Category Archives: France

The unsettling nature of a return to the ordinary.

Perfect autumn day in Haute-Loire

Perfect autumn day in Haute-Loire

Saturday morning was, like every morning since we got back to France, unseasonally warm, though the notion of “seasonal” has lost much of its weight in light of ever-increasing temperatures on the planet we call Earth. We did our weekly shopping and made our way to C’s parents for lunch. Just as we were sitting down to eat, C’s mom pointed outside. “You see that fog?” She indicated a low cloud in the distance. Suddenly it began to snow. It kept on throughout the afternoon and into the night, and it’s snowed a bit today as well. Temperatures dropped from 60-65°F (15-18°C) to 35-40°F (2-5°C) within a number of hours.

And so it is winter.

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Home again.

When I was 13, my family underwent a restructure of sorts.  Upper management felt that it was best for everyone if the organisation split off into two directions, and owing to financial constraints, both parties relocated.  Ergo, the home I grew up in was no longer my home.  I thought my heart would break.  It didn’t.  But it was a difficult time.  We had lived in that house for 8 years, and I had also gone to the same Catholic school for all that time.  Public high school was looming, and though I had a terrible time in my elementary/middle school, I didn’t know anything else, so I was more than a little apprehensive about what was to come.  It was the end of so many things and I was frightened; it was also the beginning of many wonderful things, but when we’re fixated on the past, it’s very hard to turn our attention to the future.

Three years later, across a continent and over a rather large “pond”, C, having recently discovered basketball, was being discovered himself.  It’s not every day in France you find a decent 6’7″ 16 year-old baller.  And so it was that he was recruited to a team near Saint Etienne and moved away from the home into which he was born.

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Turn and face the strange.

Some time ago, in the midst of one of my many (many) existential crises, I happened upon a series of books called The School of Life.  The premise of all these books is that sometimes the things we aren’t overtly taught via the many institutions to which we belong by choice, default or force, could really use some basic instruction.  Some titles include How To Connect with Nature, and How To Be Alone, as well as News: A User’s Manual.   One of the books proffered is How To Find Fulfilling Work, and whilst I have been engaged throughout much of my adult life in fulfilling work, at the time I found that book, I very much was not fulfillingly employed.

This, unfortunately, remains the case.

You see, whilst I do love language, and I do love teaching, I do not so much love teaching language.  I never envisaged teaching English; teaching English was something I never foresaw falling back on, and that happened to save my arse when I did indeed fall.

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Bread alone.

I love markets.  Boy.  I love markets.  I loved our market in Brixton (though it’s changed something awful now), and I loved our market in Cagayan, particularly once I’d learned to navigate it properly.  Enter here, it’s stinky hanging meat everywhere – blech (snobby vegan priviledge…I can turn my nose up at stinky meat), enter there it’s the too-quiet dry goods corner, ergo lots of people chit-chatting away right up to the point that those two really tall Americans (because Chris was always American to them…poor guy) walk up and then it’s stare-central and a couple of, ‘You’re so height, man!’  Nope, it had to be entry number 3 – eggs and fruits, and a ninja-like entry, speedy as I could walk, smile here, nod there, and off to the vendors with whom we most liked doing business.

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There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.

It never occurred to me to become a teacher.  I’ve always had such a weird relationship with teachers – some of them adored me and made me see the endless possibilities my life held, but a lot of them were really kind of awful, a few even stooping so low as to resort to bullying tactics.  I was, admittedly, an outrageously annoying child.  I talked incessantly to cope with my almost unbearable insecurities.  I was, as I’ve mentioned here previously, super tall and pretty fat.  For a while there I was also reasonably smart.  My first grade teacher made a point of that last bit, pulling me apart from the rest of the class and bringing my reading level three grades higher than everyone else’s.  Additionally, at story time she would have me read to the class.  As you can imagine, this made everyone think I was awesome.  Oh, how they’d cheer my name at recess.

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Test Day

Last week, in the wee hours of the morning, I headed off to the train station to make my way to Clermont-Ferrand, where l’Office français d’immigration et integration, aka the OFII, had ordained that I and a couple hundred other immigrants to this fine country should take our test of the French language.  It was still dark outside as I half-walked, half-ran to the station – and not because I was late, but because it was so freaking cold.  The streets were bare save for one truck shooting salt out onto the pavement and another picking up garbage.  Just me and the streetlights and that most silent part of the day, before the world has kicked into gear.  Then – at volume:

“Ann!”

Criminey.  I nearly peed myself.  It was M, a former classmate – Ukranian – making her way the same direction.  We did that penguiney power-shuffle together the rest of the way, not talking much as our faces were buried in our scarves.  At the door of the station was M2 – Romanian – and Y – Chinese, the former waiting for M and the latter for me, both of them standing with hands shoved deeply in pockets and chins tucked deeply in scarves.  It was not warm.

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