Wed 17 Oct 2007
Posted by Linda under General Comments
More on my first French class when I first moved to France.
What can I say about Victoria? She turned out to be a wonderful friend almost immediately. She had a great sense of humor and an interest in people and a warm personality. Everyone loved her. She was older, like me, with short brown hair starting to turn gray and sparkling eyes behind her gold framed glasses. She was a little over-weight and didn’t care.
Her husband wasn’t French, but Australian. She knew he had always been a Francophile, a lover of all things French. He took French classes all the time and belonged to a French club. He worked for a computer company in Sydney while she worked for the government helping businesses cope with change. She was very high up on the management ladder. She had a couple of master degrees , one in business and one in psychology. She made me smile a lot with her psycho babble such as “And how did that make you feel?”Or “Thank you for sharing that with me.”
Then her daughter went to Belgium as an exchange student and became fluent in French. A few years later the family went to Belgium on vacation firing up even more Jeffrey’s love of France. A little later they arranged a house exchange with a couple in Paris for a month. While they were there Jeffrey decided to check out the job situation and see if it was possible to find a job in Paris. He found one immediately and wanted to take it. As Victoria said, “I found out how much I love my husband.” In retrosepect she thought it was kind of a midlife crisis for him but that he chose a different country rather than a different woman. She would come to find out that it was just the beginning of all that would change in her marriage.
Of course, his midlife crisis led to one of her own. She had to give up her job, which she loved, along with retirement benifits. It was a hard decision for her to make, but she did it to support Jeffrey.
After they moved to Paris they found it extremely expensive and it didn’t help matters that the company that had hired Jeffrey decided that they were paying him too much and lowered his salary since they told him he was still on probation.
Jeffrey handled living in Paris well as he could speak French. Victoria found it much more difficult. She wasn’t used to being a non-working wife and wanted to find some sort of job. The French government makes it very difficult for a foreigner to work, legally, in France. She went through all sorts of problems trying to get papers to teach English for just 3 hours a week at a primary school after we had started our class but she needed the school to pay over 100 Euros to get the paperwork processed, which it wasn’t willing to do. Plus, the government has to decide if the job a foreigner wants takes a job away from a French person. Usually it does.
She had tried another French class but it didn’t help her French at all. It was a class that was all lecture and taking notes, but with no help in speaking French so she found the same class I did.
She and I had so much fun discovering Paris. We went to art showings in museums, to too many lunches to count, and excursions outside of Paris on trains. I had done a lot of things on my own before starting the class, and I didn’t mind that, but having a friend along to explore made it a lot more fun.
As I said, she was the social director of our class, always planning things, inviting people over to her house for her wonderful meals, just showing an interest in everyone. It was because of Victoria that I got to know everyone as well as I did. She was the one that got us together for our first coffee after class.The girls who joined us turned out to be part of a regular group that did many things together. There was Natasha, from Russia, Zima from Iraq, Yoko from Japan, Mary from the Philippines, and Jane from Singapore. All of them smoked except for Victoria and I. I think the stress of living in a foreign country contributed to this.
I don’t know what I expected but I didn’t expect to be the center of everyone’s attention. They were all so curious about America and my opinion of it.
“What do you think of Clinton?”(This was some years ago, as you might have guessed)
“Well, I didn’t vote for him. I don’t like what happened with the sex scandal with Monica. I think it’s horrible that it happened in the oval office.”
“But what’s so bad about it? Don’t all politicians seem to have mistresses or affairs? I don’t think the French think it is awful. It happens in France and it isn’t a scandal.”
“Yes, that’s probably true. It’s just that he got caught and lied about it and I read that there were other women, many women, who he had sex with. I just think he has a problem keeping his zipper up.”
This got a laugh.
“But what about George Bush?”
“Apparantly, he is going to be a one woman man. He seems to be very loyal to his wife, and religious on top of it.”
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Texas. That’s actually the same state that George Bush is from.”
“Where is that?”
“It’s in the middle of the United States.”I made a little map on a napkin with my pin showing California, Florida with Texas in the middle and Mexico to the south.
“What’s it like?”
“Very hot in the summer, fairly mild winters, with some really huge cities like Dallas and Houston.”
“Did you ever have a horse?”
“No. Not everyone in Texas wears boots, rides a horse, or lives on a ranch. There are areas that are very rural where you see hats and boots on men and they all have pick-up trucks, but in the larger cities we all dress just about like here in Paris.”
“Does everyone have guns?”
“I guess there are a lot of illegal guns. Actually, I had one back in Texas. I didn’t bring it with me to Paris.”
“Why would you have a gun?”
“I just felt safer when I was by myself.”
“How did you meet your husband?”
“On a blind date set up by mutual friends.” Then I had to explain what a blind date was.
“A blind date is when you go out on a date with someone you have never met or seen before. Usually, someone who knows both of you sets up the date.
“How do you like Paris?”
“I love it. I love taking metros all over and exploring.”
It was then I found out that most of them wouldn’t take the metro. They were afraid of being robbed or worse. In fact, Angela, our teacher, surely an alert Parisian, had her wallet lifted on the metro one day. I carried a big back pack to carry all of my books for class and thought it would be easy for someone to lift my wallet out of it so I started putting my wallet in my coat pocket. One day a group of 3 girls about 14 years of age or so got on at one stop pushing through everyone rather rudely. At the next stop they pushed back to the doors of the metro and I heard a man next to them start saying, “No, No.”And slapping at one of the girls. It turned out she was in the process of taking my wallet out of my pocket. Thank God he saw her. Now I am always alert to small groups of young people, especially if one of them approaches me and trys to ask me something. I always carry a digital camera with me, too, which I am very cautious about.
During our first coffee we discovered that Victoria was actually an American, which explained her lack of an Australian accent.
I asked her, “How did you end up in Australia?”
“I lived in Conneticut and was teaching English in a high school. One day we had a horrible snow storm and it ended up that several teachers and I plus 15 students were trapped in the school building for 12 days. It was really taxing to not only keep them busy and entertained, but also keep the boys and girls separate. Anyway, I was getting tired of the cold weather and the difficult winters when I happened to see an advertisement for teaching in Australia. I pictured all of that wonderful sun and the beaches and signed up. A month later I was there.”
What was rather ironic was that we were going though a terribly hot summer and early fall right then in Paris and she was really miserable in the heat. She always sat directly in front of the fan in our hot classroom. Once it got cold she was in heaven and loved it. We all came to class bundled up in sweaters, coats, mufflers and hats which she and I would shed immediately. Some of the younger girls got cold with the fan on and would pull their sweaters on.
We wanted to know how she met her husband.
“He lived in the same apartment building that I did. I was friends with a lot of people and he was one of a group that I did things with. I was dating someone else, someone more dangerous and unavailable when he pointed this fact out to me and said maybe I should be dating someone more reliable and dependable, namely him. It made sense to me and we started dating and he talked me into marriage.”
Did she like living in Paris? She loved it like me. She was very curious in nature and loved exploring new places. But she had left a lot behind in Australia including her job, her house, her daughter who was in college. Her life. She had such a cheerful disposition that she made the best of what she now had.
Victoria and I struggled the most with French in our class. I blame part of this on our ages. Children, of course, learn languages much easier with their brains beings like sponges while mine, at least, had become coral. I found it very hard to incorporate it into my brain. Victoria made friends with a lady who spoke French in a discussion group where French was spoken and who tutored Victoria on the side and helped explaned some of the more difficult aspects of French grammar.And although Victoria came to understand more, she found it almost impossible to speak French.
In the end, Victoria ended up back in Australia back at her former job but she had lost her retirement benefits and had to start from scratch. Her husband was supposedly going to move back too but stayed in Paris and eventually got a French girlfriend, a lady who lived in their apartment building. He also lost his job but managed to find another one in a year or so. Victoria went through a terrible time and even made a trip back to Paris to try and get him to move back to Australia with her but he wouldn’t do it. By then he was heavily involved with the other woman. I think they would be divorced by now but it is very expensive to do in Australia and she doesn’t have the money to do it and Jeffrey not only won’t do it but doesn’t send her any money to help with house payments. She is back in their old house which they had rented out while in Paris and is baraged constantly by the memories of being married their and raising their children. Maurice and I visited her in Australia while there and she has a really lovely home in a fabulous neighborhood. She is slowly coming to terms with it all. I am hoping that one day she will come to see us in Provence.
Mon 15 Oct 2007
Posted by Linda under General Comments
For those of you who have been waiting for me to get back to living in Paris, this post is a repeat of my first French class and the people I met there. I will follow on posts about the fascinating students who took the class with me.(I am in Arizona at the moment.)
I decided that after 6 months had passed and I wasn’t fluent in French, as I was told I would be, that I should try a French class. What a class it turned out to be. I wish I knew how to write a movie script because I have such a “movie” from my experience in my class. All of these girls had such dramatic stories.
My French class took place in an institute for an Eastern European country where, I can to understand, a classroom was provided for the French class in return for teaching French to expats living in Paris who wished to learn French. There was always at least one person from that country in the class while I was there. Sometimes we had as many as thirteen students in the class. There were never fewer than seven.
I had to take a long subway ride from our apartment to the institute. It was near the Lusembourg Gardens, a very nice part of Paris. As time went by I came to spend many hours walking around the gardens, watching people and taking photographs. It’s a very restful place even with all of the joggers running by.
The first day I walked into the institute I had to find my way down dark stairs, through a little auditorium filled with chairs, also in the dark, into a small, hot classroom. The room had no windows and the whole time I was in the class, no matter what the temperature outside, it was hot. A fan was finally purchased which added some much needed relief. An Australian and I would plant ourselves in front of it dying in the heat, while the young nomenapausal girls would
shiver and pull on sweaters. There was a large rectangular wooden table in the center of the room surrounded by chairs. There were only a few women seated when I entered, but in 10 minutes the chairs were filled.
The teacher rushed in. I was to find out that she always rushed. She appeared to be in her 30′s, was attractive with blond hair, but wore no make-up and was dressed in a black dress with a silver pin on the collar and had on what was stylish in Paris right then, patterned stockings in a gray and white animal skin pattern. She had the quick almost nervous movements of a bird as she opened cabinets, took out books and went through our registration papers. She introduced herself in French. Her name was Angela, and that was all I understood. She spoke nothing but French from the very beginning. We were to be introduced to the immersion method. She wouldn’t let us talk our native language at all. We had to struggle with the little French we knew to answer any questions she might ask.
We took turns introducing ourselves in French and saying where we were from. There were no men in our class. Of the 10 there the first day, 7 of us were married to Frenchmen. I was not only the only American, but also the oldest one there. The countries represented were Russia,
Poland, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Iran, Iraq, Columbia, Singapore, and, as I said, Eastern Europe. I was surprised that so many of us were married to Frenchmen. I had to wonder if the men would be taking language classes if they were living in the country of their
So, the teacher said, “Blah, blah, blah.”
I once had a coffee cup that had a Far Sides cartoon on it. In one
picture a person was angry at a dog and was saying, “Bad dog, Ginger. Bad dog, Ginger. Shame on you, Ginger.” The second picture showed what Ginger, te dog, actually understood:”Blah, blah, blah, Ginger. Blah, blah, Ginger. Blah, blah, blah, Ginger.” I felt like Ginger.
We looked at each other with incomprehension and I could tell the others felt the same way. The girl from the Philippines understood something Angela had said and when her neighbor turned to her and said, “What did she say?” Angela would say “French only!” Then she had the girl who asked the question repeat what she had asked in French. She did supply some French words when we came to a complete stop but we couldn’t look up any words in our French dictionaries. Angela said, “In this class, I am the dictionary.” Somehow I understood what she was saying when she said that in French.
We had a bad couple of days at the beginning. It was exhausting to keep so focused and try to figure out what Angela was saying. The Australian lady, Victoria, started crying the first day because she felt so out of depth in the class. She said, after class, “I didn’t
understand a single word she said in class. I think I’m going to quit.”She turned up the next day, though, and said her husband told her that even if she only got 10 per cent of what was being said in class, that was good. She was going to try and stick it out.
It didn’t help that when Angela wanted to get our attention as we took turns sitting there in a daze that she would say, “Cuckoo.” This made Victoria cry again as she thought Angela was making fun of her. I think, although I am still not entirely sure, that this was just the
French way of saying, “Yoohoo.” I don’t think she was comparing us to an unintelligent bird.
By the end of the first week we had started to tentatively talk to each other before and after class. We did not speak in French. To my surprise, we were all speaking in English. I would soon find that this was not helping my French, but I was having a much better time in
Paris. One girl’s husband said, “I sure hope you are speaking French with all of the other women after class.” If he only knew.
For the first time in my life I found myself to be the most popular girl in the classroom. In my early school days I was quiet and shy and was always the good one in class, never causing any trouble. I could easily be mortified by just about anything which added to my quietness
as I didn’t want to call any attention to my self. Fast forward these many years later and I discovered that I didn’t mind if I made mistakes, mistakes that often lead to the others in the class laughing. I had no idea I could be so entertaining. I still don’t know if it was my American openiness or just the fact that I truly didn’t care anymore if I made mistakes or looked foolish. I was helped along in my light hearted approach by Victoria who had the same sense of humor.
Victoria, the Australian, and I weren’t allowed to sit next to each other as we might speak in English so we sat across from each other. She had a wonderful infectious laugh and our eyes would meet across the table and she would laugh at me.
Fortunately, Angela also liked my sense of humor. She had a good one herself and occasionally, especially as time passed, we would understand something funny that she said. The first day, and many after that, I brought along a small plastic bottle of diet coke mainly because it was so hot in the classroom. I guess this must be a typical sign that someone is American as I was often used as a metaphor for something American with bottle of diet coke.
One day the subject of saints came up. Mary, the girl from the Philippines, for some reason didn’t understand what a saint was. Why, I don’t know. I thought the Philippines was mainly Catholic. As it all had to be explained in French we were struggling like mad to come up with the words to explain a saint-words like Catholic Church, angels, miracles. Mary still looked clueless so I threw in the name Joan of Arc. I thought everyone had heard of her. No, not Mary. Angela drew a very bad drawing of a stick figure in front of a pole and a fire beneath her. With that drawing I wasn’t surprised Mary still looked puzzled. I had just learned the word for toast, pain grille, so I told Mary that Joan of Arc was turned into pain grillee. Victoria, Angela and I got hysterical, laughing until tears came to our eyes. Angela said I was “morbid”, the French word for sick, I guess. The rest of the class looked at us like we were crazy, if not a little weird. Angela finally told Mary to go home and ask her husband to explain.
Victoria turned out to be our social director, so to speak. She was very good at getting us together for coffee or lunch after class and this was when a small group of us developed a very close relationship. I thought that this must happen in most French classes but was told
from others who had taken other classes that this wasn’t the case. What we developed was very unusual. I think part of our bonding was the fact that we were all isolated by our lack of French and had a lot of experiences in common. We had so much to talk about.
Unfortunately, we didn’t do it in French. I stopped taking the class after a long trip to the States. I’m sure it helped my French some, but I never did become fluent. What I miss most is the girls from the class. Our lives took us all in separate directions and I don’t see them any more. I have some of their phone numbers and want to organize a big party for all of us. It will all be in English, of course.
Sat 13 Oct 2007
Posted by Linda under General Comments
Isn’t that a great name?–Carmel By The Sea? Maurice and I rented the Clint Eastwood movie, Play Misty For Me, the other night because it was all filmed in this area. The movie was made in the 70′s and you can see how much the area has changed but there is still that magnificant coast line in the Big Sur Area which is in the opening scene of the movie and that still looks the same. The movie is sort of the fore runner of Basic Instinct, in which men learn that they need to be careful who they get involved with. The sidewalks are now packed with tourists wanting a look at this charming town.
The builder whose wife was taken with the “fairy tale look” built many cottages now called story book cottages. They look like they are straight out of a Disney movie. As we walked around I also saw some wonderful gardens stuffed with flowers and pots and all sort of garden embellishments. I think most women are drawn to these but Maurice said he thought they were too much and it would lead to “little men” in the garden-I think he meant garden gnomes. He’s proably right but they are appealing.
There are little passage ways all over the place and they often lead to great shops, gardens or places to eat.
Clint Eastwood was once the mayor of Carmel and still lives in the area. He once owned this bar/restaurant and it is a fun place to stop for a drink. Didn’t see Clint though.
Nearby is the Carmel Mission. It was totally in ruins at one point but has been beautifully restored and is now back in use. I love Spanish architecture.
Thu 11 Oct 2007
Posted by Linda under General Comments
Of course, we made a trip to San Francisco-that city with one of the most breath-taking settings in the world.
On the way into San Francisco from the north you can stop on the Marine county side and see this view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is such stunning architecture.
A little closer from the other side.
And a little further away as we were on the scenic route through the city on the way to Highway 1. We had another spectacular day of sunshine.
The day we went into San Francisco to see a play, Maurice and I stood in line for a long time, at each end, to ride the cable car. There wasn’t any sitting room when it came time for us to board but we stood on the side holding onto bars, leaning out over the side. We could have done the high five with passengers on cable cars coming from the other direction if we had wanted. At one point you are at the top of Nob Hill and you can see blocks and blocks of streets as you are heading downhill towards the bay which is where I took this photo. This is where you pray the brakes don’t give out. It’s a fun way to get glimpses of the city from one side to the other and I arrived with wind blown hair made frizzy in the humidity. It was chilly too. Like the song says, I think I always leave a bit of my heart in San Francisco.
Tue 9 Oct 2007
Posted by Linda under General Comments
If you travel north of San Francisco onto Highway One, you eventually reach a little town called Inverness. Maurice and I stayed at a hotel here which overlooked a bay which resembled a lake. A long time ago I had visited the lighthouse on Point Reyes and wanted to get another look at it. It was cooler today than normal due to a little cold front in the area but the skies remained blue and the sun bright. The drive to the lighthouse from Inverness takes a good thirty minutes or so. It is a very rural area, totally unbuilt upon except for from Ranches named after letters of the alphabet, as in Ranch A. At one point we passed an oyster farm and then drove through two ranches with herds of black and white cows in the meadows where the milk comes from for some gourmet California cheese. Finally we reached the lighthouse. You have to park in a lot some distance from the lighthouse and hike up to it.
There was an incredible view of the shoreline far down below, known to be treacherous and I’ve never seen people in the water.
Here is the lighthouse. You have to go down over 300 steps to reach it, keeping in mind the whole time that the climb will have to be made after you see the lighthouse. There was a very nice gift shop at the top with books on lighthouses and lots of beautiful cards and posters. If you saw the horrow film by John Carpenter called, The Fog, this is where the main character goes in the evening to do a radio show. The movie, while rather cheesy(but I have to say it scared me to death years ago), gives you a really great look at the area. The interiors of the lighthouse in the movie were not done here, in case you wondered.
A close-up look. If there was a heavy fog, the lighthouse keeper had to burn coal like crazy to get the light to light up with steam-before electricity. It isn’t operational anymore but there is a great fog horn going off every 30 seconds which I love the sound of. There were screens on the window too. I think they were glass only when I saw it before. One of the daily jobs the lighthouse keeper had was keeping them clean.
The steps going up. Not much fun and, even if you started out feeling cool, you are sweaty and hot by the top.
Sun 7 Oct 2007
Posted by Linda under General Comments
I’ve long wanted to eat at a restaurant in Berekely called Chez Panisse. Anyone interested in food and its preparation has heard of this place. It is known for its fresh food and taste and the founder, Alice Waters, basically started the trend in the States using really fresh food found locally. I called on a whim when we were heading up past San Francisco to see if a reservation could be had at the last minute and to my surprise, there was. We had lunch in the upstairs cafe.
I love big bouquets of flowers-this was at the top of the stairs.
The menu. Three really fun ladies from New York set next to us and one of them said, “Can you believe we are here?” You could tell they were really excited, like me, to be there. That sense of anticipation for a new experience with eating is so much fun. Later they said, “Isn’t it nice not to be disappointed?”
I had gazpacho with shrimp-very tasty but, I have to say that I had some better in a little village in Provence once.
This was a chicken breast pounded thin and then grilled with onion rings and tomatillos on top. It was really tasty. Neither of us left a crumb on our plates. Dessert was an apple and blueberry crumble. We left not feeling stuffed, which I always like. I also bought her latest cookbook just out called The Art of Simple Food. I’ve barely looked at it but she is a proponant of cooking with local ingredients which seems to be a huge thing right now in the States. I think most of Europe, but at least France, already does that with all of the bi-weekly markets everywhere. Getting fresh fruit and vegetables never seems to be a problem anyway.
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