Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Aw crap


I hate to post nothing but bad news, but is there anybody out there who can look at this movie ad for Star Wars M&Ms and not feel despair?

The Dark Lords of the Sith approach - always two there are, and this time we have Darth Insipid and his apprentice Darth Incredibly Banal.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

I Just Went To A French Party

And it was wild.

I got kissed on the neck twice by a Frenchman with big hair named (I think) Bushie.

Turns out I crashed the place because I had given up my Swiss Army knife to someone (Bushie) who came to my door asking for a corkscrew. This is the knife my Dad gave me for my birthday years ago, and certain readers (Meredith, for example. Hi, Meredith!) will remember that I nearly didn't board a plane to San Francisco once because airport security wanted to incinerate it. I was horrified!

So I certainly wasn't going to lend my knife to a raucous party and then let it disappear forever. I HAD TO FOLLOW IT.

I did, in my gangly and unkempt American way. Everybody was very nice but I totally got that feeling you get when you don't really belong. But there was a nice girl who gave me some wine and a Scottish/French guy who I talked with for a while and before I knew it I was kind of hanging out in the midst of the people and nearly getting spilt on a lot. And of course I'm the guy who gets into a protracted conversation with a drunk Frenchman (also Bushie) regarding the potential French rejection of the European Constitution. That always happens to me.

You remember how great those college parties were? When you had all your friends together, even the ones from far away, and you just tore the place up for hours? It was like one of those Minnesota parties from the Madison days except I didn't know anybody.

I can hear them right now. They're singing. The French, I am happy to report, are totally hardcore.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Newspaper Celebrity, Part III

In November I appeared in the local weekly paper Haut-Anjou.
In December I appeared in the regional daily Ouest-France.

I got a taste for celebrity, and it's about to happen again. The medium of my fame this time? Le Couac. Say it, everybody! Luh Quack!

This is the school newspaper. In about 5 minutes I'm going for an interview. Before long I will RULE THIS SCHOOL. Man, I hope they ask me which teachers totally get on my nerves...

Totally Kafka-ed Out

I had eight people in today's Terminale - L class. They're good students and they speak pretty good English, so I knew I could count on them to do a good job with a high-level exercise.

The premise is that there was a nasty murder (or something heinous) last night, and everybody is a suspect. They were all in pairs. Give them 10 minutes to work together to construct an alibi, then pick a pair.

One of them is sent out of the room and the other is kept and questioned. Then the exiled person comes back and also gets questioned. If their stories don't match up then it's pretty clear we're dealing with at least one guilty party.

So I decided to spruce the place up a bit while the suspects were out of the room. We closed off the sunlight with the blinds, turned most of the lights out, and arranged the room as a semicircle facing the suspects' table. In other words, we made it SCARY.

It was a riot! The questioners really got into it and did an excellent job of pushing for little details and in general letting the Accused know that this tribunal was not their friend. It was funny, it was scary, it was fantastic. It seems if you just let smart kids run with what language skills they've got, you get really good results.

Score one for them, one for Kafka, and one for me (because I didn't have to do any actual work).

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Someone Sent Me A CAKE!

Wow! I got in to school this morning and there's a note taped to my locker that says "Surprise" (that's French for "surprise"). It points me to the fridge, where there's a big green box with a huge and delectable-looking cake! It says "Happy Birthday Mathiew."

How fantastic! Rumor swirling around here says my parents did it - specifically that my dad called a boulangerie in France and had them make a cake to deliver this morning. HOW HOT IS THAT?

I submit: very, very hot!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Just Pictures: Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Big Big Big Trip

There's a problem with my internet connection at home so I'm keeping this short.

Friday I went with the Germans to Paris. Saturday with several fine folk (and some who should be kept far away from children) to Caen in Normandy, and then to the 1944 beaches. Omaha to Gold, then Juno. Sunday: Utah beach, Point du Hoc, and the city of Bayeux for a monster tapestry.

Monday to Chartres to climb the gigantic-est cathedral I've ever seen: Notre Dame de Chartres. It's in really bad shape, but I foolishly climbed it anyway.

Details and pictures to come, but I just wanted to update quick before a little meeting with a teacher and then back home.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Germans, Part II

It's too late at night before a really early day to be writing, but I'm doing it anyway. I'm off to Paris for most of tomorrow with the Germans. The German exchange students, that is. I don't think I mentioned in my last post that the field trip was with the French and the German exchange students.

I don't honestly know what the plan is, there, but I'm going to be pleasant and well-mannered and then I'm going to sneak off to Normandy the next day. I'll see the beaches. It's important.

Tonight I had two pints of Beamish in an Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirish-ish pub in the middle of nowhere, France. News flash: I saw no Irish people.

Okay, go prank somebody!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Best Field Trip EVER

This is why it was a good idea to go to France. I don't know what anybody else's Wednesday looked like, but I skipped out of my classes to join a field trip to Mont Saint-Michel and Saint-Malo.

What does that mean?

The first part of my day I spent at Mont Saint-Michel, a fortified abbey that was built over the course of 500 years on a 300-foot hill of rock that juts out of the English channel. At high tide, it's surrounded by water. At low tide, it's surrounded by quicksand. Forget about finding a watch in the desert; if you want a natural formation to make you suspicious that some mischievous mind was planning stuff from the beginning, then this is what you're looking for.

Picture: I spent the morning at Mont Saint Michel.

The afternoon I spent in Saint-Malo, a fortified coastal city that was a center of pirate activity for a couple hundred years. This place just blew me away.

Picture: Some youngish French pirates storm Saint-Malo.

It was too big of an experience to cover in one post. More to come!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

EuroSoccer Maniacs Watch the Simpsons in French

Today was a lovely day - I was gone for most of it. In the afternoon I got a call from my neighbor, Samuel. He proposed that we take advantage of the weather and head out for some basketball. I gathered with him and a couple of other guys at a nice sport complex the next town over and we played some soccer and basketball.

Not played, really. Just messed around; you know how that goes.

There was much rejoicing * because I lost track of time. I was just relaxed, having fun, and not entertaining any back-of-the-mind worries. Score!

Except I'm really bad at basketball. That continues to irk me.

After a break for a change of clothes and a Secret Errand, we reconvened at Damien's place for some Simpsons. Some Simpsons in French, I might add! The voices aren't bad at all; poor Mackenzie had a much worse time of it in Germany, where they clearly have no idea what the Simpsons are all about. In fact, my only real complaint is that the person voicing Homer doesn't grok the solid brick of je ne sais quoi that is "D'oh!"

We watched the Beer Baron episode, the New York City episode, and one other which I've forgotten. It was a real treat, and a great capper to a fine bit of social fun. Next time I'm bringing the football; we'll see who's really an athlete then!


back to entry

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Live Again - Better Than Ezra

Back in my second year in college I got my heart broken. It was a pretty horrendous experience: I lost a lot of control over myself and I got monumentally caught up in my head and in my hurt. So there I was in early 1999, locked tight into my dorm room and just lost at sea-

Of course, like anyone, I had a Special Secret Breakup Song. It's what I would listen to over and over and just let all those feelings fly.

My song is called Live Again, by Better Than Ezra.
Samples (poor quality, best I could do)

I stayed far away from it for years because hearing it would always throw me right back into the same set of feelings I had during the really rough times. But I really love the song - two guitars floating in and out, playing with a gentle synth line. Excellent drumming and distortion bass. And then you have the lyrics, which are right up the alley of the heartbroken.

Just the other day I came upon BTE's live disc, and I saw it had a version of this song. Oh, me, oh, my! I impulse bought the album (thank you, iTunes), turned up the volume, and took a good listen.

I didn't quite expect to feel so uplifted. As my dad always says: forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit. It feels good to move on - to progress. This song is a good reminder of how far I've come.

So, how about you, Faithful Readers? I can't be the only person with a Special Secret Breakup Song.
Confess below the soundtracks to your heartbreak, your pining, your hope - whatever seems most important. We'll all bond; it'll be fun.

And anyone who can help me figure out how to play this song on guitar is my hero.

This One's For Wendy

Hey, Wendy!

I was talking to one of the French teachers the other day about expressions, and at an opportune moment I dropped IL Y A UN CAFARD DANS MON LAIT AU CHOCOLAT on him. This guy, being of good nature, waited until I finished giggling to ask me what exactly I was trying to pull with his language.

I thought you should know, and since I don't have your email address right now I'm writing to you using the whole internet as my medium.

Your Friend,

Fox Mulder

Vindication of French Sport

I've joked with a couple of people lately that I will have a hard time teaching the French to throw the football I brought with me because they don't have any feelings. Wait, no, because they don't have sports where one throws a ball overhand. The closest I could imagine was throw-ins from soccer, but that doesn't count because they use two hands for that.

So I was feeling comfortably superior for a couple of weeks. Then I saw a handball match. A friend of mine took me to see a game at his former team's home stadium, where I saw Angers-Noyant play a tight game against a better team only to fall apart and lose badly in the final minutes. It was just like Wisconsin sports!

Handball plays like basketball, except there's a goalie and the object isn't a hoop - it's a net, sized between a hockey goal and a soccer one. There's occasional dribbling, decent passing, picks and rolls, all your usual stuff. But what makes me take back what I said about the French is how they make shots on goal. It's a grand windmilling spectacle, usually performed airborne, and these gentlemen do put some zing on the ball. Kudos, France!

I Was Really Dumb In College

I was in the shower today when I realized how dumb I was in college. Dumb about girls, not about history of science. After I had my bad episode, girl-wise, I was pretty paralyzed for the next couple of years to anything beyond kissing. What a great way to spend college, right?

So I had several girls who were interested in me. I was interested right back, but it turns out I wasn't ready. Some of these girls I pushed away harder than I should have. Especially Steph. And Laurie. Chances are, if your name is Julie I owe you an apology. And all the others, too... If it didn't go right, it wasn't you.

Olympic Tennis

No matter where the 2012 Olympics end up, I think their tennis venue should be the Burj Al Arab Hotel.

Strikes, Movies, Dirty Words

Usually Thursday is my busiest day, but this particular Thursday there was a massive strike throughout most of the public sector.* Only my first class bothered to show up at all. This is the third time this year I've had classes disrupted due to strikes by teachers, students, or both.

Let's talk about strikes for a minute, because they're different here. French strikes aren't, in general, like the big American-flavored strikes that drag on and make everybody feel the hurt. Remember the UPS strike? Major League Baseball? How about the Chicago garbage collector strike? You'd better believe there was public outcry on that one.

In France they do one-day strikes, but they do them in style. Thursday's action was more of a net of mutually reinforcing strikes that had a shock-and-awe effect. In addition to public stuff like the post offices and some schools, the national railways and Paris transportation systems went mostly dark. Even air travel was affected. About 150,000 people clogged Paris in a massive protest.

All this happened while the International Olympic Committee was touring the city in a big bus. Ever been embarrassed in front of the international community? France has!

So, because of the strike, this Thursday I showed chunks of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Philadelphia to a grand total of maybe 17 kids. I spent one cancelled class period writing the dirtiest things I could think of on the whiteboard in my very best penmanship. Day well spent.

* the strike was timed to disrupt the IOC's visit to Paris to evaluate it as a candidate city for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Anyway, screw Paris. Back the Bid!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

There's So Much To Say!

I wrote down a list of some of the things I really want to write about on the blog. I can't write it all tonight because I am still trying to catch up on sleep, which I have been (wisely!) denying myself. I'll be back tomorrow.








Uh, oh. Already I have forgotten what the second item is all about. This may be a problem. A little help, creative types?

Stay tuned, folks. After classes tomorrow we'll see what we can do about illuminating things a bit.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

I Brought Them Snow - Behold, I Am the SnowMaker

When I got here, I was disappointed to discover that snow in this area is rare. I am a devotee of throwing snow, of rolling around in it, of burying friends and foes alike under deep drifts and proclaiming victory. I grew up with snow. Some of my best friends are snow.

You get the picture.

Today I brought these folks snow. I imagine it must be my fault - if I have come from Chicago, I think the snow has followed. It was fun to see the little French hurling snow at each other, and they weren't half bad for a culture that has no sports that depend on chucking stuff at/toward other people.

Furthermore, there was a snowman. A group of about 20 built this sucker up, adorned it with a jacket, a hat, really good eyes made from rocks, and even one dedicated student's shoes.

Points for the French, then. There's a ton more going on these days, but I've been squeezing myself out of sleep lately so I'm going to delay all that. This is more an I'm-not-dead entry than anything else. Carry on!