Saturday, February 24, 2007

Day 5: The Tate Modern - my home away from home! Modern Art museums are where I could spend days, let alone hours. My favorite artist of all time is Mark Rothko who was prolific in the 1940s-1960s. Overall, his paintings are not paintings but "washes" - a technique that involves using layers and layers of diluted paint over a canvas. He belonged to the school of abstract expressionism and his works attempt to pull the viewer in and overwhelm them with the subtle differences in color (colour). Each large canvas evokes an emotion and takes up one's entire field of vision. Anyway, it is rather rare to see Rothko's work because he worked on commission for hotels, restaurants, individuals, etc, most of whom still retain the art in their private collection. So - I hope I have conveyed my passionate obsession with this guy, because I entered a room in the Tate Modern and my eyes fell upon an ENTIRE ROOM of maroon, rose, lavender, and blood red washes. Each so absorbing. The rest of the world class museum fell to the wayside as my memories are mostly devoted to that one room. After that sensory overload, Amber and I enjoyed a walk around the amazingly ideal quarter of Greenwich where there is huge white-columned and red bricked University campus and a castle favored by the Tudors.

Day 6: On my own, I took the tube to Paddington Station and boarded the train to Windsor Castle. I won't bore you with my extensive notes on the Church and the Castle itself, but I was very impressed. I'm not a souvenir buyer, in fact there are a few people who can vouch for my impatience with that kind of tourist. However, there was some sort of magical pull about the many stores within Windsor. It was either the massive amounts of British monarch history objets or the very friendly, elderly knights and ladies who maned the till, but I wanted to buy everything! I managed to whittle it down to a hand forged pewter jam spoon. When I returned home with my proud purchase, Amber laughed.

Day 7: Westminster Abbey was SO COOL (for lack of a better word). One of my favourite parts was the "Poet's Corner" where you will find Chaucer's tomb and monuments to people like Alfred Lord Tennyson, Lord Byron, Shakespeare, etc. The most startling addition, in my opinion a glaring oddity, was Oscar Wilde's name on the stained glass window memorial. When I visited his grave in Paris, I was struck by the sadness that marked the end of his life. He was discovered having a homosexual affair with a Lord and was forced into a de facto exile by the same Church that is now claiming his genius. This event caused him so much pain - being removed from his beloved country and separated from his beloved wife and child(ren) - that many speculate it caused his premature death. I just question what the people who put his name up their were trying to accomplish: acknowledging the unfortunate role the church played in these events or just claiming him as a British national resource regardless of their actions. From there I walked along The Strand, into St. Paul's, and around the Tower of London before collapsing in a pub.

Day 8: I helped Amber move to her new (and much improved) dorm room which was followed by a walk around Oxford Circus and a pint of ice cream.

Day 9: Back to Waterloo station, through the (still awesome) Chunnel, and back to Nantes. Someone told me that leaving France would improve my French because it would have solidified in my mind or something... what a load of crap! While I was waiting for the bus, a gentleman asked if the 10:30 bus had come or not. I could not understand him to save my life. After asking him to repeat himself a few times he switched into English and I felt like an idiot. However, in the past few days I can boast that my French is back up to the pre-London level of moderate to fair.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A week in London/Londres...

Day 1: Starting out around noon, I took the train from Nantes to London. I cannot describe how much I anticipated the Chunnel! Everyone says that it is a disappointment, but they are so wrong. For an entire 20 minutes you are flying underground in a dark tunnel that just keeps going and going. After that excitement, my old college roommate, Amber, met me at Waterloo Station. Then we took the metro (while I insisted on humming Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks) to Amber 's dorm in Barking, a bit east of London.

Day 2: When we woke up and saw the sun shinning brightly, we knew we had to take advantage of this rare situation (meaning no rain). After we emerged from the Tube station we followed St. James Park towards Buckingham Place. Actually, we had perfect timing (we think). There were hundreds of people looking and soldiers marching rhythm in ridiculous ensembles. Changing of the guard? Then on to Piccadilly where we stopped for tea and Amber showed me the most spectacular bookstore with old oak shelves and squeaky floors. On to Piccadilly Circus... the square itself was great, but I believe I was more excited about the Virgin Mega Store where you can find any CD you want. It was particularly exiting because I listen to random British bands whose CDs are not available anywhere in the States. Think kid in a candy shop (though that could be used to describe me during this entire week). On to Harrods, Covent Garden, and China town for dinner. There is just a great vibe in this city. There is a "what you see is what you get" attitude here. All of the unique districts that blend into one another - plus not a hill in sight so you could just keep walking all day!

Day 3: Museums, museums, museums. I have to give it to the people who decided that the massive London museums should be free. It is a good way to bring art and history to the masses, but also the poor student. We started our day at the Victoria and Albert Museum... we went from the Mongols to the chair in which Queen Victoria may have sat in the course of two hours. My favorite part was the Egyptian section where I came to an important decision. A friend and I had a conversation about hobbies a while back... we came to the conclusion that hobbies are those things you do after you graduate to fill the time homework and a social life occupied in college. Wandering through the artifacts I decided that my future hobby would be "arm-chair Egyptologist." Amber laughed. After my first pub lunch of beer and fish and chips, we headed to the British museum where my Egyptology dreams were cemented. After waiting for the picture-taking tour-groups to clear from in front of the Rosetta Stone, I pushed my way through. Even though I was standing there, they kept taking pictures - of the back of my head. Also, mummies are so cool... sorry, but after hours of intellectual activity and thousands of artifacts, that is the most enlightening thought I could muster.

Day 4: I love art museums! Love, love, love. Day 4 was reserved for Trafalgar Square with the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. The latter is such an interesting concept. Just as the name suggests it is reserved for portraits and is displayed in a manner that puts forward the subject more than the artist. It was fun reading about the lives of the smiling faces and trying to imagine what it had been like to be them.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

An unfortunate cultural lesson... in poor taste.

I have had a run-in or two with one particularly high-strung teacher at one of my schools, but this one takes the cake and provided an unwanted cultural lesson.

She took over for one of the teachers a few months back, and just before Christmas break her and I had a discussion about me assisting in some classes. Now that things have settled into the new year and I have been re-introduced to the classes, yesterday was to mark my first independent teaching with one of the groups. Last week we talked about where the class was and that I would be taking half of the class for half the time and then switching. She promised to contact me over the weekend (by e-mail because I don't have a phone). Well, she didn't. It really didn't matter - after all I knew what she wanted and I am used to creating lesson plans from nothing. On Thursday I went to the school to talk with her, excited about my lesson plans. The moment I mentioned the lesson, she pulls out these papers and says that I should do these activities. She will be doing the same activities with the other class. Strange, I think. What is the point of doing the same lesson? But it was what she wanted. She makes me a copy of the material and I head home. After reviewing the papers and making a few changes, I felt confident and ready for the class.

An hour before the class started, I am sitting in the salle des professeurs (teacher's lounge) when she comes in. From across the room she asks if I'm ready. "Absolutely," I reply. "Really, do you have the dominoes cut out?" "No, I thought the children could handle that." "Well you have all of the materials, right?" "Everything but the copies." "Then you are not ready." "Yes I am. I just need the copies." "You should have made them by now." "I don't have the code for the copier." "You are sitting in a room of people who have codes, ask them." Now at this point I was getting too mad and had to switch into English. Also, other teachers were streaming in because it was morning break and the teacher's voice was getting louder and louder. "I didn't know how many students I was going to have. You never told me." "You are an assistant. Your job is to make my life easier. All you are doing is making me more stressed." "I'm sorry, but your directions were unclear." Here I became aware that we were attracting the attention of my co-workers. These are intelligent people. Besides the fact they often speak better English than I, they could tell by our voices that there was something wrong. "I have a lot on my plate. I am a full teacher and you are my assistant." Honestly, I stopped listening at this point but I remember something about being overwhelmed... seriously concerned about my effectiveness... doing my job... etc. Anyone who knows me well is probably marveling at my reserve. I know I did. I think it was not from a change in temper, but from the twenty sets of eyes I felt staring at us. Yes all of the teachers were there and the room had quieted. That is why I did not mention how long I worked on my original lesson (which involved strips of paper, a hat, and tongue twisters) and how her anger at me was just displaced stress and that there was no way I could have mad the copies for the reasons she failed to appreciate. Luckily, the bell rang and she headed to class.

Later that morning, during a particularly angry journal entry, I remembered something my high school French teacher mentioned. In France it is considered normal and proper to scold your children in public. More than that, if your child is misbehaving it is your duty to spank or punish them right then and there. The same thing applies to bosses and subordinates. If your boss has a reason (or at least think that they do) to be upset with you, they will find you and deal with the situation then and there. So, this teacher, under the misapprehension that I was a subordinate, was doing something normal and excusable. However, I don't think that she realizes that from my American point of view this public verbal flogging was unacceptable. That is why she was unhindered by the presence of the others and why they really took no notice (I was just assuming they were).

In hindsight, this may have been a valuable cultural lesson. Nevertheless, it is one that I hope never to have repeated.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Alright, alright. I'm back (Dad)...

Actually, there is a very good, legitimate reason for not writing a post - I've done nothing. Quite literally, metaphorically, etc. Nothing. It was not out of slothfulness or an overwhelming fear of everything French, but a lack of funds. Yes, the school system forgot to deposit my January paycheck. Normally, I receive a healthy 752 Euro cheque de paie around the 18th or 20th of the month. By January 23rd, I was starting to squirm and by the 25th I had a word with the secretary. She made a call or two and said that they lost the paper work. I had to wait one to two weeks. Well, at this point, I had 60 Euros and no real payday on the horizon. Rice and buttered noodles ensued. Finally yesterday I saw a wonderful balance and promptly boarded the bus and headed to E. Leclerc, French Walmart. An hour later I trudged home with so much food and drink, though no rice or noodles!

With the lack of flow, dough, or green backs (really, pink, blue and green backs) I did a lot of reading... umm... I watched YouTube for hours a day... oh! there were many walks in there... I stared out my window... I avoided e-mailing, like normal... played tag with the kids for a bit... fed the rabbits. Worry not, I now have money and I will be heading to the great ile to the north in a week or so. Hopefully, that will give me an interesting antidote or two.