Thursday, October 28, 2004


Money, money, money ... it's a rich man's world

Okay, so I'm not heading out to Normandy this week, or rather anywhere, because I have let the exchange rate from dollars to euros seriously let the steam out of my bank account. So for now, I'm going to lay low and explore Chateau Gontier. I was disappointed by this, but I do realize now that once the Academie starts paying me I'll have that thing that Braveheart was so enthusiastic about: Faramir. No, wait. Freedom.

So I'm going to be going to Omaha beach someday, and I'm going to be going to Pompeii someday. Not "someday" or Someday, but some actual day, coming relatively soon.

In the meantime I've got myself some elections to watch in the beautiful city of Nantes.

Also a big hello to Mackenzie, who is now monkeying around in Europe (ho, ho, ho!).

Okay, I have to go write a guilt trip now.

World Series

Dude, this baseball lately - it's been stellar! It's been like the World Series of Baseball!

So it's nice to know the Red Sox are what we might call 'fashionably late'. 18 years after the infamous Mookie Wilson and something like 12 years after I moved away from New England, Boston is finally swarming with people who have reason to swarm.

Points for the person who knows what I'm thinking right now but won't say for fear of jinxing everything.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Machine Ate My Post

I updated, but the Machine ate my post. (UPDATE: the Machine told me it ate my post but it lied. BAD MACHINE!)

In sum:

1) I voted! Hooray for democracy!

2) Vacation has started, and it's been quite difficult to find Internet access. I hope to post every day or two. I'm also looking at trying to get myself out on a trip, but there is a funds problem until they start paying me.

So you wish me luck, and in return I will wish you luck (Good luck!)

Vacation Makes the Internet Hard to Find

Good morning, world! I'm at City Hall right now (la Maierie, like where they make Mayors) typing into an incontrovertably French keyboard. Do I have pictures? Oh, yes! Can you see them? Sorry, no. I have, at present, no way to actually upload them. In fact, Internet connectivity in general is going to be hard for about a week.

I am going to plan a quick trip for the rest of vacation now - wish me luck and I'll keep in touch as much as I can.

Also, I voted the other day! Somebody send me a button that says "I am a good American!"

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Hey, A Snail

I just found this guy hanging out on the curb on my way back from school the other day. He's the third snail I've seen so far in France (and the 0th I've eaten).

Photo: Escargot

Jesus Saves ALCS

Jesus Christ pulled out of his batting slump with 6 RBIs yesterday to lead the Boston Red Sox to a 10 - 3 victory over the New York Yankees. The Red Sox' game 7 victory at Yankee Stadium assures their berth in this year's World Series and also caps an unprecendented ALCS comeback that has some Yankee fans grumbling about divine intervention.

Bud Selig, Commissioner of Major League Baseball, noted after the game that there was no hard evidence of deus ex machina and reiterated that Christ's contract specifically stipulates his ejection from MLB if the league ever finds he has used his family connections to influence the outcome of a game.

Churches in New York City are being torn down at a record pace.


Pictures: Jesus rocks the Yanks (1) (2)

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

It's Really Great Here When The Sun Shines

And the sun is shining now. It's beautiful but I'm so very tired because I went to bed too late and got up too early (I haven't had 8AM classes since 1997).

So I'm going to tease a couple of new entries and then sneak home. Did you know, by the way, that French schools close for Wednesday afternoons? The kids have been gone for 3 and a half hours now.

Okay, so coming up: My Big Regional Election Story, My Weekend of Young People, I Saw Sleepy Hollow, Things I Have Seen In The Supermarkets, and Hey, A Snail.

May the Force be with you!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

You Are So Not Even Going to BELIEVE This

Okay, so thank you for all your suggestions regarding teenage giggle monsters. I can only conclude that that - monsters - is what we're dealing with here, based on these highly-specific comments.

But my worry right now is not related to teenagers at all. In fact, it's related to my bad morning.

The apartment I was supposed to move into the 22nd is now blocked off by construction. Because of this, the butcher/landlord (ha ha ha) refuses to lease the apartment. Therefore I get no official legal address. Therefore I can't get my carte de sejour today. Therefore I cannot get myself set up to receive my salary.

So it's not a crisis, it's just another thing in this country where bureacracy can tear your legs out from under you. I'll update as soon as I know more.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Teenage Girls

I seriously want your comments on this one. Do teenage girls giggle at all points during their busy, busy days? Or just all points when a foreigner is trying to get them to speak English?

It's like there's a third language going on. I am mystified. Also terrified.

No Carte de Sejour

I will spare you the gritty details now because it's time to go home and I'm hungry, but this morning I grabbed the bus up to Laval (30 km, maybe?) to go to the prefecture and obtain my Carte de Sejour, which allows me to get paid and avoid being tossed out of the country, etc.

It turns out that I need to either have a permanent address or return to the prefecture bearing Odette's ID card and a copy of one of her old electricity bills.

Basically, in order to live in France for a while it's very necessary that you prove you already live in France. Thank you, The French.

But I'm moving to my new place in one week, and it seems to have stopped raining, and then there's DAS WEEKEND. Few weekends have been as welcome in memory as this one.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Tune in to the Site Feed

Hey, guys -

If you're using a really modern web browser (think Firefox/Mozilla, OmniWeb 5) or an RSS reader, you can know right quick when I've updated the blog.

Some RSS readers:

Grab one, then point it at this url:

And presto!

Culture Shock

Viel Ketchup: g'schmackig rot!

The First Pictures Are Nigh

Here are the first few pictures! I've only got big files available right now, so please be good about not tromping all over Cathy's bandwidth.

In Nantes (from last Sunday):

In Chateau Gontier (where I live now):

The Green Bay Packers

I'm sorry? On paper we have a very solid offense and a defense that (in theory) should be able to muster some fight.

Who ordered this? Am I their near-distance good luck charm or something? Who do I have to call to get this fixed?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Three (Five, Sir!) Announcements

Hello, boys and girls! We have two announcements today! The first is that classes start for me this week. The second is that, starting October 22, I will be living in a real apartment in the middle of Chateau Gontier. The interior is pink, but in all other respects it is perfect. Details in a separate blog entry.

Oh, I guess there is a third announcement, too. It seems that a mere 45 kilometers from here there is a chateau (huge house / castle) that has just been bought by someone from New Jersey. If you pretend to like the Jets you may be able to wrangle a night or two in the guest house.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Official Beret Count, 8 Days In-Country:


What a Weekend

Oh, God. France is such a social country. On Friday I made plans to have Saturday's dinner at the home of the same English teacher (Madame Rossini) who put me up for those first couple of days, and who I greatly inconvenienced by waking up so late both days. Sunday was supposed to be open and free.

Things changed. Saturday I slept about 12 hours and woke to a rainy gray day. I popped off to the supermarket (InterMarché) for a baguette and some Vanilla Coke. Fire up your sociology texts; am I French or American?

InterMarché which also sells drugstore things and has a section for movies and CDs and video games. I'm tempted by Myst IV, but I don't know for certain that it will run on my PowerBook, plus I didn't exactly come to France to play Myst, y'know.

The point is that I only went out once. The rest of the day was too nasty to venture out for very long - quite cold and raining on and off. Madame Ferrand from next door (also the school secretary) has lent me a bicycle, but it was a bad day to explore without, say, a parka.

So by the time 6:00 rolled around, I was listless and not quite ready for a big dinner thing. I say 'big dinner thing' because in France the whole process is more drawn out than in the U.S. For example, I arrived at about 6:30, and we sat and talked for a bit. I met the Rossini sons and saw some pictures. We had an apertif (that's a before-dinner cocktail / drink thing, for those not in the know) and listened to some music.

Did you know that there's a French dude called Johnny Halliday whose sole schtick since the '60s has been snagging American songs, translating the lyrics to French, performing the songs, and getting very very rich off it? Kind of like how everybody (ahem) borrowed Twist and Shout from the Isley Brothers and didn't even say thank you.

(This will be as good a place as any to warn you that since every single minute of my journey so far has been fraught with learning, I am very very likely to have 17 diversions for every one main point I'm trying to make. It's probably just as frustrating for me as it is for you. Please bear with us as we resolve this technical difficulty.)

Dinner itself was delicious and very French (from the region of Savoie) - three kinds of meat in thin slices (ham, I think) and boiled potatoes. You crack them 'taters open and here's where the magic happens. There's a heating rack in the center of the table that melts slices of cheese for you. Once your cheese is ready, you let it fall directly onto the potato. Yum.

But this was not the extent of dinner; no, Precious. The French do a lot of their living at mealtimes - it's important that the food be well-made and authentic, it's a time for togetherness, and it's a sort of conversation space that I'm not used to seeing in the States these days.

So we had an hour or two of good food and conversation. The discussion turned briefly to zombies, so you know I loved it. My delighted fascination with the walking dead mirrors my excitement vis-à-vis androids (not robots, mind you, but androids who look like you and me but harbor an uneraseable hatred of all that breathes in their cold metallic hearts). Maybe I am just a bit odd. If you have any other suggestions, I'm waiting to hear them.

After dinner we retired to the living room, where we had more music. It seems that a lot, if not the majority of, music in France is imported from the United States and England. Over the course of the night we hit up Bob Dylan, Santana, the Eagles, the Smashing Pumpkins, Tom Jones (!), Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, Guns 'n Roses, Eric Clapton, and a few others. Only a couple of the songs I heard the other night were French language.

Ask me how odd it was to hear Johnny Halliday singing "Until the Midnight Hour" IN FRENCH followed by a live version of "Smoke on the Water" in the middle of the French countryside on a quiet rainy night. I will tell you it was a crazy experience but the speakers were great, so I've never heard a better version of "Smoke on the Water."

Madame Rossini went to bed, and her husband and I retired to the TV room to watch a concert DVD. We had Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Yngwie Malmsteen (Did I get his name right? Who cares?) ripping unbelievable sounds out of guitars. For my money, by the way, it's Satriani all the way.

After a good bit of being amazed by the crazy guitarists, I went off to make my evening phone calls and go to bed (they had offered me some sleeping space, too). The total time for the dinner experience topped six hours. A lovely time.

The problem came when I slept 12 hours. I woke up absolutely mortified and arranged my exit as soon as I could. I have this thing about sleeping late at other peoples' houses. I can't stand it.

Of course, then I worried that I offended them by leaving their house within five minutes of waking up.

Odette says I didn't do anything wrong, and I hope she's right.

Turns out that in my absence I was invited to lunch next door - that's the home of Madame Ferrand, the school secretary. So I did the whole thing again, but for lunch this time. I ate with Monsieur and Madame Ferrand, their daughter Valerie, and her boyfriend Thierry. Oh, and the dog (Chippy, I think), who likes to eat napkins. It was again wholly pleasant (the French practice Southern Hospitality), and it lasted perhaps four hours.

So I had a totally French weekend. And, once again, I'm ready for bed.

For next weekend I'm going to do one of the following:

  • Meet up with Doogie and Melissa in Paris

  • Visit Le Mans with Maribel (Spanish teacher, you remember)

  • Visit the seashore with the Rossini family

  • Go picking mussels with the Ferrand family

I haven't the faintest clue which, and in the meantime I absolutely must get to Laval for my Carte de Sejour, otherwise they will kick me out of France with extreme prejudice.

Forgive me for rambling like I did, by the way, but with all the overwhelmingly new stuff I've been seeing and experiencing, my mind is set on 'Omni', perhaps permanently. We shall see if it decides to calm down.

Saturday, October 09, 2004


On Saturday, October 9, my friend Daniel W. Fisher, Jr. married his longtime companion, Melissa. Though I was too far away to attend the wedding, my thoughts were with them on the big day. If I'm lucky, I get to see them for a bit when they come by Paris for their honeymoon.

Yes, yes, I know. It's their honeymoon. Yes, I know. Right, I know. I promise I won't intrude. No, really! Geez, get off my case!

How am I?

Hey, I'm doing alright out here. Despite the setbacks I've had, despite the language difficulty, despite how hard it was to leave home. I got here, and I'm going forth. I did it. I made it.

Ma Chat Va Manger Le Soleil

Many thanks to Gael for the image hosting and the title of this post.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Ma Tete Va Exploder

One of the biggest single components of my experience here so far has been the Big Ol' Language Barrier. My French is, like, waaay rusty, and it breaks my head into little pieces when I work to understand then make myself understood for hours at a time.

Now, I realize my job here is to speak English, but you can't just go and do that all the time if you're stuck way out in the bloody French countryside. It just isn't done, right?

It's also very cool that I'm working among six regular teachers of English, so there are plenty of people I can rely on to tell me what the words are if I'm having trouble. But even then, I feel like I'm expected to try to work my way out of whatever linguistic hole I've dug myself into by using my French.

So I need to rein in the ambition right now. It's enough to use simple sentences to convey simple concepts right now. My natural inclination, of course, is to do the opposite. Someday you should try to carry on a discussion comparing the relative merits and history of French and American table manners when you can't remember the damn word for spoon.

When I last re-started my education in French, it was similarly hard at first. But my teacher told me later that after three weeks I was totally back in business. I'm almost at one now, and I'm improving already. Wish me luck!

I Have A Place to Stay

This afternoon I got something I have been yearning for all week: a place to unpack and call my own, if only for a while. Since the apartment the teachers here had picked out for me won't be available until November, we had to scramble.

The school secretary gave me a bunch of addresses and an offer. If I wanted, she would introduce me to her neighbor, who had a little space to rent out.

Turns out her neighbor is a 71-year-old great-grandmother with some converted garage space to spare. Along with the secretary and an English teacher (without whose aid with shelter, bank accounts, the rules of savoir vivre, and this I would probably have died), I took a look at the space.

We negotiated a price of 155 euros for the time up to October 31st, with an option to renew if the other apartment doesn't open up or meet my needs.

Now, it's true that I'm living in a converted garage for a bit, but the bedroom is finished, and I have a kitchen and separate sink room, water closet (read: toilet, just like Sabotage House), and shower room. It's actually a good deal of space - bigger than my apartment in Chicago.

And there's the people-perk thing, too. I'll get a ride to school mornings from the secretary, there's a dog here (Louis) who seems to like popping over to say hello, and my hostess has told me in no uncertain terms that I am not to clean my clothes, wash my dishes, or make the bed. Like she might hurt me if I do the dishes.

It's a good arrangement for a few weeks, and it's been fun to try to make myself understood - though she speaks only French, we're doing a good job of communicating.

Next comes my class schedule and the dreaded Carte de Sejour. That's more administrative paperwork stuff, but it's absolutely essential to have. I will have an entry on French bureaucracy soon. For now, it's time to sleep.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

I Live!

Okay, Nantes to a small town named Chateau Gontier (say it, everybody! SHAT-o GHON-tyaay) where we have our school.

So I'm here now, but we have some extra paperwork problems to deal with and everybody's speaking French, which is like, waaay confusing.

Lunchtime now here at the school, but there will be actual information in the next post. You're going to love it.


Sunday, October 03, 2004

Chicago, Zurich, Paris, Nantes

Bonjour le monde!

It's 4:30 PM here in Nantes and I have just returned from a tour of the city, courtesy of my host for the weekend, Maribel. This place is gorgeous, and I got to take a bunch of pictures and just soak in the atmosphere. We had couscous for lunch outside at a cafe where a three-piece band played (I think) "Midnight in Moscow."

Words (the ones I have right now, at least) fail. Plus the French keyboards are just wrong - so more later. For now, I'm just putting the word out that I made it. Hey, everybody, I made it!

Y'all can take a seat now. I'm going to call my girlfriend. More soon!