Cathedrals and Cafés: Taking Advantage of Life in France

 “Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in your office or mowing your lawn.  Climb that goddamn mountain.” –Jack Kerouac

One thing I’ve come to realize this year in France is that the job is not really about the teaching, but more about the experience of being in France.  I have only worked a few weeks that were my full two hours.  In addition, until my schedule changed, I had Fridays off so that I could take full advantage of my weekends.  All of the English teachers have spent a year or two as a French teaching assistant in England, and so they understand how I feel as an assistant.  I’ve realized that while I may be making a small difference in the conversation skills of my students, I am here mostly to dispel stereotypes by giving them a personal association with the U.S. and to improve my own French so that I can go back to the U.S. and use what I’ve learned here.  It’s about my experience and adventures rather than the teaching I do, what I can bring back to my own country.  The other assistants (Kate, Doug, Alex) and I have decided to make the most of our time here and travel/experience as much as possible.  Our motto is “Pourquoi pas?”, or why not?

A few weekends ago Alex and I went to our second wine tasting in Burgundy.  It was actually a crement tasting (sparkling wine, similar to champagne but not made in the region of champagne).  Every year it is held in a different town in Burgundy and is called the Fête de Saint-Vincent.  Alex, Vanesa, and I met Kristen, Kathrin, and Monica, the Le Creusot assistants, and Rudi, who is an assistant in Macon, on the train to Châtillon-sur-Seine.  It is located in the opposite corner of Burgundy from Chalon, so we actually had to take a train from Chalon to Montbard and then a bus to the town itself.  After 2.5 hours, we arrived in Châtillon-sur-Seine, a small town bustling with people in for the festival.  It was also covered in tons of paper flowers, which are apparently an element of the festival.  We purchased our “kit de degustation,” which included a map, a wine glass, a pouch, and seven cork cages (apparently that’s what they’re called), each of which could be traded for a glass of crement.  We walked around and tried a few before going to lunch at a café in town.  While my croque monsieur was less than delicious, the large group made our experience memorable as they kept singing songs and doing the “ban bourguignon.”  After lunch, we continued our tasting.  I don’t know any of the kinds I tried, but I definitely enjoyed them all.  Kristen and I also embarked on a quest to acquire a souvenir bouquet of the paper flowers and were quite successful, despite not being very subtle at stealing flowers near the end.  All-in-all, it was a very enjoyable experience.

The next Wednesday we returned to Beaune, the well-known touristy town about 20 min from Chalon.  It was very pretty, and you could see right away that there was a tourist focus from the bike rental shops, the souvenir shops, and the expensive wine in the restaurant we went to for lunch (in France, 5 euro is quite expensive for a glass of wine…).  Beaune is known for wine and wine tasting, and they even have a lycée des vins (wine-focused school).  We walked around some of the parks, which were very beautiful, and walked to the vineyards, which are right outside of the town itself.  We finished with a café in the centre ville, as per usual.

The next weekend we were originally planning to go to Geneva.  Since it was so expensive, however, we ended up going to St-Etienne, a city that is a bit bigger than Dijon.  We got on the train and were discussing the weekend where a very drunk Senegalese man came into our apartment and tried talking to us.  He was trying to show us pictures of his children and was trying (in multiple languages) to get Alex’s phone number while we ignored him and hoped he’d go away.  Finally, after about 20 min, the conductor came around and got rid of him for us.  It was quite the interesting experience… When we arrived in St-Etienne we went to a café and got lunch before exploring the town a bit.  Sadly much of the town was under construction, but we went to the cathedral, which was very pretty, and the hotel de ville before settling in a café for a break from the cold.  While sitting there, we noticed people running around in the square outside with flags and signs, saying something about equality and rights.  We debated what it might be, guessing that it was about gay marriage, as that is the hot topic in France right now.  Sure enough, when we asked, they said they were protesting “marriage pour tous,” or marriage for all.  The worst part about the manifestation was that they were encouraging children to ask people to join and as a sign of family.  When they asked if we wanted to join, we all just said “no,” turned around, and walked away. Shaking our heads, we headed to our apartment.  We had rented an apartment hotel for the weekend (which was really just a bedroom and kitchen/living room), so we dropped our stuff off and went grocery shopping for dinner (fajitas, yum!).  It was a fun night in a new town.

This past weekend was spent in Le Creusot with Kristen, Monica, Kathrin, and Kathrin’s friend from Austria.  Right when we got in we went grocery shopping for dinner that night and then headed to a Chinese buffet restaurant.  Unfortunately, the buffet goes from 12 euros to 20 on the weekends, but we were all starving, and it was pretty good food.  They even had stir fry.  Afterwards, we took a tour of the town, walking past the chateau and through the park.  It was very snowy, but beautiful as well.  We then went up the hill to the school where the assistants live where we settled in for some tea and talking.  We played a new game that Kristen’s responsable lent us (Jungle Speed), made dinner (pizza and salad), and learned some German from the Austrians.  Kathrin even made a cake, which was delicious!  The next day we slept in and enjoyed having free time before heading home and spending the night skyping and lesson planning.

I have a lot to look forward to in the next few weeks.  Today is Mardi Gras, or Pancake Day as it is known to our English assistants (apparently pancakes to them are crepes and scotch pancakes are real pancakes).  On Thursday the teachers at my school are having a Soiree Beignets to eat beignets.  On Friday Alex and I are going to see Les Misérables, which FINALLY comes out this Wednesday.  On Saturday starts my 2 week vacation to Kiel, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest.  And that doesn’t even cover all the things we’re doing in the next two months, such as my half-marathon (I’m up to 9 miles!), Amsterdam, Morocco, and Menton in the south of France.  The rest of this term will fly by.

Also, I’ve made it to the next round to be an English teaching assistant in Rwanda next year through Fulbright.  Wish me luck!

French word of the day: le mois (month) as in, j’ai moins de trois mois qui me reste en France (I have less than three months left in France) L

TED video of the day: A fascinating outlook on life and a new perspective on willpower and dedication. http://www.ted.com/talks/caroline_casey_looking_past_limits.html

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