Monday, November 30, 2009

Sanksgeeveeng etc.

On Saturday I had my first taste of Thanksgiving, courtesy of my American flatmates. What a production! I can't believe they voluntarily do this so close to Christmas... Especially if it involves flying home from all over the States etc. But anyway, a day themed entirely around eating and drinking is okay by me! It took me all morning to track down the ingredients for my contribution - raspberry and marscapone tarts (recipe courtesy of Dad). Turns out the French apparently don't believe in tinned or frozen fruit at all, and I had to go to two different supermarkets (including the freakishly large, blood-pressure-raising Carrefour) to find ready-made pastry shells. It ended up costing me a hideous 20 euros for my ingredients, which made 8 large tarts and 12 bite-sized ones, and then only the small ones ended up getting eaten, so I could have made half as many... Anyway... I'm of the fond belief that this was owing to the abundance of food, not because the tarts were no good. I liked them at any rate. There were 10 of us to dinner, mostly Americans and me and two Brits. Most of the food was pretty good - no dreaded pumpkin pie! I did try the sweet potato casserole, against my better judgement, and I'm sorry but it was absolutely hideous. It was so sweet that it made my teeth ache - and it was a main course dish! The turkey and stuffing were delish, however, and there were some yummy sides like mashed potato and stuffed courgettes, and my colleague Ibi made a lovely apple crumble as well. We're still working our way through the leftovers, which doesn't include the 10 empty wine bottles accrued by the end of the evening!

Have been reflecting on my working life and come to the realisation that, other than the two observation weeks which don't really count, I've yet to do all 12 hours in any given week. One class I've only seen once, which is a bit of a pain, because they never tell me they're not coming so I just have to sit there for a decent amount of time before I dismiss my class of one. So yeah, no complaints still on the teaching front.

It rained today and yesterday, probably about the 5th and 6th or so days of rain since I've been here - not bad for 2 months. However, it simply cannot seem to rain without thundering, and it's the loudest and longest thunder you've ever heard. Usually starts with a very loud crack and then rumbles on for 30-odd seconds, and always at night. It always puts me in mind of storms on the Med and Turner-esque seascapes... So it's not always beau on the Cote d'Azur, but mostly...

Cannot believe that it's December tomorrow - nearly my birthday and 2010! Tomorrow I'm planning to do an exercise with my kids: 'the best of the decade', since such lists seem to be popping up in every newspaper, blog post etc. I find it VERY hard to believe that it's 10 years since the millenium. In the year 2000 I was 17, in my final year of school... in the decade since I've gained 3 university degrees, travelled overseas 4 times, to Europe 3 times (and to Canada and Australia), lived in Auckland, Wellington, London, Prague, Moscow, north-East France, Chamonix and Nice, had probably a dozen different jobs, broken up with my boyfriend of 6 years, learned and (mostly) forgotten Russian, partied a lot, and made lots of new friends. So yeah, an eventful decade!

Here's my list for my best of exercise. If anyone would like to chip in with theirs in the comments, feel free:

1) Best band: Kings of Leon
2) Best actor/actress: I can't think of anyone, so if you have suggestions, please put them on the back of a postcard to me by tomorrow :)
3) Best film: No country for old men was the only one I could think of. Not very good at remembering films.
4) TV show: The League of Gentlemen. Classic surreal insane Britcom.
5) Most influential person: Gotta be George W. Bush. Love him or hate him (hopefully hate him) he definitely had an impact.
6) Most historic event: 9/11 is the one "I'll always remember where I was when I heard..." moment of the past decade that I can think of
7) Best product: I heart my iPod!
8) Hottest celeb: This is another hard one... I might go with Wentworth Miller, the cute one on Prison Break.
9) Best song: The only 00s song to get 5 stars on my iPod is All These Things That I've Done by The Killers. Epic rock
10) Best book: Again, I drew a bit of a blank, but for the moment, I have fond memories of The Crimson Petal and the White, a contemporary re-imagining of the epic Victorian novel, starring a London prostitute... For those of you who live in my house, it's on my bookshelves and recommended for long plane journeys!

Okay must run, they've asked me to come in specially this afternoon to help build up a sound archive of native speakers talking about stuff. Blech!!!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Some observations on France and the French

Before I publish part one (probably more forthcoming eventually) of my collected wisdom on the French, quick update on moi. Most glaring event lately has been the death and resurrection of my laptop. I was unbelievably distressed when it crashed. Despite the hours spent on it every day, I hadn't quite fathomed the depths of my dependance on it, but it's my entire communication and entertainment apparatus, plus really quite useful for work, and I was lost without it. Thankfully some dude fixed it for me for a reasonable price, but alas, all my files are gone, including my iTunes library (which is backed up in New Zealand thankfully) and my photos. Which are not, for the most part, backed up anywhere. So, of my trip to Italy, there remains pretty much just the photos on this blog :( So that's upsetting, but daddy dearest burning down the garage has taught me not to get too upset at the loss of physical (or digital) "memories". C'est la vie and next time back the things up! The thought crossed my mind every now and again, but yeah... Oh well. I'm hoping like mad that it won't die again. My flatmate is of the opinion that it will, but don't know whether she actually knows what she's talking about. Not sure if the guy who fixed it had an opinion on the subject, I was seriously struggling to understand a word out of his mouth - he was of the French-speaking variety whose every sentence consists of "mumblemumblemumblemumble, quoi?" but I figured that most of what he was saying would have equally gone over my head in English, so just nodded and smiled and panicked slightly on the occasions when he was actually asking me a question. PS on a tangent, it's a somewhat endearing French young person tic to end sentences with 'quoi?' ('what'?), and is not indicative that they're about to break in to 'topping day, old bean' mode.

So anyway, things I have recently been thinking about, enjoy:

- On the bus today there was not one, but two obese people (one man, one woman). The man, at least, was French, don't know about the woman. Anyway, this reminded me of how rare it is to see overweight people here, they virtually don't exist. Almost all the young 'uns are skinny as (boys included) and the women mostly stay skinny until about 50, when some of them start piling on some grandmotherly pounds. Of course, they are all obsessed with dieting...

- Also on the bus today was a woman wearing a CAPE. Sweet. And it has to be said, she was semi-rocking it. Kudos. On the subject of dress, my high school students frequently make me laugh with what they wear. Not so much the girls, you kind of expect sophisticated French mode from them, but the boys vary from jeans and t-shirts to looking like they stepped off a catwalk, it's hilarious. All charcoal turtlenecks with elegantly knotted purple scarves and man bags. Heh.

- There are way, way too many motorbikes and scooters here, and their owners have all taken compulsory wanker courses before being allowed to ride them. They are really loud, they often go through red lights, they drive on the wrong side of the road wherever possible, they drive up on to pavements and 'park' in the middle of them, they rev their engines at you if you cross the road in front of you (that's on the rare occasions they stop at all)... Yesterday I even saw, would you believe, someone going down the wrong side of a busy multi-lane street at 11.30 am doing a wheelie. Wank-ers!

- It's been said before and it'll be said again, but France really is full of merde. That's poo to our non-French friends. Specifically, it's merde of the canine variety. Crottes de chien are everywhere - it's less "keep watching the skies" than "keep watching the pavements". I don't know how many times I've suddenly noticed a pretty building or sign or whatever that I must have walked past a million times before and thought "well, up to now I've missed it because I've been on dogpoo patrol". They - and this must be with malice aforethought - seem to take special delight in pooing in the gaps between parked cars, also known as the part of the street where the crap is likely to be difficult to see and easy to step in. I've escaped so far, but for how long??? Possibly the worst is when it rains (granted, that's not often) and the piles of crap are replaced with melted dogpoo puddles leeching across the pavement. Nice!

- I haven't seen it, but apparently there's another memorial somewhere in my school to all the Jewish kids from the school who got taken away to concentration camps in WWII. I've seen my fair share of Holocaust memorials by now, but what an especially sad idea to think of students like mine sent away to their deaths :(

- Was having chats with the two students who turned up to my class this afternoon. One, a 16 year old, is planning on 'drinking' this weekend - she's been going out to bars for about a year now. Both of them said that teenage drinking was a big problem in France, and it's 'bad' how easy it is for teenagers to get into bars and buy alcohol. They thought it was hilarious when I told them how, in New Zealand, the French are held up as paragons of healthy drinking behaviour. So suck on that, all you journalists who act like the French are universally sophisticated and sensible. (For one thing, you only have to watch a bit of French TV to see that's not the case. Cheese city!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A la recherche de willpower

One of the best things about France has got to be the food, right? Pains au chocolat, chocolate eclairs, croissants aux amandes (croissants filled with almond stuff, one of my personal favs), chocolate mousse... A recent discovery in the frozen food section of my local Monoprix is Flammekeuche (sp?) an Alsatian dish which is to diiiiie for. Imagine a very thin pizza with its crust raised around the edges and the middle filled with this creme fraiche concoction, onions and bacon bits and you have flammekeuche. Omg it's good.

So yeah, I'm in grave danger of turning into a petit pot au chocolat or something along those lines, so in an effort to gently encourage myself to do more than walk down to the nearest bakery to get another beignet or chausson aux pommes (why? why do you have so many delicious treats, France?) I will name and shame my exercise efforts here, and if I don't then pleeeeease hassle me. My mum does already, so everyone else get on board. I work 12 hours per week, there's really no excuse.

So today I have hopped on the wonder that is You Tube and done a 10 min cardio workout, a 5 min Pilates core workout and a devilish chair-based workout, which may sound easy but was the hardest of all. If you don't believe me, you try repeatedly sitting down and getting up off a chair standing on one bent leg without using your arms. Hard! Okay so that's not a lot, but it's day one. Stay tuned.

The only other thing of note for today was some guy turning up to inspect the ceilings - there was a flood of some sort upstairs, and some minor water damage here but it didn't leak through so don't be concerned. Anyway, that in itself wasn't especially noteworthy, but I found it hilarious that 3 other random neighbours took it upon themselves to tag along. I'm pretty sure they had no reason for being here other than to sneak a peak at our apartment and have something else to gossip about behind our backs. Not that I have any reason to believe they're maliciously inclined towards us (well, other than the two occasions that people have let the front door slam in my face so I had to open it with a key instead of just holding it for me) but they definitely talk. Everyone who comes to our door opens with something like "I'll talk slowly for you" so they've identified us as dirty furreners, and today the workman asked me if I was the owner and some old lady I'd never seen before jumped in with "No, they're foreign students" (not true of course, but whatever). Luckily we run a pretty clean ship around here so there can't have been too much for them to oh la la la la about with the rest of the crew.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The park that gives on giving

I know I've said it before, but I heart the park.

To recap, not only is there:
- Pretty olive trees
- Old men playing petanque
- Genu-ine Roman ruins
- An archaeology museum
- The Matisse museum
- A pretty church with a mummified corpse in it
- A Franciscan monastery with museum (which I haven't been into yet)

But I discovered on Saturday that there's also an old graveyard with (partial) sea views, and a 17th century monastic garden which houses Matisse's tomb (all by itself) and is wonderfully peaceful and deserted. Strictly speaking, I suppose the church, monastery, graveyard and garden aren't really part of the park, but they're right there behind it, so I'm counting it. And making this wonderful park of splendour officially my favourite place in Nice. And it's just down the road and everything! Good show, park!

The only other thing of note to report is our little dinner party on Saturday night - the 3 flatmates and 3 other American assistants. We dined splendidly, thanks to Emily, resident chef, and a good time was had by all. Our neighbour (the quiet, religious man - he does exist) came round to complain at 10.30, which, in my opinion, is pretty ridiculous. Even if you're quiet and religious, you should be able to put up with 6 girls talking at 10.30 on a Saturday night. No loud music, it wasn't a party, and they were gone by 11.30. Honestly, if you can't get up to that sort of mild fun, what can you do? Oh yeah, hammer/drill away continuously all day from 9 am on weekends, and whenever you knock off work during the week, yeah I'm looking at you, upstairs neighbours. However, in the defense of the religious gentleman, I must admit that the girls were VERY loud talkers. Not all of them, but enough for it to rachet up the decibels considerably. And yes (please close your ears to this piece of bigotry, my American friends) when complainerson came to the door I said to him "I'm sorry, they're Americans" and he just nodded sagely as if to say "I quite understand". Ha ha ha! I'm sorry, but yeah, as a sweeping generalisation, you guys is loud, aiight?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice Day

Today was another public holiday, unfortunately same old for me as I don't work Wednesdays anyway. The buses were flying little French flags though, which I thought was cute. For fairly obvious reasons, they're pretty obsessed with the world wars here. Every town, big or small, has its war memorial. My school alone has two war memorials (!) which were draped with flags yesterday - apparently there was a remembrance ceremony in the morning, but I didn't make it along. Coincidentally, I had to say the word 'Vichy' in a dictation to a class yesterday. So I mispronounce one French word (which like pretty much every place name in French, turns out not to conform with the norms of French pronunciation (well, at least in my probably inaccurate book) - rhymes with fishy, who knew?) and that's license for the class to crack up like it's the most hilarious thing ever. But it's okay for zem to talk laike zeees...

So anyway, after my laundry was done I ventured out into what was another gorgeous, warm day. Ahhh, I really am lucky to live on the Cote d'Azur :) Whenever I see the weather on TV there's pretty much three bands - rain in the north, cloud in the middle, and sunshine down here! I mean, Nice has its off days too, but overall it's pretty sweet. I headed down to the park and finally managed to find the archaeological museum hiding in a corner that I never knew existed. It was free (yay) and practically deserted, which are always plus points. It wasn't the most exciting place I've ever been, but it was pretty interesting to see the exhibits and photos of archaeological digs and reconstructions of buildings etc. etc. and know that they were actually from right here where I live. From the looks of it, the Roman settlement up here (called Cemenelum, presumably the origin of the suburb's name - Cimiez) was a pretty happening place, with an amphitheatre, pretty extensive baths, graveyards (yeah, those count as 'happening') and later a Christian basilica. Photos and so forth here.

The best bit is that you can walk through the museum and out into the ruins (those that aren't currently being restored) and just walk all around the site. I hadn't actually realised you could do this - from the park, you can only vaguely see them from behind a fence and trees, so it was a nice surprise, and very peaceful and pleasant on a lovely day like today. I definitely think my Dad would enjoy a walk around here, so that's another thing on the itinerary :)

Oh and there was a sarcophagus inscribed something along the lines of 'to my beloved husband Marcus, the best of men, with whom I lived for 20 years, 8 months and 9 days' which I thought was very touching. Also another one that was to 'our daughter, who died prematurely at the age of 19'. It's funny how difficult it is sometimes to realise that people in those days could marry for love and do things like count the days of their relationship, or that despite the high mortality rates, they could still consider dying at 19 as 'premature'. I suppose that's the real value of museums like this - they offer a small window into the past which somehow manages to make it so much more concrete and immediate than it would be if you read it in a book (or on my blog I suppose...) Semi-appropriate for Armistice Day then - remembering all the dead of Cimiez today.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Look, I did something!

So gave myself a stern talking-to for my inactivity over the holidays, which resulted in me walking up to the cemetery on the hill overlooking Old Town and the Baie des Anges. Luckily, last Friday was warm and sunny and gorgeous - unlike the last few days - the walk was pleasant and the view was GORGEOUS. Will definitely have to take the fam up on a nice day when they come to visit. You can see the whole sweep of the bay, with the calm Mediterranean Sea looking like someone has spilt a bucket of bright blue paint on a mirror. In the other direction, the red roofs of Old Town stretch out (well, for a short distance) before you, and then there are the hills behind (couldn't really work out where my house was, sense of direction = poor, as Ranch would agree).

Up the top of the hill are a lot of walking trails, park-y type spaces, a pretty cool man-made waterfall, and some ruins of the old castle and fortifications which once defended Nice. Supposedly this is the oldest area (some pretty old prehistoric remains have been found) along with the Greek/Roman ruins near my house. Makes sense since it's a pretty strategic position with the view across the bay etc.

There's also the Jewish and Christian cemeteries, which are pretty cool, especially the Christian one since that has more fancy statues. Plus I found one section which is like a street map of Nice brought to... um, life... All the big names - Medecin, Malaussena, Grosso, Pastorelli. Would be interested to know who some of these people were and what they did to deserve streets named after them and being buried in the special section of the cemetery. There was also Garibaldi's grave (not with the Nice bigwigs) which was pretty cool as far as grave-spotting goes. He must have been so gutted that Nice didn't wind up as part of Italy. Sucks to be you eh Garibaldi? Hmm I actually just Wikipediad him and turns out his grave is not in Nice, they just for some reason put a monument to him amongst the other graves, in a graveyard, which looks exactly like a tombstone. Oh well, whatever.

The only other thing of note that happened while I was up the hill was the 12 o'clock cannons going off. These fire twice every day at (duh) 12 o'clock. If you're alert, you can hear them from my house and presumably all over the city, but day-ummm, they are LOUD from the vantage point of that hill! Luckily enough I had heard the church bells a second before and knew they were about to fire, because I'm trying to cultivate an air of insouciance in the face of cannonry, in order not to jump and look like a dick/tourist whenever they go off.

Nothing else interesting to report (how could I top that story?) Had my first 8 am class today, wasn't too bad, it was one of the easy ones where I listen and critique their speaking. TWO of my classes are now cancelled tomorrow, leaving only one. Sah-weet! Will try to motivate myself again to get out and do something, even though it's rainy and cold. Maybe a museum or such. Wednesday is a holiday, Armistice Day, although typically it's on the only weekday I have off anyway, so same old same old for me. And yeah, that's it until the next exciting installment!

Thursday, November 05, 2009


I forgot to say I was drilling the students in my conversation class on the pronunciation of 'fifth' today (Remember, remember, the fifth of November). Mainly because frenchies have trouble with the 'th' sound. But guess what came back at me? "Fuff". Ah, just when you think you don't have a horrible kiwi accent, turns out you're infecting the French with it!!

Back to school

Getting up this morning at 7.15 was haaaaard. Admittedly, I have been in a pattern of being awake until around midnight and sleeping until around 9, but for some reason last night my body freaked out and refused to go to sleep until about 2.30 am, then I woke up at least twice that I remember in the night. So yeah, grumpy this morning. Presumably this had something to do with the fact that I opened my neglected diary at around 9 pm and realised that I had said I would present a lesson on 'Maori/NZ culture, differences, racism etc.' Erm, kind of a big topic, no clues where to start, stupid Google was giving me nothing... After much fruitless searching and no ideas whatsoever, I finally pulled together some Powerpoint images at about 1 in the morning. Didn't have time to get anything printed/photocopied today so ended up having to take my laptop in to class and hold it aloft while the kids just completely failed to get engaged or answer any of my questions. Painful - and next week the other half of the class comes along for that hour (don't ask me what the halves thing is about), so I get to do it again... (No planning though, woo!)

Anyway, that was after my ridiculously easy first hour (listening and correcting students' presentations) and before my conversation class, which went okay - we did Guy Fawkes & did my best to tease out philosophical debate on whether he was a terrorist or a freedom fighter, whether it was right to disobey laws you morally disagreed with etc. etc. Not the liveliest debate ever (me and two students) but at least the hour was filled.

Then my second conversation class was cancelled (woohoo). One of my classes tomorrow is cancelled, and one next Tuesday (sadly in the middle of the day so not a whole lot of use to me) so a pretty easy start back to teaching anyway. Then just 6 more weeks till the next holidays, seeing my family in England.

Yesterday, my last day of freedom, I decided to actually leave the house for once and went to the Matisse Museum, which as I think I said, is just down the road. It's free, which is a big plus. Otherwise, I might have been a bit disappointed. I'm not a huge fan of Matisse to begin with, but I still would have liked to see more of the characteritic large paintings or decoupage works, instead of lots of drawings and studies, a handful of early paintings, and some sculpture, tapestries and stained glass. But, ya know, free, a way to kill an hour, can't complain.

The museum is in a shabby-chic 17th century mansion, set in a nice park filled with olive trees that I like to visit quite often. It's always full of old men playing boules or petanque or whatever (is there a difference) in the afternoons, and has a generally livelier feel than many equivalents in other countries I've been to. The park is also home to some pretty impressive Roman ruins, which they're doing some sort of restoration work on at the moment. It cracked me up the other day when I walked past at lunchtime and saw all the labourers sitting down to lunch, outside, at a table outside - plates, glasses, the works. Lunch is something to be taken very seriously in France! There's supposedly an archaeological museum in the grounds as well, but I have no idea where it is - the whole place isn't that big, I must be missing something... Finally, there's a church, which is actually very pretty and peaceful and nice, and features the mummified corpse of some old saint, lying out for all to see. Spookilicious! The church has a museum to the Franciscans as well, which I haven't been in, and there's supposedly a monastery somewhere around the place, so all in all, a park packed with divertissements...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Lazy days

I've been on holiday since last Friday and have managed to do pretty much nothing, in life as on the blog. I am, of course, ashamed, but on the other hand, that's what holidays are for, no?

I did take one excursion to Peille which is a little medieval village perched up in the mountains, about an hour and a half's bus-ride from Nice, up roads windy enough to make one of our party throw up on the descent. Good times! Nothing much to report on it - it was small and deserted, we wandered about, saw the war memorial, saw the church, had a drink (no alcohol without food!) and that was that. But still, a nice day out with a couple of other assistants and their assorted friends, and it's only 1 euro on the bus to anywhere in the departement, which is a stone-cold bargain!

Back to work the day after tomorrow... actually won't mind it too much, considering all the pointless hanging about (mostly in the sunshine though) I've been doing. Hope everyone and RANCH is well

A view of the war memorial in Peille

A friendly kitty cat and me

Me, Ibi, Shaomei (Ibi's flatmate), 2 of Shaomei's friends and Ben another assistant in Peille. Probably not in that order, but I can't see the photos when I'm uploading them, so whatevs.