Thursday, February 11, 2010

Will Travel

Well, in a little over 24 hours I will be hitting the road again.  This time we're heading south to Lisbon, Portugal, then a brief stop in Madrid, Spain, a few days in Toulouse, France, and another short stop in La Rochelle.

Here are two songs that I have stuck in my head, pretty good traveling songs, the two of them:
"Have Love, Will Travel" is originally by Richard Berry ("Louie, Louie" anecdote: when I was a very very small child I looooved the song "Louie, Louie."  So much so, in fact, that I called the record player the "Ooey-Ooey.")
This version is by the Black Keys and is also fabulous:
Have Love, Will Travel
"Silver Stallion" was originally by the Highwaymen (wikipedia refers to them as the American country supergroup).  The version of "Silver Stallion" stuck in my head is also a cover, but I found the video of the Country Supergroup playing it, and it is a requirement that you watch it too:
Supergroup's Silver Stallion The best part is Jenning's little dance at around 1:45.
The cover that, I must admit, I heard before the original is by Cat Power.  Much more mellow, but excellent nonetheless:
Cat Power's Silver Stallion

Yay for traveling music!

I'm really excited about this trip, especially Lisbon because 1. it will be my first time in Portugal and 2. there is supposed to be really good, really cheap food in Portugal.
But, even though this vacation will begin at 4:30 tomorrow afternoon when I leave Marcel Pagnol, I've found myself more fervently counting down the weeks and days until April.  Why?

My parents are supposed to visit.  No tickets have been purchased yet (Mom, get on it!!), but it's pretty much decided.  And I can't wait.  Recently I've been thinking how nice it would be to take a weekend trip home, which, unfortunately, is totally impossible.  It's not like I'm ready to move home -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- but the familiarity of home is much missed.  Seeing my parents is as close as I'll get to Memphis until sometime in July.  And as much of my life as I've wished to be away from Memphis, I always catch myself being insanely nostalgic for it when away.  I had a conversation with a girl I met from Vancouver.  Someone asked if she missed it (vancouver, in particular, i think, because it's supposed to be a nice place to live), and she said "well, it's usually the people isn't it? not the place."  I guess that is a given, but it's a great way to look at it.

For now, however, I do love living here.

All of this is probably compounded by the fact that I'm anxiously awaiting grad school decisions, which will determine where I live for the next two to three years.  I guess this is good as a place as any to announce that Memphis accepted me into their MFA program.  One of my professors sent me a very nice email that said I was accepted with a unanimous "yes."  It was a nice way to kick off the week.

Anywho, blog readers, if you're there, I'm again traveling sans computer, so I'll be in touch when I return from the vacances!
À bientôt!

(my will-travel picture)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Qui a la droite? C'est moi!

So after a somewhat tongue-in-cheek analysis of the French obsession with doling out rights like disproportionate war-time rations, I can now stick my foot in my mouth, right there next to my tongue.


Well, I received a letter Friday from the friendly neighborhood CAF office.  I receive letters from the CAF office about twice a month.  Usually the letter requests that I provide some sort of official government document/proof of income or residence/vials of blood so that they can continue reviewing my case for another few weeks until they realize they need clippings of my hair and the impossible-to-receive stamp from the Office of Immigration.  Then they send me another letter requesting such items.

Although I've probably explained it, I'll bring you up to date: as a young person with a low income, I am eligible for government housing assistant to ease the burden of paying rent.  As this is France and as the CAF is a shining example of French bureaucracy, I expected the process would be slow and tedious.  Then, the immigration officials changed the rules for people like me living in France.  In years past, I would have received a carte de séjour, a residency permit to prove I was allowed to stay in France for a certain period of time.  But the Office of Immigration, OFii, no longer requires it.  Instead, I have to get a stamp from the office in Nantes on my visa.  But I cannot get the stamp without first having a medical examination with OFii.  A medical visit, that is, that I cannot schedule.  I have to wait for them to send me a letter with a date, which I have not received.  Confused yet?  What does this have to do with the CAF?  Well, no one bothered to update the  CAF about the changes, and it continued to demand the carte de séjour. In fact, one conversation with a CAF employee went like this:
"Ms, you can get the CAF when you have a carte de séjour."
"Mam, the carte de séjour no longer exists for me.  They changed the rules."
"No. Without the carte de séjour, you DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT to the CAF."

But, someone finally updated the CAF, now they know that we are waiting for OFii stamps on our visas, which basically means nothing except our conversations with the CAF are now slightly more polite.  And I continue to receive letters requesting information, and I continue to send in that information.

Then, this week, Elvynia received a letter notifying her that she would receive a fairly large sum of back pay from November to December.  And she did.  It was deposited directly into her bank account.

Then, a day or so later, I received a letter from the CAF.  Per usual, I expected a request for several documents that I didn't have.  Mais, non!!  It was a similar letter with the following sentence:
Vous avez droit à €686.79.  You have the right to €686.79.

The amount is back-pay from October to December, and because I live in a foyer it won't be directly deposited into my account.  But, I talked to the girls who work here, and it's the real deal.  I'm getting financial assistance.  Of course, the whole process continues to be convoluted, and it is paid in a sort of credit to the foyer where I will only pay the difference in rent (which should be zilch).
The funny thing is: I still don't have the OFii stamp.
But who cares!  My monthly net income is now at a level where I won't cringe after purchasing each plane/train/bus/boat/hot air balloon ticket!

A final thing:  all of this having the right/not having the right, reminded me of my favorite children's books, Eloise by Kay Thompson.  Eloise in Moscow is probably one of the most hilarious children's books you'll ever read.  It was published in 1951 when the Cold War was just getting going, and Eloise gets to shake up the Soviets a little.  Their fabulous tour guide takes them around the city and explains "Is possible to see...." "Is not possible to go" here, here, and here.  It's not that funny here, but read it.  Trust me, it's hilarious.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

You gotta fight, for your right...

One thing that French people love to define is what one does and does not have the right to do.  For example, the French have the right to 30 days of paid vacation per year, housing assistance (if at a certain income level), and a 35 hour work week.  They have the right to eat baguettes whenever the mood strikes, to drink wine at lunch, and to drive like crazy people.
But even with all of these clearly defined rights, here is one of the phrases that any one should/will learn quickly when living in France: On n'a pas la droite - One does not have the right, on means one, but really it is used more like English speakers use you to refer to people in general.  To what does one not have the right?  Lots of things: You do not have the right to sit in the grass in the park.  The police do not have the right to enter private property without a warrant. You do not have the right to the CAF (Caisse d'Allocation  Familiales - government aid, for me, this means housing assistance) without furnishing the proper documents. (Unless you're Elvynia, who just miraculously received her money!)  All of this having/ not having the right to do such and such permeates even the minutiae of French existence.  So much so, in fact, that school children often try to tell each other what they do and do not have the right to do.  For example, "take out your colored pencils," I say to the 7 year olds.  "Color the apple red.  The apple is red." (Draw out the words for emphasis, accompany them by a coloring motion, and you'll have an idea what I look and sound like.)  Almost instantly, there are choruses of: "Cassandra/Lyed/Farouk elle a dit les crayons couleurs, tu n'a pas la droite! Allie!!! il/elle le fait avec les feutres!!!"  That's to say: So-and-so, she said with colored pencils, you don't have the right!  Allie!!! he/she's doing it with markers!!!"  It sounds so funny translated from the mouths of those small children.  I guess it's the equivalent of English speakers saying "you're supposed to/ not supposed to do such and such."  

The point:  Do you know what else one does not have the right to do?  One does not have the right to leave L'École Primaire de Jacques Prévert through the cafeteria.
Yes, that's right, on n'a pas la droite de sortir l'école par le cantine. But why?  I haven't a clue.  Today, my horrible CP class was cancelled without any warning, which was great.  Dominique, the CP teacher and directeur de l'école (the principal), had a meeting, and the CPs were distributed throughout the other classrooms.  I got to leave work 40 minutes early.  But, since Dominique was not there, and the elusive secretary was, as usual, nowhere to be found, I thought I'd leave through the cafeteria.  Why would I think such a crazy thing?  Well, first of all to leave through the front gate you have to have either a key or have someone (Dominique or elusive secretary) buzz you out.  Second of all, the bike rack is next to the cafeteria, so there's the ease of getting my bike without leaving through one gate and re-entering through another. And I have entered the school through the cafeteria.  So, I went to the cafeteria and opened the door, where I was greeted by three disgruntled cafeteria ladies who sat eating what I presumed was their own lunch.  To be polite, I asked if it was okay if I left through the cafeteria, expecting a friendly bien sûr, pas de soucis.  Instead I got: 

Normalement, on n'a pas la droite, mais vous êtes déja entrée, allez-y.

Basically, "normally, no, you do not have the right to go out through the cafeteria, but seeing as you've already entered, go on."  I was a little shocked and thus made a beeline for the door.  Only after I left did I stop to wonder, BUT WHY?  Why doesn't one have the right to leave the building through the cafeteria?  The door is unlocked.  I am not a student.  Next time, I'll ask why.

Another endearing thing that I forgot in my last post, although this was not with one of my students:
I was jogging in the promenade behind my building, and I saw this little boy looking worriedly into some bushes.  I slowed down a little, and he said something about his ball, so I stopped and looked.  His ball was stuck in a prickly bush.  Ça pique! He said.  -- Piquer is a fabulous word that means to sting, bite, or prick.  It can be used in reference to an insect, a spicy dish, or even a prickly bush.  I love the word and its multifunctionalness (I also enjoy creating nouns, like multifunctionalness). -- Anyway, I tried to get the ball out for him, but it was too far on the other side. So the two of us went around into the courtyard of the building, and I was able to pull it out. Merci, madame, he said.  I don't know, sometimes things like that just make you feel good.  It was also hilarious that he called me "madame."   

Also, the days are getting longer!  Wherever you are reading this, unless maybe you live in the Southern Hemisphere -- amy, are you there?? :) -- I guess your days are getting longer too.  Every year my mom tells me that, during the winter, she always looks forward to being able to tell that the days are getting a little bit longer.  For some reason it seems like the days have been unreasonably short this winter.  But now they're starting to get a little longer, which is great.  We've also had a couple days of sunshine, which has been even better.  It's still cold, but it's nice to know the winter won't last forever.  AND according to my book on the Loire Valley, spring is one of the best times to visit -- it's supposed to be beautiful here.

I tried to get a really cool picture of the trees outside my window.  The buildings block all but the very tops of the trees from the sun, and the sun was shining brightly yesterday afternoon.  The tops of the trees were bright orange while the rest was normal looking.  Anyway, here are pictures, even though it didn't turn out quite as cool as it looked in real life.  Proof that the sun has graced Angers with its presence, at least for a little while:

Finally, there 5 working days left until my next vacation! We leave Saturday, Feb 13th for Lisbon, Portugal.  Then we'll make our way up the Iberian peninsula to Madrid, followed by Toulouse, with a final stop in La Rochelle.  Elvynia and I have been counting down the days religiously.  I guess we've become rather French, expecting all of this vacation time.  The vacation time to which, I might add, we do have the right.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The brats can endear to the tired Tea-chair.

So, I continue to be a tired tea-chair, and I have decided I do not have a long term career in child education.
For example, my CPs just entirely wear me out.  In that class, there are 3 or 4 horribly disruptive children, then there are 6 or 7 incredibly chatty kids, then there are between 3 and 5 who cannot stay in their seat, in a class of 20 kids, that is a problem.  The teacher himself has no real control.  It is a circus.  I leave that class each Tuesday and Thursday with some form of a headache.

But, every once and a while, one of those kids does something that kind of surprises you and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy.  (Not to be totally lame or anything)

One of my favorite kids, Walid (who was describing his salty sweet chichi snack to me) moved suddenly.  The teacher didn't know he was going to be changing schools.  So one day he was at Marcel Pagnol, and the next he was not.  But, he was at Jacques Prévert, the same day that I teach there.  I said hi, and he looked a little wild-eyed and confused (being only 7 and being left at a new place without anyone familiar).  But he looked really happy to see me and asked me to say "bonjour" to Madame Goupille's class.  
When I saw Mme. Goupille's class, I said "Bonjour from Walid."  She said to the class "Walid is at Allie's other school, so we can send him messages through her!"
One little boy, Farouk, said "Dit à Walid que je suis toujours son ami."  (Tell Walid that I am still/always his friend.)
Then the whole class made illustrations for him, which I delivered.  When Walid heard Farouk's message, he gave me one of his marbles to give to Farouk.  
How absolutely adorable!  He asked me today if I had given him the marble yet.  I hadn't because I hadn't been to the school yet, and he wanted me to show it to him to make sure I still had it!

Another great story:
One of the boys in CE2 at Marcel Pagnol gave me a folded up piece of paper, which I promptly unfolded:

I had to laugh.  M. Beauvais took it and looked at it, and he laughed.  He gave an approximate translation, and the poor kid turned red and covered his face!  But, I told him I'd keep it, and I have!  I tacked to the wall above my desk.  
I just want to know why all the CE2s want to draw American flags for me!

In other news, the sun came out Sunday.  Meredith and I went for a walk, which was really nice.  I took some pictures of Angers, and we stopped at a café and had a coffee. The café was small and had nice burnt-orange colored walls.  It was a clean, well-lighted place.  There is a Hemingway story called "A Clean Well-Lighted Place."  It is one of my favorites.  I recommend it.
When we left the café, we stopped in one of the very very few little shops open on Sundays, and as we headed back toward, someone called after us.  Another assistant, Ben, who we've seen very little of was on his way to see Le Cercle Rouge a Jean-Pierre Melville movie (this meant nothing to me, but apparently he is one of THE French film directors to know.)  The movie was made in 1970, and it is awesome.  It is French and thus has some very French moments and a rather French ending.  But, it begins with some amazing cinematography, wide shots of fields, close shots of this convict being escorted on a train, an intense chase in the woods; it includes a cabaret with excellent dancers, a jewelry heist, and a drunk's hallucinations; it ends with intensity.  There is surprisingly little dialogue, which was helpful in that I didn't have to focus all my energies on comprehending the French.  Anyway, check it out.
There's always more... for now, here's winter in Anger: