Olargues and Bédarieux

For my last week in France, my fella decided to show me the village Olargues, a village officially listed as one of les plus beaux villages de France, with a stop by Bédarieux on the way home. I seem to be having some luck with forecasted rain and surprise sunny, perfect days, as was the case when I went to St Guilhem le Désert for my birthday Thursday, and again in this instance. We wandered some streets, explored some castle ruins on a hill, sat on a bridge, had coffee at the most adorable organic marché/café in Bédarieux. Despite my hesitancy, we hitchhiked home in the perfect weather, and it was just magical walking along the road in the sunshine between rides.

Pour ma dernière semaine en France, mon gar a decide de me montrer la village d’Olargues, une village connue officiallement comme une des plus beaux villages de France, avec un arrêt à Bédarieux en route chez-moi. J’ai la chance récement avec les prévisions météorologiques pour la pluie qui résultent en les journées ensoleillées et parfaits, comme quand je suis allée à St. Guilhèm le Désert pour mon anniversaire juedi, et encore dans ce cas. Nous avons balladé quelques rues, exploré quelques ruines d’un château, assis sur un pont, pris du café à la bio-marché/café la plus adorable à Bédarieux. Malgré mon hesitation, nous avons fait l’auto-stop jusqu’à chez-moi en le météo parfait, et c’était simplement la magique en promenant la rue dans le soleil entre les trajets.

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Gordes, France

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For my last little trip in France this year, I stayed in Avignon and went to the provincial towns of Aix-En-Provence and Gordes. While Avignon was closed for Sunday, Aix-En-Provence was closed for Labor Day, and Gordes had pouring rain, Provence absolutely blew me away with how beautiful it was. Gordes, especially, was unlike anything I had ever experienced with every wall in bloom, its view over the countryside, and hidden waterfalls all over the place. I just spent the day going from little archway to little archway for cover from the pouring rain and reading a chapter from my book (which, right now, is a French translation of Hemmingway’s Paris Est Une Fete). It was small, there wasn’t much to it, but my five hours there almost didn’t even feel like enough.

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Pour ma dernière petite voyage en France cette année, je suis restée à Avignon, et je suis allée aux villes provenciales d’Aix-En-Provence et Gordes. Bien que Avignon était fermé pour dimanche, Aix-En-Provence était fermé pour La Fête du Travail, et il pleuvait à Gordes, j’ai trouvé que Provence était incroyablement belle. Gordes, en particulière, n’était pas comme rien que j’aie vu dans ma vie avec tous les murs fleuris, la vue sur la paysage, les cascades partout. J’ai passé la journée sous des arches, protégée de la pluie et lisante mon livre (qui est, à l’instant, une traduction française de Paris Est Une Fête d’Hemmingway). La ville était petite, il n’y avait pas beaucoup de choses, mais les cinq heures que j’ai passé là m’ont donnée l’impression que ceux étaient presque pas assez.

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35mm

As a Christmas/New Year’s/Getting-In-To-Grad-School gift to myself back in December, I got a Pentax Spotmatic film camera off of Le Bon Coin and I absolutely adore it. Here are a few pictures from around the region, namely Pezenas (my town), Castelnau-Le-Lez, Mèze, and Montpellier. (These are pictures of the pictures taken by my digital camera woops).

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Reflections on France from a Trip to London

“If you were to cut my life in half, you could read it by the rings it would contain. You contain them too: who you used to be is enclosed in who you are. Your old heart is not erased. It’s encased in another heart, another axon-dendrite shell stacked, shellacked atop the old. We are a wasps’ nest of selves, each embedded in the next.”

“Everything’s Rings” in Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson

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Big Ben

Back during Easter week, 2014,  one of my best friends K and I went to London during my year abroad in Aalborg, Denmark. I remember one afternoon while we were walking along Regent’s Canal, we found a giant chalkboard asking people what they wanted to do before they died and, during the brief visit where I found myself falling deeply in love with this city in England, I, for whatever reason, wrote that I wanted to live in France.

It is rather amusing, then, that this next time in London was part of my current job where I, incidentally, get to live in France.

The trip was through the high school’s English classes; I went in order to fill in for a teacher who got sick at the last minute. The group was me, one of the English teachers I work with, a philosophy teacher who didn’t speak English, a history teacher who didn’t speak English, forty-nine varying-levels-of-obnoxious French teenagers, and Jaques, the world’s funniest bus driver. We left on a Sunday and, after hours of broken bus catastrophes, highways, ferries, and bathroom breaks where teachers lit their students’ cigarettes (God France is weird), we made it to London to see Big Ben,

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The London Eye

the bridges, the Globe Theatre, and the TATE Modern where I exhausted-cried at a Monet while the students all napped in a dark corner of the showing of an artsy film. For lodging, we stayed with British host families which, for me, meant Mr. (a silent man) and Mrs. Pope (a Brexit supporter, subtle racist, and all around charming old woman) with Jaques and the philosophy teacher, all of whom I got to try my hand at translation for the first time with (before the next morning where I got to do the same on a slightly more passionate scale concerning a problem between some of the teens and their host family; I was the only English/French speaker present and got to get yelled at in multiple languages). The next day we went to the Imperial War Museum (which is incredibly important and I cannot recommend it enough), the Natural History Museum, Borrough Market, and Camden Market (where I failed to convince the other teachers to pierce their noses like me). The third day, we went to The British Museum (aka, England showing the world “look at what we got to steal back when we ‘owned’ the world”), Covent Garden, and The National Gallery. There was a train strike going on during the whole time, so we spent hours and hours and hours on the bus otherwise. And then we came home.

 

 

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The Natural History Museum

Despite England and France, traditionally, having a reputation of inhabiting a dichotometic sphere, what I will take away from this trip is actually its hand in validating my homing sentiment for my current French life. Surrounded by the French, I ended up speaking more French on this trip than I have in my entire time in France thus far, and, for the first time, I was able to understand French humor across the hurdle of the language barrier. I even acted as a translator (many times), which I still don’t entirely believe are within my capabilities. I was reminded that French is not just a hastle getting in the way of my day, as it so often feels here, but a language that I LOVE speaking. I got to really get to know some of the students at Lycee Jean Moulin (they invited me to eat lunch with them at Burrough Market and told me about their hopes for adulthood; they taught me how to skateboard outside The National Gallery; they argued with me about if I was cool or not for an hour while waiting for the ferry from England to France (I am, it turns out, not cool);

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Harrod’s Department Store

they took turns singing to the whole bus on its microphone while we drove around London), and grew to see them as more than just the blank stares that make my job, from time to time, a bit miserable. I got welcomed into a kind of “teacher’s club” over misery-drinking and student-complaining at the end of some rough days in a way that I don’t entirely feel that I am gruff-and-hardened-enough for yet, but that validated the fact that I am, indeed, a teacher now. Above everything, I even had a few brief moments of homesickness for my life in Pézenas: the things I do here, the people I know here, the day-to-day that I pass here. Like the impressionist paintings I got to see in the beautiful London museums, I got to see the beautiful painting that the loose brushstrokes that my close-up life in France come together to make from the distance of England.

It is strange to look at everything that has happened between that 2013 visit and this one to the same city, especially in terms of the (weirdly unglamorous) filling in of the gap between aspiration and achievement. London has not only reminded me that, before I died, I got to pass some time in France, but that I really, truly am getting to live here as well.

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Trafalgar Square

Ça Va Bien

img_1190Usually I try not to use this blog as a means of personal journaling. Of course I talk about myself and my life, but I try to hang these anecdotes on their associations to the outer world, whether it be about travel or politics or literature or music or that general, grand theme of growing up that I just cannot escape in my writing.

 

Today, though, I just want to say things are good.

In the classroom, I taught a lesson on the elections that turned into an hour-long Q &A about activism, systematic racism, capitalism, and the prison-industrial complex. History teachers came to sit in on my subsequent lessons later that week. Teaching, it turns out, is what I should be doing. Even if being an assistant is (fucking) frustrating (most of the time) because teachers have a tendency to take over my lessons or tell me to teach weird subjects, being in the classroom is such a natural act.

img_1274I’m forcing myself to leave the apartment and interact with new humans through Tinder, which, with all its bad reputation, is rendering some truly unique experiences that, in all their strangeness, I truly value. I went on a bike ride with a man who works for vineyards from Béziers to the beach– which is 20km each way, and uphill on the way back–and left, exhausted, amid a torrent of mockery, saying “j’ai besoin de faire des rélations” (I have to go have sex) instead of “j’ai besoin de faire des leçons” (I have to go lesson plan). I made an Irish friend that I talk to most days. I almost went to a lake with somebody to only try and navigate the French of telling them that I was afraid they were going to try and murder me there, originally using the fact that they were a little late as grounds to never, ever have to meet them.

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The American assistants I met in Montpellier my first week in France while I was living in a hostel there have turned out to be some truly wonderful friends, and I visit them at least once a week in Montpellier (this week it will be for Thanksgiving, and I cannot wait!). Saturday, they came to visit me in Pézenas and gave me a whole new perspective on how beautiful my small town can be through going to the Saturday market, picnicking, and café hopping with me all day.

I’ve hung out with my adult students outside of class (the camp counselor in me has gotten over itself) and made friends with some 70-year-old and up, English-speaking ex-pats.

I like to wander around this town and look for the best-smelling flowers that have grown outside of their fences.

My Instagram is doing well.

I like to have time to myself and write.

I like to read and go to cafés.

I just, finally, like being here.

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Remembering to Romanticize Things A Little

I think, at some level, (almost?) all Americans hold some sort of a romanticized ideal in their head about Europe. It’s old. It’s beautiful. The people have accents. If not where “we” come from, it’s our closest cultural ancestor. Above all, it’s just a highly marketed tourist attraction.

Throughout my life, I have not been above this romanticization of the continent by any means. That’s why I studied abroad in Denmark for a year (the European country which holds that special lore as “the happiest country on Earth”); it’s why I’m working in France for a year now. It’s why I’m scheming up ways to get back to Ireland in the future.  Getting to study, work, and live in Europe is the redheaded cousin of The American Dream, in all its shiny, sparkly, just-out-of-reach-for-many glory.

And yet here I am. Getting to be paid to live in this romanticized space. The thing about obtaining a dream, though, is having to have it slapped around a little by reality.

Being in Southern France right now is full of real humans. Real humans who, on my first day of work, made snide comments at me about being there for “oral” practice. Real humans who harass me on the street for everything from eating my lunch to yawning. Real humans who ride around on bicycles and dump whole water bottles on me in the public square with other real humans watching and then ride away mocking my shocked English response of “what the fuck!” My tiny Southern French town doesn’t have anybody my age in it, and the loneliness I am experiencing is oppressive, difficult, and seemingly inescapable in a way that I haven’t experienced since high school (side note, I live in a high school right now, which is also overwhelming).

Yesterday, though, I was reminded a bit of the romanticized image of France I painted for myself throughout my francophile high school years. While visiting Montpellier, a man walked onto my tram and started to play the fiddle up and down the tram’s cars. While the French did not seem amused, it overwhelmingly affected me in the moment and reminded me of this video from La Blogotheque circa 2008:

When I was an insatiable French nerd in high school, I used to spend hours on La Blogotheque, watching their Concerts A Emporter and going back and forth between the English and French translations to keep teaching myself and practicing French outside of the classroom. As a lonely, angsty teenager in the middle of a Phoenix suburb completely void of anything to do, the Paris presented in these performances instilled in me the idea of a romanticized France that is, undoubtedly, what keeps bringing me back to this country today.

Even if things are hard right now, rewatching these videos and thinking back to a pure and unspoiled idea of Europe that has nothing to do with life is a nice, romantic break. Sometimes, I just need these remnants from the past to come and remind me to appreciate the present that I’m getting to live, even when it’s feeling dragged down by reality.

 

 

 

Today I was Clumsy, so a Poem Happened

For whatever reason, I could not seem to stop spilling things today, and I hope my Venezuelan roommate enjoyed his English lesson for the day on how to swear (loudly, thoroughly, consistently). For whatever reason, after my dinner ended up on the floor, I sat down to write a poem about it instead of the lesson plan that I should have been working on. I haven’t been very good about keeping in practice with poetry since my band is (I think) no more, so it was nice to start to get back into it.

The first thing to spill today was the morning’s coffee:
unraveled from the sheets that fill the nooks and crannies
of this new double bed,
it fell from the mold of a mug’s grasp
to the flatness
pressed between gravity and open space.

To sleep on your stomach is healthier, I hear,
to lift your spine to cold night air on the offering
of your lungs’ insistence that they are alive.
A lifelong side-sleeper,
I am letting my limbs crawl into the corners
that this square mattress offers.
Twin rectangle dimensions
have always asked me to fill them
with the lumps of my flesh;
I find myself falling flat into this new life now where

I spilled the milk from my cereal onto the floor
quickly after the coffee incident.
This goddamn breakfast is in my bed,
it is on the floor,
in the grout,
in the pores of a sponge,
(later) kissing the cold spoon against my lips,
it is in my stomach.

To French kiss is to fill
cavities,
to let the heavy muscle of your speech crawl outside
of its own cave into
the stalactites and mites of waiting teeth. This French bed
has but one visitor, small and lost in its space.
Why, I wonder, have I crawled away from America
into these jaws of abroad,
but to fill air
with the bragging undertones of past experience
(perhaps while pressing spine into the warmth of a stomach,
my lungs keeping tempo with life
stacked one on top of the other, like always)?

I bookended today with a dinner of spilled rice
all across the kitchen floor,
newly cleaned. Packed so close together just a moment ago,
they look so small when they are unraveled
as a collection of ones
across the nooks and crannies of this space.