Monday, June 22, 2009

Fête de la Musique

Every June 21st, France has the good sense to celebrate the art of song with a day dedicated to music. This year, the 21st happened to fall on a balmy Sunday, so the streets were thronged with revelers.

The general idea is that various music acts perform at random locations throughout the city. There are large displays in the major gathering spaces and small ensembles dotting the streets. One is at leisure to wander as one may, enjoying different performances and then moving on at will.

As all of my friends were either out of town or holed up in preparation for the most important exam of their lives, I was on my own for this year's fête. I decided to start off with the 4:30pm acrobatic performance (accompanied by a wailing ensemble of various orchestra instruments) at the Hôtel de Ville. I got a seat at a sidewalk café and settled in for some people watching--and the people did not disappoint. I saw a woman in the most ballooning pair of parachute pants I ever care to witness, as well as stilt-walkers and an 80 year old lady who looked as if she were dressed up as Marilyn Monroe for Halloween but was clearly just in her normal attire (curly blond wig included). Heavens.

Eventually, the performance started and was more or less over in the same breath. After much preparation of microphones and tightropes and the French version of "testing, testing, 1,2,3", the entire show consisted of one man doing some tightrope walking. It was interesting, and certainly admirable, but not astounding. Many people, including yours truly, were videotaping the 10 minute experience on their various pieces of electronica...and I couldn't help but think that we were all imagining how much cooler it would be if we managed to be shooting at the exact moment his foot made an unfortunate slip. sigh Better luck next year, I guess.

After all that excitement, I decided to walk around a bit in the general direction of my apartment. I was happy witness to a grunge band, a jazz ensemble tooting out "When the Saints Go Marching In", and an emo singer wailing mournfully, with Notre Dame la Grande as his backdrop. The larger shows weren't going to be starting for a couple hours, and I hadn't eaten dinner, so I hightailed it home at that point. Pausing to be a shameless tourist with my camera as I went, happy to have an excuse to get last minute pictures of this city I have come to truly love.

I got home and made some dinner (packaged mushroom ravioli and a salad). Unfortunately, I got sick almost immediately afterward (damned food poisoning) and ended up staying home the rest of the night. I could hear reveling in the distance, so I really regret not being able to go to the concert by the cathedral that I had planned to attend. Perhaps next lifetime...

Also accomplished today--the submission of my signed contract to the school in Poland. Plus, I've been doing more research on Gliwice, and everyone seems to have great things to say about it. And I found out that they have both a TESCO and a Géant, so I should be able to get most of the "foreign" ingredients I require...a major factor in my day-to-day cooking happiness.

Things are looking up!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Gainful Employment

After searching for months, turning over every stone, and existing in a state of continual disappointment, I have--at last--secured a job. Is it my dream job? No. Is it in my dream location? Hardly. Will it provide me with cheap and easy access to Europe while paying me a livable wage? Yes. Well...just.


The name doesn't exactly call up a flickering reel of winsome images and a rollicking good time. In my mind, Poland is most quickly associated with war. And pierogies. And bad jokes. Still, Poland is one of a bare handful of European countries still happy to employ the occasional American. I feel profoundly lucky to have been granted an extension of my European life, through whichever channel it has come.

Tomorrow afternoon, I will submit the signed contract and required accompanying documents that will bind me, for 9 months, to an English-only school in Gliwice. That's the name of my future home, and I admit that I'm not quite sure how to pronounce it. I think it's like Gli-vits-uh. Maybe. At any rate, it seems nice...rather like Poitiers in size and scope. Probably not as appealing, but still medieval and charming in its way. I've combed through the relevant online forums at and most people have good things to say about it. And about the school (although there is considerable debate over the teaching methods they use...more on that once I actually have to start using them myself!).

So, I've notified my family, and they all seem to be taking it pretty well. My grandmother, infamous for her crazy, anti-travel comments, came up with real gem. As if I could ever doubt that she would. Upon hearing that my newest adventure will be taking place in Poland, she said, "Poland! Why do you want to go there? What if they try to keep you there because they think you're a spy??" Classic. Almost as good as when I told her I was in the running for an island job in Mexico. For that one, the first words out of her mouth were, "An island! They're going to want you to go swimming in the ocean and a shark could bite off your leg!!" I would never have thought of that scenario if I had purposely sat for five hours trying to conjure up horrible things that might befall me in Mexico. And it was the very first thing that sprang to her mind. I'm telling you people, that woman exists in a whole other-terrifying-dimension.

But god love her, she only wants what's best for me. Which, to her mind, would include moving back to Des Moines (preferably right next door to her) and never leaving again, ever. My grandmother's dream job for me begins and ends with a cubicle at Wells Fargo. No thanks. I have lived the life of a cubicle dweller in Des Moines. I don't feel the need to repeat the experience.

So, onwards and upwards! In one week's time, I'll be heading to Paris to spend the weekend there before catching my flight to Des Moines on Monday morning. But, I have a lot of shit to do here before I can even start dreaming of being home.

The most important thing is that I now know my next step...and that is such an ungodly relief!

Monday, June 15, 2009

American Brunch

Yesterday morning, I had the pleasure of making an American brunch for one of the Indian girls I've come to know here in Poitiers. The idea was first put forth by a mutual friend, a fellow Iowa lady, in fact. Whether or not one can truly make an American brunch in France is a point to be debated, but we certainly did the best we could.

Yours truly made hashed browns (cubed, not shredded, with onion and parsley) and cream biscuits. The hashed browns turned out beautifully, if I do say so myself (and without a picture), but the biscuits were definitely on the squat and dense side. I like to blame the differences between American and French flour whenever something like this happens...or possibly the baking powder. Or the humidity. Some force other than myself was clearly responsible for those leaden biscuits! Actually, they weren't all that bad...just not as light and fluffy as they are when I make them back in the States. Still, since the Indian girl had no previous experience with biscuits, she thought they were great. And did I mention that I made homemade apricot jam to go with them? That definitely helped wash them down, in my opinion.

After we scarfed down my hashed browns and biscuits, it was time for the other ladies to make their contribution: pancakes. Of course, these were the Iowa girl's suggestion. The Indian girl had never made them before, so it was a bonus for her to both make and eat them. They did a great job, and the pancakes were very fluffy (different baking powder, aha!). I haven't had American style pancakes since coming to France, so just the smell of these was heaven. We also had real maple syrup to top them off. The little pancake shown in the picture even had corn in it. (Can you tell that two of us are from Iowa?) For drinks, we had milk and grape juice, but the juice was just a little...odd. Dark violet rather than blackish purple. Certainly, it didn't hold a candle to the punch-in-the-mouth, intoxicatingly tart-velvet experience of Welch's grape juice. Gotta love those Concord grapes.

Aside from the blasphemous absence of bacon (the other two ladies are vegetarians-but you can't get real American bacon here, anyway), and some would say eggs (I don't like them, myself), I think we did a damn good job of showing off some of the finer points of a traditional American morning feast. It made me feel nostalgic for home, which is good, since I'm going back there in exactly two weeks.

And you can bet I'll be trying those biscuits again once I get home, this time with the right flour!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

One of those Jane Austen days...

" was a quick succession of busy nothings till the carriage came to the door..." ~Mansfield Park

Sometimes it seems as though I spend my life doing exactly that: killing time while waiting for something better or more interesting or more valid to come along. I call it "treading water". I've done it with jobs, with school, with love interests. And although it has sometimes paid off in the end (going to Korea after languishing in a call center job for 9 months, moving to France after spending a year in Des Moines at another call center job), I can't seem to get myself into a frame of mind where I am moving perpetually forward toward a goal which satisfies me.

Right now, for example, I'm busy applying for teaching jobs in Europe. And busy getting rejected either on the grounds of not having EU working papers or enough experience. This has been an almost overwhelmingly dispiriting process, but I struggle on because the only real alternatives I can see are either finding another shit job in Des Moines or going back to Korea. There are schooling options in there, too, I guess. But I really don't need any more school loans! So, staring down the reality of Korea, I must continue hoping that some job in Europe will come through.

And yet, I don't really want to teach. That goal does not satisfy me for the long term. I want to write. Travel writing, obviously. I have enough material (as cataloged on this website) that I could put together a book proposal, or even just some magazine article proposals. But I don't. Fear of success? Hard work? Rejection? Probably all three. Although, I do feel much closer these days to actually making progress on the writing front. Just collecting all of my stuff together in this blog has helped me feel more prepared to take on the challenge of chasing my dream job.

I suppose I'm feeling a bit on the melancholy side today because it's raining. Again. Pissing down rain all day. Naturally, I have plans for tonight, so all I can hope at this point is that the rain will move on sometime in the next 4.5 hours. I hate walking in the rain, and I don't have a car. Perfect combo. I can't even be a lazy bum and cancel because it's a special Indian dinner for which I pre-registered and must pay 12€. Anyway, fingers crossed that the rain lets up long enough for me to find my way to the Indian girl's apartment...

Even as I write this, I see rays of sunshine poking out of the clouds, so hope springs eternal!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Veni, vidi,vici

Wow, today I actually left my apartment and got some shit done! This isn't always the case, sadly. In an unemployed state, I tend to stay home and be a lazy bum as opposed to using my abundant free time to accomplish goals and develop new hobbies. No gardening and book clubs for me...more like sleeping 15 hours a day and watching reruns of Law & Order.

Still, I had no choice but to leave my apartment today as my rent was slightly past due. Mind you, it's the last rent I'll ever pay here, so I could give a fuck if it's three days late. Luckily for me, it stopped raining by mid-afternoon, so I actually felt chipper as I stepped out into the Poitiers sunshine and headed into town.

I almost enjoy paying rent as it gives me a chance to chat with my real estate agent, Sylvie, who helped me tremendously when I first arrived here. She was equally sweet today. Rent paid and final check-out appointment set up, I stopped at one of my favorite bakeries to get a loaf of bread for dinner (and a pain au chocolat for a pre-dinner treat). I never feel more French than when I'm walking around in the late afternoon with a baguette in hand like everyone else here. It always makes me smile. I also stopped at the tabac to buy an envelope and stamp so that I could mail a bill while I was in town. I was just getting all kinds of shit done.

Once I got back home, I decided to really kick it up a notch and investigate my options for canceling my internet and electricity. As luck would have it, I'll be able to do both of those online. Thank god. I thought for sure I'd have to phone in (let's not lie--have one of my friends call for me because my French is shit, particularly my phone French) and calling customer service lines here is always costly. It is, no kidding, about .30 euro cents/minute. That's almost .50 cents US. WTF?? Anyway, it appears there will be no need to submit myself to mugging by telephone.

Needless to say, I've just been kicking ass and taking names today. In fact, I think I'll finish up by making a Tomato Crumble for dinner. I found the recipe in a little cookbook I bought at a château a couple weeks ago. Only good recipe in the whole damn book, but I'm glad I got it. I would never have thought to do a savory crumble, but this one is amazing.

Yum yum yum...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Snow Day

So, in addition to being a currently unemployed ESL teacher, I'm also a part-time grad student. I'm doing an online master's in curriculum design and ESL, and I have a little less than a year to go. I suck at making myself do the work. There are a million other bullshit things I'd rather be doing than writing a paper about the transferability of curriculum or horizontal articulation issues. Christ. Do you really expect me to waste my time on this drivel?? Days of Our Lives is on!

[Ok, I'd like it to be known that I categorically deny watching any Days of Our Lives episodes since about 1998.]

Anyway, tonight I have a paper I'm supposed to be writing. I have no job, I do mostly nothing but computer shit all day...why didn't I do this paper like a week in advance? I have no earthly idea. But, I think it all comes down to the theory of the "snow day".

Remember those? I grew up in Iowa, so we had plenty. Snow days were like gifts from god, and hopefully delivered on a big test day. It was always such a glorious experience... Waking up in the pre-dawn, exhausted and already defeated just by having to be awake at such an ungodly, sunless hour in the dead of winter. Then, gradually hearing the morning news playing on the living room TV, my mom watching to see if we would have to struggle to school that day. (She was a teacher, so her excitement for snow days almost rivaled that of me and my brother.) Eventually, I would sit up and peek out my window to inspect the carnage and then join my mom in the living room. Waiting, waiting, waiting as the alphabetical list of closed or delayed schools scrolled along the bottom of the screen. Then, a whoop of joy when my school's name finally appeared!

Of course, by this time, we were all awake enough to be hungry. So, my mom would make us some breakfast (a rarity, as we usually ate at my grandma's while my mom headed to school early). She might even make us hot chocolate, from scratch, if we promised to be quiet and let her go back to bed for awhile.

Eventually, around noon, we would usually walk to a nearby diner for lunch. What shitty, greasy food. But the fun of tromping through knee-high snow, in the middle of the street no less, was too much of an adventure to miss out on. And we were young enough to enjoy the pleasure of hanging out with our mom in the middle of the day on a random winter Tuesday.

I miss those times now.

But getting back to my theory of the "snow day" factor, the bottom line is that there is no greater pleasure than being told one need not do what one was anticipating must be done. You had a big test today? Forget about it, it's a snow day! Therefore, when I'm in a situation (such as having to write an annoying paper) in which I can create an excuse for myself as to why I can put the required action off, even for a short period of time...well, then it's like having a snow day! It's such a relief to not have to do what I was dreading, it actually becomes quite an addictive feeling.

Sadly, I have mastered the art of the snow day, as evidenced by my shocking lack of personal motivation in my studies. Even as I write this, I'm considering just going to bed and waking up early to write my paper in order to turn it in by 9.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Brand spanking new

I am a blogging failure. I love to write, I'm good at it, and yet I cannot seem to keep at it for more than a couple months at a time. I don't know why that should be, honestly. I think it must be something to do with the fact that I subconsciously demand perfection in my writing these days. Well, not perfection, exactly, but I just have a more heightened consciousness that writing is how I enter the world. Therefore, my brain shouts out that my writing should be a pure and true reflection of me, and it had better damn well be type-o free. Of course, no one is perfect, but my innate Virgo tendency toward perfection keeps me from just writing whatever comes out of my brain on a daily basis. I don't like being judged. And yet it's impossible to show one's writing to the world and not be judged. I manage the pain; I don't relish it as others do. I like to take my time, craft lovely turns of phrase, and proofread everything about a dozen times until I'm sure that my writing can be criticized as little as possible. Not exactly conducive to producing reams of material.

Still, I am always thinking about what I'd like to write. I experience a situation and immediately think of how I could describe it to my friends or family. I've had the enormous privilege of living and working in France for the past 8 months, and so many truly magical moments have passed by me, never captured in writing. Since I tend to have a memory like a sieve, I think it's best if I sucked up my embarrassment at not being able to hold down a steady blog, and just tried to keep writing for the sake of memorializing my own history.

No promises. No pressure. No perfection required.

In fact, as of right now, I've told no one about this blog. Not my best friend, not my mom. And I think I'll keep it that way for awhile. I'd like to get my blog legs under me before I let everyone in on the secret. If you've stumbled across this blog somehow...welcome. I don't regret your being here, not at all. You might even be witness to a miracle. The miracle of me writing here on a regular basis, and not quitting in two months' time. Feel free to send me comments if you like, but please be gentle!