Monday, March 29, 2010

So? Onward.

This will (most likely) be my final post from France - next Monday I'll be in Paris and I absolutely cannot be bothered to write a blog post when I have only 2 days there. From Paris, it's back to Chicago on Wednesday the 7th. Wow. I cannot believe that time has passed so quickly, and I am definitely not ready to go back to the states. While I am obsessed with my friends and family and cannot wait to see them, I've become comfortable in St Brieuc and absolutely love my life here. I don't even mind waking up at 6:30 to go to school because I have such a good time teaching the kids and hoping that I'm making a difference in their English educations. 

Shit! I'm going to have to break my own unspoken rule about "Sex and the City" references and pull a Carrie Bradshaw here: as I'm sitting here in the teacher's lounge on my last Monday at St Pierre, I can't help but wonder, what have I learned in my time here?
Damn you and your astute observations. You think you're cool with your trendy NYC apartment and sweet-ass wardrobe? Yeah, so do I. Failzorz.

I made a list of about 20 things that I can say I've "learned" while spending eleven weeks here, things ranging from how to request a pork-free galette in french to how the weather on June 4-6, 1944 affected the allied troops' landing plans at Normandy. But, upon further reflection, everything I've learned can be boiled down to one thing:

1. Yes. 

OK, I know that I generally shy-away from anything overly corny and/or emotional, but even the most sarcastic and wanna-be-apathetic twenty-somethings (read: me) have to give in to those deeply introspective experiences and accept that sometimes you just gotta let it go and write it down, cool-ness be damned. So? Yes. Don't worry - just know this: nothing can happen without first saying "yes" to your most ridiculous and outlandish dreams. Obviously, things don't always work out and really awful, shitty things happen along the way but at least you have this thought on your side: you're living it and that's better than sleeping through it. Trust me. And, I think my mom would be proud. 

So? On to Paris. And then a brief interlude in Chicago for a summer full of friends, kickball, Superdawg,  running in sprinklers, Cubs games, Lake Shore Drive, fireworks, sunburned shoulders, and Lake Michigan. 

But, for those of you wondering, "did you manage to embarrass yourself this past week in any special way?" Why yes! Yes I did! Glad you asked. This weekend I went to the Cote Granit Rose, an area about an hour away from St Brieuc that is home to the most amazing pink-granite-rock lined beaches. It's still along the English Channel, just to the east of where I'm living. There's a hiking path carved along the coast that snakes around for about 6 km, and there are huge rock formations that you can climb all over along the trail. 
Shown: heaven.

Being the adventurous type (ha!) I scurried up and attempted to scale what could only be described as a sheer rock face of slippery granite. There was a group of people on top, so I figured that they had gotten up by hoisting themselves over said sheer rock face. I desperately wanted a picture of me up there, so even those my first attempt was a failure, I tried again (cause hey, "yes!" and all that, right?), this time going at it at a run. I jumped up, missed the place where the rock jutted out to grab onto, screamed like an insane person, and fell on my ass. Hard. Picture Barney Rubble doing that leg-spinning wind up, running at a rock, crashing into it, and then falling. Only I was wearing my brown parka and don't have a pet dinosaur (yet). While another group of hikers ran over to make sure I was OK, my host family only chuckled and pointed to a sign saying "CAREFUL! SLIPPERY ROCKS!" Then, I saw that there were stairs on the other side to aid tourists in picture-taking opportunities. Sometimes even I wonder how I get myself into these situations. 

Of course, before I return to Chicago to continue my reign as falling champion of the Windy City, I have the opportunity to get myself into some excitingly awkward situations in Paris. I hope that many of them will involve stolen antiquities (not that I steal, of course - they've already been stolen from their places of origin by western colonizers. Ethnocentricity FTW!) and the like. Who doesn't appreciate an American getting too excited by the Nike of Samothrace and accidentally knocking it over? 
JK (Rowling), I'd never do anything to hurt her (intentionally).

My life should be in parentheses. 

Currently (re)reading: "Ordinary Men" by Christopher R. Browning
Currently listening to: iTunes genius mix based on "Nightswimming" by REM (love me some 90's soul-searchingly-delicious ballads)
Currently craving: Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

A wise man once said to me: "So? Onward." And onward I shall go. 

Peace, Love, and Voyages. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Je Peux Sortir Avec Les Vaches

I have reached my final resting place in France: I'm staying with the school accountant and her husband, in the small town (literally 9 square miles) of Hillion. Human population: 4,031; cow population: 1,456,324,123 and counting. They're everywhere. And the weirdest thing? I don't really mind the smell anymore.  But what I do mind is how they tend to stare. 
I DON'T KNOW YOU, COW! STOP JUDGING ME WITH YOUR EYES! (but it's cool how you provide us with delicious dairy products. Carry on.)

Let's see...last week was entirely uneventful. I managed to avoid embarrassing myself (for the most part); I read two books; I dropped some knowledge bombs on French children; and I even caught up on 30 Rock episodes. My life in St Brieuc has become increasingly normal and it's beginning to feel more and more like I live here. Which is equal parts awesome and sad because this is my second-to-last week teaching... and is also somewhat happy because, even though I've been planning my escape to Europe since I was 10, I do love the good old US-ofA and I miss my friends, family, and Manny (not Dusty, that little shit). 
except for my sister and her boyfriend because they are tan and pretty and just went to St Croix and I still look like Casper the Friendly Ghost's more-dead-looking Uncle Nuttellabelly

BUT! before I depart this wonderful country of baguettes and berets, I am going to visit Paris for two and a half days. I should probably save the buildup for next week's blog, so lock up your kids and hide your valuables, cause pictures of antiquities from the Louvre with witty captions will be present. 

Sunday there were regional election here, so I went to the city-hall/centre-ville/civic center place with my new host family to see what this whole "voting in France" thing was all about. I'm going to be honest: I was nervous. This was the perfect opportunity for my crazy/socially-awkward tendencies to rear their ugly head and get me arrested for tampering with the sacred process. I had visions of me stuffing the ballot box with pictures of George Washington, or perhaps standing just outside the curtains of the voting booths to frighten the unsuspecting citizens while holding a sparkler. I don't know where this stuff comes from, but it generally involves some sort of act of "patriotism." Woof? Indeed.
"Damnit Katie! Do you know how hard I worked to make us legit? I HAD DYSENTERY! YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW!"

OK, but really...I didn't do anything to shame the Founding Fathers. I stood quietly in the corner while my host family went about the voting procedure - identical to that of the US, only they put the actual envelope with the ballot into a clear box - and didn't so much as hum "Yankee Doodle". 

So, there was this one time (last Thursday) that it was 11:45 p.m. and I needed a pair of scissors to cut a tag that was itching my back. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a pair of scissors in my room, or the bathroom. I didn't want to go opening and closing cabinets all willy-nilly so late at night, so my genius mind came up with this: take my disposable razor, break it open, and use the blade to hack at the offending piece of cloth. Great plan, right?

Right. Until I actually tried to break open said razor. They are made surprisingly well and are in fact much more durable than one would think. During the ten minute period of time that I attempted to extract the blades, I managed to break three nails, cut both of my thumbs, get spots of blood on my sleeping-shirt, and break the blades in half.

Flash-foward to 12:12 a.m. : I have tissues wrapped around my thumbs, I have a half-cut-off tag hanging off of my shirt, and now I don't even have a razor. Needless to say, if you can't find scissors and your tag is bothering you, change your damn shirt and leave the razors alone. There is a reason they are encased in plastic. I felt very Liz Lemonesque as I was standing in the kitchen at half past midnight  munching on some bread and I saw scissors sticking out of a drawer. BLERG.

Things that are hard to explain with my level of French-speaking ability:
1. The Health-Care Bill
2. Why people don't like the Health-Care Bill
3. Why it took so long to pass
4. Why Americans don't always get to retire
...basically most things that are politically relevant. But hey, who doesn't enjoy perpetuating the stereo-type that all Americans are poorly informed?

Currently listening to: Nirvana Nevermind
Currently reading: "The Sea" by John Banville
Currently craving: a title for my thesis. I proposed "Naked Ladies on Vases: THE MUSICAL!" but that didn't fly; I've gotten "Not Your Mother's Flower Vase", "Women on Vases and the Men Who Loved Them NOT", and "Diet Coke and it's Influence on the Roman Empire: How Naked Ladies Took Over" by various members of my family. Not to sound ungrateful, and I won't name name's here (but it rhymes with Grace), but my thesis has nothing to do with the Roman Empire (but, to be fair, everything to do with Diet Coke). Suggestions? Also, BASEBALL SEASON IS NIGH. 

13 days, children. 13. days.

Peace, Love, and Opening Day!
- Blowfish.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Howard! Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love Canada

This Monday morning finds me in an unusually chipper mood. Maybe it's due to me displaying my Cubbie pride; perhaps it's due to the sunshine. Either way... good times.

 = I have a sweet collection of tee-shirts. 

I spent this past weekend in Caen, Normandy in order to tour the memorial museum and some of the sites related to D-Day. Overall, it was a completely amazing experience and I can't wait to go back, hopefully with my family in tow. 

Friday night I arrived in Caen after a brutally long train ride (almost 5 hours for what could've been a 2 hour car ride. Damn you French rail-system), checked into my hotel, and went out for a stroll/in search of Diet Coke. The city of Caen is pretty large, and it has a couple of really gorgeous cathedrals that managed to withstand the German occupation, bombing, and subsequent American occupation during WWII. Caen is famous (according to Katie, and that's really all that matters) for being the home to William the Conquerer, his thigh bone, the first big city in France to be liberated after D-Day, and a really convenient tramway and bus system. 

it runs like buttah

After a delicious meal of a kebab and chips, I returned to my hotel to watch Dexter and to take advantage of having wireless in the evening and therefore the ability to chat with people in the states who don't wake up before noon. 

Saturday morning I woke up to grey skies and a craving for a pain-au-chocolat, so I got dressed, put my trusty guide book (a big thank-you to Matt and Hanna for sending me a great guide to Brittany and Normandy for the holidays! It's been a big help, as was the 10 euro note I found tucked inside) in my purse, wrapped my Arsenal scarf around my neck, and set out. After securing said pain-au-chocolat and a DC (it's never too early), I went to the bus stop to wait for the #2 bus to the Caen Memorial. My tour wasn't set to begin until 1 p.m., but I wanted to get to the museum a few hours early to look around, as I'd read that there are great archives there and a film about D-Day that was definitely worth seeing before getting to the beaches yourself. I sat myself down on the bus stop bench, took out Balzac, and was quickly absorbed into late 1890's Parisian culture. So absorbed, in fact, that I missed the first bus. And the second. I looked up in time to see the second one zoom by, and being the city-slicker that I am I jumped up and attempted to run after it for about a block before giving up. I was so annoyed with myself for missing a bus twice that I kicked the ground like an angry two year old and was given a reproving look by a man reading his paper at an outdoor cafe. I turned red and retreated back to the bus stop, head hanging, sad Charlie Brown music playing in the background. 

exactly George Michael, exactly.

When the third bus came, however, I was all over it like Arsene Wenger to a 15 year-old prodigy. The Caen Memorial is designed not to be a museum to D-Day but instead to be a memorial to the battle and the soldiers that fought and died there. As such, there is an entire section devoted to Nobel Peace Prize laureates, and a replica of the statue of the gun tied in a knot from the United Nations building in New York. The archives, it turns out, are accessible only to "friends of the museum"(aka rich people who give money) so I had to be content with perusing the general collection. It was pretty cool nonetheless. 

After leaving the petite bibliotheque I saw the 20-minute film the memorial put together to show the preparations leading up to D-Day, and then the attack. There is a surprising amount of original film available, and the director split the screen so that on the right hand side one saw the Germans building all sorts of blockades along the Normandy coast, and then on the left hand side there was montage of images showing the American, British, Canadian, and French forces gearing up for the attack. The two images came together to show some film of the storming of the beaches. The director then cut away to show the Norman coast as it is today - beautiful and serene. It was an incredibly interesting juxtaposition of imagery and it really put what I saw later into perspective. So, if you're planning a visit, make sure to check it out. 
Omaha Beach today, as seen from the American Cemetery

At 1 p.m. I met up with my tour group, which turned out to be three men from Norway (two brothers and their father), and me. It was pretty cool to be in such a small group because I was able to ask as many questions as I wanted and have the full attention of the guide while the Norwegians were translating what she was saying to their dad. This was our itinerary:
1. Arromanches: you can see the remains of the floating port that the British made (at Gold beach) still in the water. The Americans set one up at Omaha, but the storm that happened a few days after June 6 destroyed it beyond repair. 
2. Longues-sur-Mer: German artillery base. The remains of about six huge German bunkers are here - only one is destroyed and only partially so you can really see how well built their "pill-box" shaped armaments were. It's open, so you can walk in and around them and even sit where the Germans did to man the weapons.
3. The American Cemetery in Normandy: this space is actually technically American property, given to us by the French government. Fun fact: last year during the 65th anniversary celebrations, President Obama welcomed President Sarkozy to the cemetery, not the other way around. The cemetery itself looks a lot like Arlington National Cemetery in its overall layout, but of course it is much different. There's not much to say about it - you have to go there to really experience it. It overlooks part of Omaha beach and all of the names on the crosses/stars of David are facing west towards the United States. Suffice to say I spent my hour there weeping intermittently and feeling extremely proud to be an American. 
4. Omaha Beach: we were taken to what is known as the "bloodiest sector" of Omaha beach, and it's immediately apparent why: the tall bluffs that line the beach are pock-marked with German artillery bases tucked safely into them. If you've ever seen "Saving Private Ryan", this is the part at the beginning where it looks like the American soldiers are being shot like fish in a barrel. Because they were. It's astonishing that anyone was able to get off those boats, let alone be victorious in their mission. I learned a lot about the Allied tactics, the German tactics, and about how all of the plans for the Allied powers got screwed up thanks to the weather. The amount of planning that went into this assault...I was just blown away by this part. There are still "dragons teeth" (giant cement pyramids set in the water to stop boats) along the shore line that give visitors a taste of the inanimate objects erected to stop an attack. I could go on for a while, so if you want your ear talked off about all this, just call me...
5. Point du Hoc: literally "point of the point" where American Rangers scaled a cliff to cut off the German guns that were up there. This is one of those stories that you hear and your mouth drops open, your palms sweat thinking about it, and then you say to yourself "if that were me, I would've pissed my pants and died, my body laying on the ground as a defensive position the only thing I could've hoped to do to help". A taste of what happened: the Rangers (an elite sect of the army) were given the task of surprising the Germans before D-Day and cutting off their guns so that they couldn't stop boats coming/soldiers who were trying to take the beach. The weather was so crappy that their boats, however, got pushed way off course, and by the time they got to the cliff the battle had started so the Germans were none-too-surprised. Nevertheless, these guys SCALED A CLIFF with ladders and ropes, climbing head-on into German forces. They engaged in TWO DAYS OF HAND-TO-HAND combat, and didn't even find the guns right away. They found decoy guns. OK, let's say I managed to get up the cliff, and I storm over to the gun with a grenade in my hand, only to find out that they're fake. I would have probably pissed my pants and died, AGAIN. Instead, the Rangers followed tracks in the mud to where the real guns were and finished that shit. I can't even express how in awe I am of those men. And my silly little rendition of what they went through does in no way properly express what happened. Wow. 
Scale that with enemy fire raining down on you, and get back to me

After an amazing midday like that, what do you to end it? Sit at a cafe and write about my experience? Meditate on the horror of war and its repercussions? Oh right, go shopping. Obvi. 

to be fair, I needed to get some DC for the evening.

Saturday night I decided to eat dinner at a small restaurant advertising galettes (a salty version of a crepe made with eggs and various cheeses and meats) and crepes. I sat down to a table by myself, but within about a minute the table awkwardly close to mine was inhabited by a older gentleman, also by himself. I didn't say anything to him but instead continued to read Old Goriot and be anti social. When the waitress came, however, the man asked if she had a menu in English. I decided to be nice and offer to translate the menu for him, beginning with the question "Oh, are you American?""Canadian!", the man responded to me. And right there, in an ordinary creperie in Caen, a beautiful friendship blossomed. This wonderfully friendly Canadian is a jewish doctor from outside of Toronto (not around London, the only place I know in Ontario besides Toronto) who is currently touring Europe as a chaperone with his son's high school. We chatted all through dinner about various topics, including, but not limited to:
1. His daughter's college applications
2. Hockey
3. The weather in Canada
4. How he feels about being a Jew in western Europe
5. Hockey
6. His son's college applications
7. Hockey

Mid-way through the meal I spotted a large group of young people walking down the street, the majority of them wearing team Canada hockey jerseys. "Is that your group?" I asked. "Oh, yeah! That's my son, the one in the Canada jersey. No, not that one. The other one. No, the other one. Yeah, that's him." His son was a skinny looking kid with an appropriate 15-year-old-boy-emo-haircut who caught sight of his dad, half-waved, and then ran away with his friends. I thought that Canadians all wore flannel shirts and moose-skins as coats, but boy was I off base. Turns out "Canadians" are much like "Americans", but with a queen and monopoly money. This man, this Howard, was a gem among men. Vive la Canada. 
What we would call a "Canuck"

Sunday morning welcomed me with a bright, sunny sky, and an espresso at the cafe downstairs from my hotel. There just happened to be a market going on in the middle of the street, so while I munched on my pain au lait I couldn't help but feel just a teensy bit stereotypical...and I loved it. I might've let a smile or two slip, but then I quickly recovered and arranged my face in an appropriate grimace while I read the used copy of East of Eden in French that I found at the market. Cue the Edith Piaf.

After breaky, I went to the Musee de Beaux Arts, Caen's small but impressive fine art museum. They had a great collection of 17th century oil paintings, so I did what I also do at museums and bought postcard sized prints of them to frame and put in my room (slash apartment in London next fall!!!!). #DIY'sthatnevergetdoneFAIL

Alors, I'm back at St Pierre. I just got done eating lunch and hanging out outside with the cool French kids from terminale that I try and buddy around with. I even managed to get some pictures with my compy whilst schooling them on the importance of Snoop Dogg and The Smiths via my iTunes.

Little known fact: France is in black and white. Weird, but strangely appropriate.

And, before the usual, I have disturbing breaking news: hipsters have commandeered the monocle. Once an accoutrement for the aristocratic upper class of sweet European countries, it has now become an ironic statement of apathy. Awful

Appropriate use of a monocle. 

Currently reading: Faustine by Emma Tennant
Currently listening to: LCD Soundsystem Sound of Silver (in a totally non-ironic way)
Currently craving: Band of Brothers on DVD (I left the copy of the series that I took from my poppa at home. woof-tastic.)


Peace, Love, and Tom Hanks.

- Blowfish.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Act II, in which I dance with a Priest

The first week back after vacation was nothing exciting...I spent a lot of time daydreaming about Thailand; planning my trip to Normandy (12/3-14/3); and not really productive in any way, shape, or form. But hey, I'm still in France and continually getting better at speaking, so I got that going for me. I've also spent an inordinate amount of time on my computer, organizing my iTunes (having been motivated by a facebook update by Micaela indicating that she was doing the same thing), looking at pretty things I can't have (specifically the shoes from Sonia Rykiel's spring/summer 2010 ready-to-wear line* that would literally break my bank account into a thousand tiny pieces), waiting around on gchat for my friends and family to wake up and chat with me, learning about English grammar (thanks to: ) and hey, I finally made a decision about graduate school!

*not that this is a fashion blog; I leave that to the professionals:

After much deliberation, I've decided that I'm headed to University College London's Institute of Archaeology, to commence Fall 2010. Start saving your pennies and come visit me!

Last Thursday, I had the chance to go to the grammar school of Lea (the 8 year old daughter of the family I'm currently staying with) to teach them childrens how to talk good. Her school is very small, and goes from Pre-K - 5th grade. I arrived at school during recess, in which I had the opportunity to do something I am rarely able to do: observe toddlers at play in their natural environment. For some reason, I had never really appreciated how hilarious children are when left to their own devices... it's like watching a 60 Minutes episode on the dangers of hallucinogenic drugs. The kids stumble around and  trip in their untied shoes; they weave in an out of the older kids' legs; they growl and scream at each other incoherently as if they're deep in a 'Nam flashback; they start playing games but get distracted by bits of dust flying around in the air; they fall at random intervals and start crying before realizing there's nothing wrong and then they get up and walk away as if nothing happened. All of this is happening while their coats are only half on, their winter hats and gloves have been abandoned to the asphalt, and most of them have some sort of liquid (be it snot, spit, or some sort of melange) on or around their noses/mouths. 

When I did get into the classrooms with the children, they had the best questions about America I have ever heard. I don't know what the French are teaching these kids about life in the states, but I sincerely hope they never change their curriculum:
1. How do people walk in the USA?
2. Do you have electricity?
3. How many famous people do you live with?
4. Do computers exist where you live?
5. How do people get from place to place in America?
...and of course, the inevitable:
1. How many children do you have?
2. Oh, well then what is your husband's name?
3. OK but what's your boyfriend's name?
4. Do you have a horrible disease that prevents people from wanting to be near you? 
(ok that last one I just inferred from their confused and pitying faces) ...Yet again, pwned by France's youth. Thanks for reminding me to feed my 35 cats. 

Newest use for a scarf: cheese-catcher. As in, "I'm glad I had my cheese-catcher on today, cause I found that piece of Camembert from earlier and boy was it delicious."

Saturday: I made a Texas Chocolate Cake for Lea's school party ("Soiree DISCO"). It was OK, but rather dry due to the fact that French people have never heard of buttermilk so I had to substitute it for regular milk and lemon juice (yeah, that's a valid substitution so lay off me!), and I think I could've added a bit more butter. Which is just downright ironic seeing as how Bretons (people from La Bretagne) put salted butter on everything (that, and eggs. We had pizza last night with cheese, anchovies, and eggs as toppings. Also known as taking something that Katie loves and turning it into a weird hybrid of tastes that shouldn't be combined. Ever).
Above "beurre de Bretagne sale": the reason my pants are too tight. Woof.

So, yes, on Saturday night I did indeed go to the "Soiree Disco" with the fam. It reminded me a lot of when I was younger and we had functions at our primary schools, except this time there was alcohol. Something you should know: French people drink constantly during the weekend. Saturday morning I woke up to the doorbell - the neighbors were coming over (11 a.m.) for drinks. Saturday afternoon: repeat. Saturday night: Disco party where the Kir (creme de cassis + white wine) was a-flowin' like beer and I was standing awkwardly trying to understand slightly drunk French conversations. It was sort of like Aspen.

Lloyd Christmas: I'm talkin about a place where the beer flows like wine, where the women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano. I'm talkin about Aspen.

Harry: I don't know Lloyd, the French are assholes.
(photo taken of me and Julia on her motorbike in Pai)

The children apparently decided to say "screw you" to the "disco" theme, cause every child under the age of 10 was wearing some sort of randomly selected halloween costume. I saw an indian, a Cleopatra, several princes/princesses, fairies, a dragon (awesome), ninjas, a chef, some soccer players and even some vampires (even more awesome). I guess that "soiree" means "dress up as what you want to be when you grow up, and yes mom I'm going to be a dragon so take your dreams of me becoming a doctor and spread that on your toast and eat it."

Also in attendance at the disco was the new priest in town. This young gun is in Hillion (the small town outside of St Brieuc where I currently reside with my new fam) to help the old priest phase into retirement and then take over for him - I guess that's how things work in the Church. So, being the token "jew" in St Brieuc/Hillion, I was of course introduced to the priest as such and was then berated with questions about judaism. I felt like an awful person, parading around as a chosen one when in fact I am only half chosen, but I answered his questions nonetheless. The priest then asked me to dance. To the song "YMCA". I shit you not. But what was I going to say? "No" to a holy man? So there I was, living a double life, dancing with a priest, to the Village People. 

Currently listening to: Grizzly Bear Veckatimest
Currently reading: Old Goriot by HonorĂ© de Balzac (as in, "it's hot as", right Rachel?). I finished Satori in Paris, and absolutely loved it. Although I have to admit that reading about the drunken exploits of Jack Kerouac in Brittany couldn't really turn out any other way... 
Currently craving: an anecdote for Nutella- addiction


= delish-tastic. 

Peace, Love, and Hazelnutty-goodness
- Blowfish.