Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Greetings From Deutschland

If I haven't said this before, I should say it. And if I have, it bears repeating. I am awful at blogging. I am ashamed at how little I've written since I've been living in Paris over the last 7 months. I have no excuse except for laziness. But as my time in Europe is drawing to an end, I am feeling sentimental and feel like writing.

I have since moved in and out of my little Parisian 'palace' by Voltaire. In the end, I became comfortable with living on my own, although given the choice I much prefer living with others. Nevertheless, it was a necessary experience for me to have and I feel more grown up for sticking it out. For 5 months, those 17 m2, were all mine. And though I may have cursed my small living quarters, that apartment was my little nest in a big city, and even housed many visiting friends and family. Packing up my things, I didn't feel sad or nostalgic to let it go (I guess I wasn't there long enough to), just grateful that I had had it.

Currently, I'm in Frankfurt, staying with an old friend of my mum, who is graciously putting me up for the next two weeks. Unfortunately, today is very cold and wet, and I've decided to forgo sightseeing in the rain. How unadventurous of me. Instead, I am curled up in a comfy chair, typing away on her daughter's beautiful MacBook Pro (Note: MUST get one the moment I can afford it). I want to dedicate the next several entries to memories and experiences that I have neglected to write about over the past several months. It would be impossible to write them all down, and in the detail I would like to, but I want to try to store a few of them while they are still relatively fresh in my mind. It'll be a work in progress, but I wan't to post it as I go along instead of just saving it as a draft forever.

Lorne's visit:

I'll never forget how annoyed I was waking up to loud knocking on my apartment door. Thinking it was the Jehovah's Witnesses that hadn't left me alone the week before, I ignored it. When I finally got out of bed to see why it wouldn't stop, there he was, staring at me through the peephole, three days earlier than expected. I had been sick, lonely and depressed in the week before his visit. I hadn't showered, or cleaned, or done much of anything. My thought process:, "Am I dreaming? How long have I been sleeping? What day is it? He can't really be here! I haven't cleaned the apartment or showered yet!"

The next three weeks were incredible. Not a fan of the typical French breakfasts (he doesn't like ANYTHING sweet) we had our share of bacon and eggs made on my little hot plate almost every morning. We had Valentine's Day, fresh coffee, the rugged coast of Paimpol, red wine, croissants, train rides, car rentals, more coffee, free heineken, cheese, family and fun in London, English breakfasts, Guinness, Lahksa at the Dawsons, more wine, dinner at the Mbalea's, Versailles, a very cold football match, rain, sun, and full moons, and then a very tearful goodbye (on my part).

The Trini feast:

I was lucky enough to make a group of friends in Paris that love eating as much as I do. And I must say that I really enjoyed the dinner parties we had together. On this particular occasion, Paul (my friend from Trinidad) was going to throw us a Trinidadian meal. I remember agreeing to meet up with him and Laura to help grocery shop. Little did I know that this would turn into a two day affair. I met up with Paul, Kate and Laura R., and we shopped at Tang Freres' in Chinatown for at least an hour before setting up to cook at Laura G's apartment because it was the only one big enough and with an oven. We chopped, and grated, washed, peeled, boiled, baked and sauteed for hours under Paul's intruction, only taking ONE much needed tea break before we completely lost all sanity. And I enjoyed every minute of it. Around midnight we had finished preparing everything we could and went home to bed. The next day was spent fussing about the finishing touches, with every one on hand helping out with something or other. At one point there must have been at least 10 people in the kitchen at once, working on something. In the end, we had around 16 people, from all around the world, munching on the most delicious selection of traditional Trini food. We filled our bellies until we couldn't eat any more, and somehow there was still food left over. Such a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Okay, taking a break for the moment, but more to come later.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Ma petite "boîte" française

Thought I'd post some pictures of the new pad.
The first night in the apartment was bizarre and lonely. Sleeping in a new bed, in a strange place, with foreign sounds and NO INTERNET made me feel agitated and anxious. I carelessly burned through 35 euro worth of phone credit-an amount that can last me two months- on a meager 20 minute phone call home. And when the line cut abruptly short, I was left with a silence that slithered and squeezed so tightly around my chest, I felt I might never breathe in again.

I did.

Within a few days I found my way; slowly creating new rhythm and routine. Finding solace in music, or podcasts, or bits of conversation heard through thin wall. To be honest, learning to be by myself has been an experience that I do not take for granted. I am only now becoming aware of how immensely important this experience is for me. I realize that though there are times I crave solitude (I think we all do) I typically feel uneasy on my own. Perhaps due to the fact that I have rarely been by myself in my life. I come from a very close family, which I adore and love being around, and as far back as I can remember have always had at least one friend with whom I was joined at the hip. For the past four years, I've been lucky to be in a relationship where I can spend endless amounts of time with my bf, and it's never stifling, but rather wonderful. That's not to say that I don't have moments of solitude in my life; I often enjoy running or walking around the city or shopping on my own, however given the choice of doing those activities with others has always seemed like more fun to me. If I'm honest, I think I shy away from being by myself because I am terrified of loneliness-a feeling I confuse with being inept, pathetic, a failure- as it is something I find horribly debilitating.

I see now that it doesn't have to mean those things. While often unpleasant, feeling lonely can be a freeing, strengthening and ultimately a human experience. I have yet to meet one person who hasn't felt truly loneliness at one time in their life. Why are we, or rather, am I, so afraid to admit it?

Though I enjoy being able to go out with my friends more now that I live in the city, and it is a struggle pushing myself (a home-body) out of this 17 m2 apartment to try new things, I am, to some extent, enjoying my loneliness. I wouldn't go as far to say that I love it, but it has forced me to shift my thinking about myself and what I am capable of, and I am appreciative about that. At the end of the day, coming home to a quiet apartment isn't that bad after all...

...unless one is without internet. The horror!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Back in France

January 8, 2010

Yesterday was my first day back at work. Due to the jet lag, I woke up around 4:30 am, and despite my effort to stay in bed for another hour, I gave up and got out of bed. When I stepped out the door into the cold morning I had to do a double take. For a minute I thought I was still in Toronto. Snow was falling heavily from the sky and the ground was blanketed in white. By the time I reached Evry I couldn’t believe how much snow there was. I felt the way one might feel to see a familiar face in a foreign place; “Hey! What are YOU doing here?!” Happy that keeping my furry mukluks in France hadn’t been such an absurd idea after all, I marched on through the snow, my hood pulled down and my scarf tightly around my face and felt very Canadian. My heart went out to some of the people I passed by slipping on the ice, their meager running shoes soaked through to their feet. It was a peaceful walk along the quiet path through the woods before the chaos of school that lay ahead. When I arrived, the kiddies were very happy to see me and I was just as pleased to see them. Unfortunately, due to the snow only 4 out of 9 teachers were able to make it in. Even the principal called in to report that she was stuck in gridlock traffic on the auto-route. One teacher frantically asked me if I would be able to take a class until their teacher showed up. “Oui, biensur, pas de probleme!” Luckily, I was with my favourite class. The other teachers started moving teacher-less classes to a larger room where they quickly put on a video and the part-time secretary was obliged to watch them. I felt like a real teacher as I sat at Michel’s desk and took attendance (I made them reply in English). When that was finished I led them in a little morning warm up exercise. They giggled as we ran on the spot, did jumping jacks, and stretched, but at least it got the blood going. Then I did an impromptu English lesson with them for as long as I could hold their attention. Still no teacher. “Um, okay class, who wants to tell me what they did over the holidays?” Thankfully they were all willing to tell me in utmost detail, even though I didn’t quite understand everything they said. When one girl explained how her parents got so drunk on New Years Eve that she had to take care of all her siblings, I decided to steer the conversation in a different direction. The bell rang for recess and I told the kids to go out and play in the snow. Finally, a replacement teacher showed up for about the last hour of the morning and gave them some proper work to do.
The rest of the day wasn’t as eventful. I began to feel exhausted around 3 pm and embarrassingly started nodding off in one of my classes. In my defense I had finished the English lesson and had nothing to do but sit at the back of the class (beside the heater) and wait for the end of the day. Their teacher, whom I get along really well with, politely told me that if I wanted to go home early it wouldn’t be a big deal. I initially declined, but when she persisted, I quickly agreed. Finally got home around 6:30 pm as there was slight delays on the train due to the snow, put my pj’s on, and plopped myself beside the fireplace to warm up. I am kind of glad that I have another week with Aulivia’s family before I move in to my own apartment because I think I might have felt a bit lonely on my own after being surrounded by so much family over the holidays. Now if I can just get over this jet lag...

Friday, October 30, 2009

How I'm spending my All Saint's Day Vacation

Writing this in bed. I woke up sick yesterday morning. I think it’s just a cold, but I feel sleepy and achy so I'm staying in the house again today. With all this H1N1 stuff going on, Claudine is ensuring that I moniter my temperature constantly. So far no fever, so I think I'm okay. I don’t think anything induces homesickness more than being ill and not having your proper bed to rest up in. On a positive note, I do have some time to catch up on my blog writing.

One of the perks
of working as a teacher in France is the vacation time. And seeing as I am officially working in the system for the next six month, I will also enjoy 8 weeks of it. You read that right my friends: 8 WEEKS. I thought teachers in Toronto had it made with summers and holidays off. But in fact they do not. Teachers in France benefit from almost 8 weeks of vacation (10 days October, 2 weeks at Christmas, 2 weeks in February, and 10 days in April) BEFORE the summer break. Over lunch last week I confided in my fellow French teachers just how little vacation the average teacher in Toronto gets in comparison. They were dumbfounded.

Vraiment? Not even two weeks off for Easter? Mais, no!”

I shrugged, slightly embarrassed, and quickly added, “But school doesn’t start at 8:30 and end at 4:30 like it does here, we start at 9 and end at 3:30.”

As if the extra hour and a half difference everyday somehow equates to 5-6 extra weeks of vacation time…I decided not to tell them that schools in Toronto don’t get 2 hours for lunch either. I didn’t want to spoil their appetite with such a disgusting fact.

But, I digress…

Seeing as I am currently on holiday, I’ve been “profiting” as the French like to say, in this fantastic city. Yesterday I met up with some language assistants in the afternoon for a day of all things touristy. We started off at the Louvre, but after seeing the massive queue outside, and realizing that we should take advantage of the beautiful weather (17 degrees and sunny!) we headed off towards the Arc de Triomphe instead. I think I’ll go back to the Louvre sometime in the dead of winter when the gloomy weather has warded off all the tourists.

As we walked down the Champs-Elysee towards the Arc, we came across a little exhibit on Vogue magazine. Lining the street were posters of various Vogue covers dating back to the 50’s. Couldn’t help but take a few pictures. After the Arc, (we didn’t actually go up because the women at the ticket booth wouldn’t let us go up for free, even though we are entitled to with our long stay visas) we headed off to the lesser populated, but no less beautiful Musee Rodin. I have to say this was perhaps one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. Once inside, I was blown away by the understated elegance of the museum, originally a Hotel, where Rodin spent a lot of his time scultpting. The gardens surrounding the building are impeccably manicured, with rose bushes, shrubs, and pebbled paths neatly lined with trees. They provide a perfect backdrop for the sculptures scattered within them. It was wonderfully quiet inside, as if we’d stepped into another universe, far away from the bustle of the city. If ever I need to get away from it all, I just have to take my book and plop myself down on a chez-lounge by the fountain.

Although the museum is small, it is intimate and unpretentious. Natural light pours in through each window giving the sculptures a luminous glow (as if they needed any help). Many of them aren’t even enclosed in glass casing; you can put your face right up to the kiss and actually see the lovers' white hot marble embrace. Definitely a museum that evokes all the senses.

At one point before leaving, I found myself looking out an open window gazing out at the skyline of Paris. With my hands grasping the iron railing and the evening air on my face I had one of those moments where it hit me. Stevie, for the next six months, you get to live here. How lucky am I?

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Today while playing the Hi, how are you today? game with the little french kiddies I misheard a students response to why he was sad as "because my father is dead" instead of "because I miss my father." Shocked, I responded back in English, "you're sad because you're father is dead?" He nodded with a solemn face, clearly not understanding me, and asked me to teach him how to say it in English.

"You say, 'I am sad because my father is dead,' okay? Repeat after me:"

Thankfully another student who was watching our conversation overheard the miscommunication and promptly corrected me.

"Mais, Maîtresse! Son père n'est pas mort! Son père lui manque!"


These early morning starts really mess with my comprehension. Or so I'd like to think.