going to go to this anarchist speaker and concert at some bar I haven't been to. The idea was to meet some young anarchist French kids and have some friends. I passed by the bar, and saw it absolutely crowded with 40-something crusty punks. Frankly, I'm sick of going to events where I'm the only person under thirty. I went to a poetry café and this speech about the Sioux Indians at a Literature café, and though they were both cool and I met some neat people, I have yet to make good friends with someone my age who is French. So, I went to this other concert instead. It turned out to be a good choice.

It was at the Mamy Blu, this space pretty far from where I live that is, as I found out last night, punk as fuck. It's a really raw space, all bare concrete pillars and floor blackened by spilt beer and stubbed out cigarettes. They heat the thing with a barrel stove that they burn cut up pieces of palettes in. There was only one kind of beer, in a can, and it was two euros. I got there too early and waited for a long time, just watching people in the near-dark of the room. The entrance was one toy, but I had misread the poster, so I just paid 5 euros. Stupid me. Anyway, the first band finally got up. U'lers was their name, and they were from America and did some cool Ramones covers and some of their own songs. All of the band members were in their early forties, but they rocked pretty hard. The second band was called Double Shot, from England, and they were a kickass punk group. They covered the Clash once or twice, and their own songs were really upbeat. I danced a lot standing next to this twenty-something French guy who was very, very drunk and flailing all over the place. We were the only two people in the mosh pit when he decided we should start one near the end of their set. I left with tired feet from dancing, smoke entwined in the fibers of all of my clothes and dried sweat on my brow.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

December means Capitalism

I get to stop teaching about Thanksgiving (finally!) in my classes, and get to start teaching about Christmas. No more turkey, Pilgrims, (pronounced peelgreems by little French kids) or gesturing and making noises on how you open up a can of cranberry sauce. Now I get to say "Ho Ho Ho" and talk about fruitcake! No, not fruitcakes like Mike and Nik, but the actual fruitcake that nobody likes.

This week I've been a bit lazy. Most evenings I've spent with my friend Jon watching the second season of 24 on DVD. I tell you, that shit is addictive. We're at least halfway through it, because I stayed over at his house until 1:00am last night, and had to get up to teach this morning. Needless to say, the classes I had were really good and liked what I was teaching. They were also very well behaved. I was slightly hungover from drinking a lot of wine last night, but that didn't affect me too much. If anything, it made me more goofy and willing to make an ass out of myself, which is always good when teaching.

There really isn't much more news. Going to Paris for Saturday, which will rule. Maybe I'll find a bike soon, but it's been a runaround with the two people I've tried to get ahold of.

About teaching Christmas: It's hard to teach about gift-giving, for me, because the whole idea of stressing out to buy gifts and spending all of your money on things other people probably don't want in the first place really sickens me. I love making things for people, or finding inexpensive and thoughtful things for them. I hate getting gifts. Yes, I will admit this. I really don't need anything, and when I do need stuff I'm pretty particular about what I get, so I go out and buy it myself. I don't like recieving money because I think there are better uses for it than myself. I sent out a letter about two years ago telling all of my family to just donate what they would give me for Christmas to a charity of their choice. They're not very good about following this wish, though, and keep trying to give me gifts, money, etc. I wish they would just listen so that I wouldn't feel guilty about getting things I don't absolutely need – but am thankful for – while other people starve in the streets. Blah. That is my pre-christmas rant. More is to come, I am sure.