December 30, 2003

I Almost Got to Wear the Kings Crown..
No, unfortunately it wasn't the crown of a royal family.
In France, they have a traditional cake called the galette des rois, around Christmas time. It used to be eaten just on January 7th (Epiphany), but now you can get them anytime around Christmas. There are two types, the traditional with almond flavoured paste in it, and the brioche.
The family that I'm staying with had the traditional one tonight (we had a brioche one earlier this week) after dinner. Each cake has a little figure in it, and the person who gets the figure in their slice is the king or queen and gets to wear a crown.
I was almost the king tonight. I switched slices with someone, and they got the little figure. Oh well, maybe next year...
Still raining, and almost time to leave...
I forgot to mention that when I was up on the citadel in Nice two Chinese girls came up and wanted to take their photo with me. A similar thing happened in Paris with a Japanese girl in front of the Eiffel Tower.
I can just imagine the conversation back home when they get their photos developed. "Oh look, here's me with some guy who's name I don't know in Paris! And here's another photo of me with another guy in Nice!" Maybe it's just because I can't imagine myself going up to a stranger and asking if I can take my photo with them. It's not like I'm a celebrity or anything, lol :p
Unfortunately, it's still raining here. Yesterday was a bit nicer, so I planned on going to Frejus and St. Raphael for the day, but unfortunately I misread the train schedule, and ended up spending the day wandering aimlessly through Cannes.
Tomorrow morning, too early in the morning if you ask me, I'm catching the TGV to Paris (have I mentioned that already?!). The plan is that I'll be met at the Gare de Lyon (a train station) by a girl that I know. I'm hoping to go to the Champs-Elysees or to the Eiffel Tower to celebrate le reveillon de St. Sylvestre (New Years Eve).
A+ and Happy New Years!

December 28, 2003

It's raining...
Well, it's raining here for the first time since I arrived. That means that I won't be heading to St. Tropez today. I checked out the weather for Cannes, and it's supposed to rain for the next two days. That sucks. Then I checked out the weather for Paris on December 31st, and it's supposed to yucky, with possibilities of snow.
Anyway, I've had a chance to catch up on the news, finally. I bought a copy of the English language Economist, in hopes of finding out what has been happening in this crazy world. (I don't have a TV, and don't read the papers regularly here, so I've been out of the loop basically since I arrived in September.)
France has banned la voile islamique, the Islamic headscarf, in schools and public buildings in an attempt to keep the state totally religious-symbol free. It's been a huge debate over here since before I arrived.
I just found out that Canada has a new Prime Minister. Well, everyone was expecting that Paul Martin would be "the one", but I didn't know that Jean Chretien had stepped down so soon. Supposedly the election will be called in April, which would be cool because I'll get to vote from abroad!
The US is once again blaming Canada. I shouldn't be too surprised.
I also found out that Canada gave into the US on the softwood lumber issue. Canada has to reduce its lumber exports to the US (read more lost jobs), US companies get to keep 48% of the $1.6 US billion in tariffs that were unfairly imposed on Canadian lumber exports, and we have to drop complaints to trade tribunals (which we would have won, as we have won several times in the past).
That's all for now folks.

December 27, 2003

Day trips...
I've been taking advantage of the fact that I'm in the south of France and that I've got some free time by taking some day trips from Cannes.
Yesterday I went to Antibes, which is between Cannes and Nice. It's a beautiful town overlooking the Mediterranean, of course. I had a sandwich lunch on the old ramparts of the town, looking out at the water. It was so relaxing. Then I went through the Picasso Museum which is in an old Grimaldi castle (they're the family that owns Monaco). I then wandered through the narrow old streets, before catching the train back.
Today I went to Nice. I climbed up the Citadel for an amazing view of the city, then walked through the old city with its brightly coloured buildings and churches. Then I strolled down the main drag with its expensive boutiques (I'm poor so I didn't go shopping). I was then lucky enough to be able to catch the end of a service at the Russian Orthodox church in Nice, which was amazing even though I didn't understand a thing that they said (my Russian isn't too good).
Tomorrow the plan is to go to St. Tropez. I'm not sure what I'll be doing on Monday or Tuesday, but on Wednesday morning I'm heading to Paris for the New Years celebrations! I only have a reservation for a specific car on the TGV (high speed train), but not for a seat since all of the seats are reserved.

December 25, 2003

Merry Christmas...
OK, I know that this is sad that I'm blogging on Christmas Day, but why not? The big turkey lunch is over, I just took a siesta then called my parents, and dinner isn't until 21h.
Yesterday I had an amazing dinner last night. Seriously.
First, it started at 20h with appetizers and champagne. Not cheap champagne, but the good stuff.
Then we moved to the table for the seafood course. I'm not exactly sure what the English name is for what I ate, but it's like lobster, just without the pinchers. There were also prawns, and other stuff, but I only tried the lobster like thing because I knew that the best course was to come.
The main course was frog thighs, in a cream sauce with wild mushrooms. Now I know what you're thinking, but they're actually very good. Well, they don't really taste like anything other than white meat. It's the sauce that makes the dish. The cool thing though was that I got to help de-thigh (does that verb exist in English? I know it does in French) the frogs. There's hardly any meat on those things.
After the main course came the cheese. There were five kinds of cheese, including a chevre (goat cheese).
Next came the dessert. We had an ice cream buche de Noel. A buche de Noel is a cake type thing that's decorated like a log (usually). Anyway, it's really good. Then we had tea and coffee, with a variety of chocolates. The whole meal was over at midnight.
Yah, that was my amazingly good Christmas Eve meal.
I'm planning on visiting a few cities in the south of France this week. I'm hoping to go to Nice, Grasse, and St. Raphael, although that could all change. The plan is still to head to Paris on December 31st for New Years.
Happy Holidays, and Joyeuses Fetes!

December 23, 2003

A classic line...
I almost forgot. The TGV from Lille to Lyon was 20 minutes late leaving.
A little French boy asked his mother, "why is the train so late?"
The mother replied, "c'est ca, la SNCF". I love it!
[My liberal translation makes it "that's the French national train network for you!"]
Joyeux Noel to everyone! :)
Hello from Cannes...!
Well, I've finally arrived in Cannes. When I left Lille it was cold and dark and there was snow on the cars. I look out the window here in Cannes and it's bright and sunny and I can see palm trees and the Mediterranean!
So, a quick catch up on what I've done since I last blogged:
-I watched "Le Retour", a Russian film by Andrei Ziaguintsev
-I walked to the train station in Lille at 5 in the morning
-I rode first (1st) class on the TGV to Lyon (second class was full)
-I walked through Lyon with my big backpack while it was snowing
-I had a real shower (no six second shower) for the first time in a long time!
Things that I've learned since I last blogged:
-European movies often end in tragedy
-I prefer snow to rain
-The south of France is much nicer than the north
-You never know when someone from your past is living close to you in a foreign country (two long stories)

December 17, 2003

Christmas Plans...
I've only got two hours of teaching left this week, then I'm officially on holidays.
In case you're wondering what I'm doing for Christmas, I'm heading to the south of France. l'll be leaving Lille on Sunday, and spending the night in Lyon. I've heard that it's a really pretty city, so I figured that I'd break up the long train trip and take advantage of the fact that the TGV goes through Lyon. I'll be arriving in Cannes on Monday evening and hopefully the French family that I'll be staying with will be there to pick me up :)
I'll be spending Christmas with the family, then I'm not sure yet what will happen for New Years. I'm hoping to head to Paris, because I think that would be a lot of fun. I'm still working on the arrangements, and calling up contacts. Here's hoping!
I'm planning on updating my blog while I'm on vacation, just so that you all can get your "Going to France" blog fix, lol ;)

December 14, 2003

Lille Christmas Market...
There has been a Christmas market (Marché de Noel) in Lille for the past few weeks now. The city is getting decked up with Christmas decorations (lights, garlands, and red carpet), and there is Christmas music playing in the metro.
I know some of the people (a long story) who work in one of the Canadian stands selling maple syrup (great on crêpes or ice cream), Quebec beer (very good), and bison sausage (not as strong as you think).
Anyway, I got a call on Sunday morning from the Québécois girl working in the stand, wondering if I could come in at noon and work for a bit. They needed a bilingual Canadian (the girl spoke French only) to work in the booth, because there are a lot of British tour buses that come over to Lille for day trips.
It was trial by fire. Rapid info was given about the beers (which ones are blonde and which brown I still don't know), maple syrup sizes, info about bison meat, and the prices. Then she said, "I'm off to the bathroom, and I'll be back in a bit". Gulp.
It went quite well actually. I had a relatively good time, but I don't think that I'd want to do that seven days a week, ten hours a day as the Québécois girl does. I only worked for a few hours, but it was another source of some needed income.

December 10, 2003

Illegal Alien in France...
I'm officially an illegal alien in France - I don't know if I should be publishing this on the internet though. My visa expired yesterday.
I went to the Préfecture, as suggested by the secretary at the school where I work to try and get things sorted out/moving. They told me to go to the Préfecture Annex down the road, who told me to go to the Cité Administrative, who told me to go to the foreigners office. Of course, you have to wait in long lines at each of these places just to be told to go somewhere else.
Outside the foreigners office was an Arab man who was trying to get in, but the two police said that he had to come back the next day at 8h30 (read that you have to line up at 5h) to get a ticket. Luckily I'm not black or Arab (there's a lot of racism here), and I speak French relatively well. I explained my situation, and the police guy was like, "wait here". I talked to the other police guy, and he said that I shouldn't worry about being stopped, that there is a delay between the time they ask for your papers and the time they arrest you. Then he said that you won't get stopped in the metro if you don't do anything wrong (I figured that wasn't a good time to bring up my metro police incident...).
After about 20 minutes, and a lot of the policeman running in and out of the building (I wasn't even allowed inside), he finally let me into the antechamber (read decrepid building waiting room), where I waited for another lady to emerge from her office.
To make a long story short, I explained my situation, gave her my passport and papers, and asked if there was any way she could please help me. She made some phone calls, talked to other people in the office, then came back a while later and said that they didn't have my dossier (read they don't have any of my paperwork). She said that the rectorat, to whom my paperwork was sent over two (2) months ago, has not yet sent my paperwork to their office. She said, "bonne courage et aurevoir".
What am I supposed to do now? You can't do anything in France without a carte de séjour, and I can't reenter the country legally if I decide to leave (which I really want to do).

December 09, 2003

Lille 2004...
Saturday night was the opening of Lille 2004. In a nutshell it was an orchestra concert, a really short parade, then some music. The whole thing was incredibly poorly organised.
I missed the first 20 minutes of the concert, so I only heard about 10 minutes of it. There were so many people there, that it was hard to breath at times. People just packed together, then started pushing to try to get in more people. At one point I literally got lifted up off my feet and twisted around.
Then they announced that the concert was over, that everyone should turn around, and pack into the square around the opera that was already full of people.
A short parade followed. Even though Lille is the European cultural capital, the parade had nothing to do with Europe. They had two Brazilian groups, and a north African group, and a metal whale thing that shot out cold water (it was already cold out to start off with, let alone the cold water from the rusting whale). In the middle of the official parade was a group of people protesting Lille 2004 and how it was going to negatively affect culture.
Then came the "bal blanc", which were basically musical performances by different groups/DJs. They were several set up through the main city centre. The concert at the train station by Marcel et son Orchestre was cancelled after two songs because of the crushing throngs of people and number of lost children. I went to the bal blanc on Rue National, which was the techno/electronica bal. The whole street was turned into one big party, and they had various DJs playing at different places along the street. By 1h30 I was freezing cold, and decided to go home and get some sleep.
That was the opening ceremony of Lille 2004. Honestly, it was a bit of a let-down, and I was very surprised that it was so poorly organised.

December 08, 2003

Wunderbar in Germany...
My trip to Germany really started on Thursday evening. Because there isn't any public transportation to the town where I work from Lille at 4h45 in the morning, I spent the night at one of the teachers houses who lives out here. On Thursday evening he took me and his family out for dinner in Belgium. I did the whole Belgian dinner thing and had a Leffe, a tartine, and Belgian waffles with chocolate syrup for dessert. Back at his place, I watched "l'Auberge Espagnole", which I thought was hilarious because half or more of what happens in the film has happened to me. Call it black humor. Harassed by paperwork, getting mocked in the street for speaking another language, having problems finding a reasonable place to stay, etc.
The bus ride to Aachen, Germany was about 3.5 hours long. We got a tour of the city in French, then quickly wandered through the Christmas market before hitting up McDonalds for lunch. I wasn't about to eat at McDonalds in Germany (I can do that back home), so I wandered through the market and bought myself some bratwurst, fries, and a fried potato/onion thing that was really good.
We then got onto the bus, and drove to Monschau, a really picturesque German town with a Christmas market that wasn't so crowded. I was put in charge of herding around nine 5° (= grade 9) girls. Oh what horror. I bought some small gifts for my family, before heading back to the bus.
I didn't have a problem crossing the border, even though I'm not legally allowed to re-enter France, because there was no one at the border crossing. We just drove through.
Bonne courage à tous...
A strike missed...
I read a note on a board in the staffroom today. Apparently there was supposed to be a strike last Monday. The problem was that the notice to strike was sent out five days after the teachers were supposed to go on strike.
Now that's efficiency for you!

December 04, 2003

Happy News?
So, I arrive at school today, and the secretary says that there is a cheque in the mail for me. It's part of the salary that I haven't been paid for yet from November and October I think. They can only direct deposit on certain days, so the cheque is instead of a direct deposit. I'm not complaining.
I'm not sure how much it's for, but it's better than nothing. Hopefully it doesn't get lost in the mail...

December 03, 2003

The Day the Water Didn't Stop...
Today was that day.
My shower has one of those buttons that you have to hit, and the water goes on for a period of time, then automatically shuts off. There's no hot or cold control, just whatever happens to be available. When I first moved into the building, the water would go on for only 6 seconds at a time (I timed it several times just to be sure). Then is started to get longer, until one day it didn't go off until I hit the button a second time.
Now why would I complain about that?
But today the shower just wouldn't go off at all. I went down for breakfast, and left my shower running. When I came back 30 minutes later, it was still running and my small room (read hole-in-the-wall) was really hot and misty. No matter how many times I hit the button, no matter how hard I hit the button.
So, I go ask the building handy-man if he can help. He tried hitting the button with a pair of pliers. Then he opened up the back of my shower (which is in the hallway - don't ask). He ran his hand along the pipe, then felt some water dripping and exclaimed, "Putain!". That's not good.
He called the building plumber (it's lucky he happened to be in!) who then proceeded to fix my shower.
Now I'm back to a 6 second shower.
Bonne courage à tous

December 01, 2003

A night in Arras, a day in Paris...
I went to Arras again on Friday night for the goodbye party for the Vimy and Beaumont-Hamel guides. I missed the TGV back to Lille by literally 5 seconds (as I got to the platform is was just starting to roll away), so I spent the night on the floor at the guide's house.
On Saturday I took the earliest train back to Lille, where I caught the van from my appartment that was taking me and a group of people from my building on a free trip to Paris! We got to drive around the Arc de Triomphe (very scary), and down the Champs Elysees, before going into the Louvre. I was (and still am) very sick with a cold/flu, so I almost fell asleep in the Louvre looking at some amazing Italian paintings. On the way home, while driving through Place de la Concorde (where the king was beheaded during the French Revolution), my parents called me on my cell phone! They were shocked and excited to hear that I was in Paris. It was great to be able to talk to them again.