A Travellerspoint blog

Art and Pancakes, both Nouveau

Saturday, October 1, 2016

While I'm fairly stoked about this pancake project at the school, my project manager side needs to have the details nailed down quite a bit more. Therefore, I devoted Saturday morning to calculating the amounts, determining what equipment Myriam has that I can borrow for the event, and finishing the power point for the kids. I also actually tried making pancakes with Myriam's portable crepe-maker and had Marine take pictures of the various steps so I could include them all in the slide show. I found out the school does not have a kitchen of any sorts so the teachers will need to sort out four grill-like appliances for us and plug them in at various points in the classroom. (Hope they also get enough extension cords! I wish Ben could FedEx me some of ours -- we have about 47, give or take.). Anyway, it has all worked out thus far and I have trustingly sent my list of necessary equipment and supplies to Myriam, hoping that all is in place for next Friday morning.

In the past couple of weeks, I have been trying to arrange a get together with Nathalie, Myriam's friend who celebrated her 25th anniversary several weeks ago. Myriam indicated Nathalie likes museums so I texted her to ask if she wanted to attend one with me. We agreed to go to the musée de l'École de Nancy. I've never been one for art nouveau but as it has a significant history here in Lorraine, I felt I should meet it head on. As Nathalie knows extremely little English, I felt it would force me to communicate clearly in French; however, as it turned out, when Marine heard we were going, she elected to come along as well. Therefore, as is often the case of 'the best laid schemes o' mice an' men,' my plans for French study went awry. Nevertheless, I still benefited from the outstanding museum.

The museum is housed in a beautiful turn-of-the-twentieth-century property, in keeping with the time period of its belongings. A number of French artists are represented there, most notably Émile Gallé, who achieved international fame and is credited with leading the French Art Nouveau movement. Interestingly, he was also a real social leader for his time, organizing evening schools for the working class, publicly defending Romanian Jews and speaking up for Irish Catholics during British rule. He founded the movement known as the 'École de Nancy' along with men whose names I read on street signs in these parts: Victor Prouvé, Louis Majorelle, Antonin Daum and Eugène Vallin. When I visited Louis Majorelle's home a couple of weeks ago with Myriam and Thierry, I received a taste of what was to come in this museum; however, it didn't prepare me for the ornateness and tremendous craftsmanship that I saw today. The variety of media (wood, pearl, glass, canvas, ceramics, textiles, etc.) that these artists worked in was impressive. In addition to the glasswork and ceramics, there were so many grand pieces of furniture that obviously took several months, perhaps years, to design and build. It's one thing to have an artistic eye and design a beautiful object but another to be able to craft it as well. I particularly loved the furniture, with its curves and intricate inlay work. Some rooms also became pieces of art in and of themselves as the artists built wooden accents and designed tapestry-like walls to augment their furniture. It was interesting to see this type of art in a new light. At the end of the visit, Nathalie made me a generous gift of a book depicting Gallé's work; it's an unexpected souvenir of my visit here.

I realize I have been remiss in not mentioning to date a very important member of my French family. His name is Sanai (pronounced 'see-nigh' in French), and he is their 'animal de compagnie.' In actual fact, he's not their pet; he's a pet of the neighbours but he visits so often and spends so much time here, he may as well belong to this family. He's a large, very sweet, and at times rambunctious, Golden Retriever. He most often visits at mealtimes but also comes by unbidden at various other junctures in the day. The Poirots keep a water bowl out for him and while everyone in the family gives him lots of hugs, Thierry appears to be his favourite as he is especially susceptible to giving him meat off his plate. Sanai will make himself at home by sprawling out in the middle of the kitchen, with cooks and others stepping over him as required. When not in his own yard or in the Poirots' space, he generally chooses a spot in the middle of rue de Fontenelle halfway between his true house and that of his adopted family, seemingly sharing his affection equally between the two.

Posted by mzemliak 02:48 Archived in France Comments (2)

Je t'apprends, tu m'apprends

Friday, September 30, 2016

Some weeks ago, Myriam asked whether I could prepare a presentation on Canada (in English) for the students in her class. I was eager to participate in her classroom as it would be interesting to see what school in French is like and would provide me with another unique experience. In later weeks, she then told me other classes were interested in the slideshow as well so I would have a chance to show it more than once. Then, last night, she explained she had arranged for ALL the students in the school to see it, one or two classes at a time. Fortunately, the school is small, with only six classes (about 130 students). The night before, I practiced speaking slowly and then more slowly yet.

The primary school is in a small city adjoining Nancy. Myriam's classroom looks quite similar to those in Victoria, only the walls here proclaim verb conjugations and French history rather than our usual subjects. We prepared a large spare classroom for 45 viewers and set up my laptop with a projector. Unexpectedly, there were no technical difficulties; I had even remembered to bring my electrical converter. This would be my station for most of the morning, with classes filing in and out as scheduled.

The presentations started with the youngest grade (equivalent of our grade 1s). They solemnly filed into the room and chose their seats, looking curiously at me. I think some were surprised to find I didn't have two heads. Now, Ben is always telling me that he is half teacher, half actor when he presents to his students so I took that to heart and tried to act 'larger than life,' so to speak, so that the talk would be more dynamic. Fortunately, Myriam had given me some tips so, along with the many pictures of Canada I showed, I also demonstrated our ways of greeting by shaking hands and hugging students. The class started to really get into the pictures and showed their excitement. As they were so young, they really couldn't ask any questions so the lesson was complete in fifteen minutes. At the end, I received a couple of impromptu hugs so that bode well (Ben gets hugged every day, a nice bonus of his job). It was a good start to the day.

Interestingly, as the classes got older, the teachers tolerated very little noise from the students in the form of either talking or shuffling, so my presentations were punctuated by the teachers' admonitions of the students every couple of minutes. After reaming out some kid sharply in French, they would then turn to me, smile eagerly, and urge me to please continue. It was a bit unnerving at first but I got used to it, as it seemed the students were acclimatized. Some classes had prepared questions for me and I would ask them questions too, either about Canadiana or about themselves, so we became more interactive. Therefore, by the time I spoke to the 10 year-olds, the oldest grades, we needed an hour for our time together. The questions had to be in English, of course, and they only know so many English phrases so I got a lot of the "What's your favourite _______?" questions (e.g., colour, food, singer, sport, animal, etc.). I was also asked a couple of unexpected questions like who my favourite hero was (that seems to be big here; I just said Superman as I couldn't think of anyone else); my favourite name (Hannah seemed appropriate); my favourite YouTuber (I couldn't even make one up for that!); my favourite association (??! -- I said Emmaus); and my favourite country (I felt I had to say both Canada and France!). I was also asked "How are you today?" and "How old are you?" (which prompted another harsh reaming out from the teacher, who had specifically asked his students NOT to ask that!) and "Do you have a pet?" ("Yes, I have a cat but I don't like her much"), and where I stay when it takes 8 days to drive across Canada ("hotel or tent"). Interestingly, one kid asked who our "president" was; another asked if I'd ever seen a cougar. All in all, it was a really interesting series of encounters.

In the lunchroom with the teachers, talk turned to what I was going to do next and Myriam, always ready with another idea, indicated she thought I should teach the kids how to make pancakes. I wondered how this was going to go but she said it would be in groups of just 5-6 kids. Sounds good, I said, thinking I would be working with just a small group of kids and we would create a portion of a pancake for each one in the class. Once I agreed to it, off they went with all the planning and details. By the end of the conversation, when I asked for more clarity, Myriam explained that I would be leading the whole class in pancake making, teaching them the vocabulary for the ingredients and equipment as we went along. There would be four groups of 5-6 students, each group making their own batter and using their own grill. Yikes, this was sounding complicated! They then said I would do this back to back for three classes, and I had between 45-60 minutes with each one. Fortunately, they hope to get some parent volunteers to come o help. As I was leaving that day, Vincent, one of the teachers, said they have to make the most of my time here. It's nice to be valued, but, geesh, what have I gotten myself into?!

For recess, Myriam was doing monitor duty outside so I joined her. I soon had a small, ever-changing group of girls surrounding me, practicing their English phrases or just chattering non-stop in French. In Myriam's class, too, I am a bit of an attraction; as it's a split class, she works with one side while the other half does seat work. She asked that I help students who had their hands up (some of the spelling and conjugations can be a real challenge!). A couple of times, it was apparent that they just asked for help in order to talk to me. It's kind of fun being a novelty for once but I'd better leave before they get tired of me.

As I noticed at Emmaus, and again with the students, French writing of numerals is different than ours, especially for 1s, 2s and 9s. In fact, I get chastised at Emmaus for not writing them correctly so really have to take pains to do so, feeling like I'm in Grade 2 again, slowly writing out the prices for the clothes. I'll try to include a picture of the numerals to show what I mean.

Tonight for supper, I made some quiche (tricky for a French household, but I'm feeling bolder) and the 'salade verte' vinaigrette as usual. Nico said that I make the best vinaigrette he's ever tasted -- high praise indeed.

Ben and I celebrated our 27th anniversary by Facetiming for two hours -- not the easiest anniversary date we've ever had but it's better than nothing at all!

Posted by mzemliak 13:18 Archived in France Comments (3)

Accept Every Opportunity that Presents Itself

Thursday, September 29, 2016

You know how sometimes when you're waiting for the bus or when you've paused for a few minutes somewhere, there can be a person who approaches you and strikes up a conversation? But, somehow, things feel just a bit off, for example, they become a bit too familiar or talk more loudly than we're used to, or otherwise throw the conversation off kilter a bit? Well, today, just such an encounter occurred at the bus stop. A woman sat down next to me, started speaking in French (of course), and began to tell me about her day. When I indicated I could only understand a bit, she switched from me to the hapless 16 year old boy standing nearby. He looked very uncomfortable and inched away after a while. She then resumed conversing with me, despite the language limitations. I guess she figured any listener was better than none. However, I looked upon it as a great opportunity to practice French and it seemed my few words here and there sufficed for her. She showed me the 40-year-old Donna Summer record albums she was taking to sell in a nearby city and we managed fine for a few minutes. When the bus came, due to the seating arrangements, I lost my partner to someone else but I could see that the conversation continued nonetheless with a new recruit.

This afternoon's French class saw us separated by gender into two groups. Our group then had the dubious assignment of generating ten phrases which we felt described the 'femme idéale' in a man's mind. Similarly, the men had to describe what they felt was the 'homme idéale' for women. Quite old school but I guess the teacher felt it would be engaging. The two hijab-clad woman from Syria looked uncomfortable and I think there was more Spanish spoken in our group than there was French, due to some of the students. However, once we completed that exercise and reviewed some videos of French people describing the attributes they wanted, we were able to learn some words I didn't know before: 'femme aimante' (loving wife), ' câlin' (hug), ' soutenir' (to support). (And now I also understand why bra has the word 'soutien' embedded in it; I'm still not sure about the 'gorge' part though.)

I have been successfully holding myself back from trying the many delectable items in the patisserie but then realized today I don't have much time left here. Therefore, I went in and asked for something with coconut and was handed a miniature cake made of a light lemon-flavoured cream cheese-type substance infused with coconut. It sure fit the bill.

Posted by mzemliak 10:28 Archived in France Comments (1)

What a Surprise

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

I nervously waited in the corridor, waiting for the university classroom to be unlocked, seeing other students approach the door and loiter nearby. They were all younger than me -- many considerably younger -- and of various visible minorities. Save for two of us, they are all taking the 'intensive' program which amounts to 20 hours of classes a week for the whole four month semester. I waited, eavesdropping on a conversation between two of the students. One girl was speaking in complete sentences, and seemed to be conjugating verbs in a few tenses and everything! Uh oh, I thought, what level is this going to be? However, her partner reassured me a bit by seeming less certain and speaking in basic phrases. Presently, a harried instructor rushed up and unlocked the door. Most people sat in the middle facing the front. I elected to choose a side seat, still able to see the teacher well but a bit out of the way. Shortly, two women joined me. The instructor came by to check in with me and asked if I had paid. I said I had indeed already paid. She looked quizzically at me and repeated the question. Ah, this time I understood it to be a query as to which country I was from ('pays' and ' paie' sound similar and in my state, I wasn't picking up other words too well). Not too grand a start. Presently, she handed out our first exercise, a vocabulary lesson on body parts and facial features, some of which I knew but augmented by a fair dose of new words ('le cil' for eyelash, 'le poignet' for wrist, etc.). We then progressed to learning how to describe people (hair, eyes, size, height, etc), all of which Anne and I have studied in our UVic French classes. I started to feel more comfortable and soon realized that it was a very similar approach to the classes I've been taking the past year. We worked in teams, I with the neighbouring women: Phuong Vi, an au pair from Viet Nam; and Lorena, a newly-arrived Columbian.

I returned for another two hours the following day. This second class offered a different instructor, but one who appears to work in tandem with the first. We again focused on description but this time, all the exercises were meant to strengthen the vocabulary and sentence structure we had learned in the Monday class. The first tasks focused on listening to various videos and identifying what had being said, followed by another activity where we each had to describe someone orally. I'm not sure about the level as I've taken much of this before but the description of Group 3 seems to suggest I'm in the right place. At any rate, it's a fun way to pass the time and gives me a place to actually speak to people who allow me the time to answer. I think the classes will work out fine for me.

I volunteered to make supper on Monday and asked Myriam how we should use up all those darn 'courgettes' (zucchini) and 'aubergines' (eggplant); she gave me her guidelines for mousaka and I must say it turned out really well (warning to Hannah and Abby: I'm bringing this recipe home for us to incorporate into our regular fare). Over dinner, we discussed the middle eastern crisis, existence of life on other planets, psychoses and Mormonism, all providing quite the challenge for me. However, it's all practice.

The highlight of the day (maybe the week!) was receiving a package in the mail! Initially thinking it might be from my family, I was surprised and touched to see that it came from my work colleagues. (As I said to Serena, I never realized they were so nice -- just kidding!). I eagerly opened it and found quite the assortment of thoughtful treats: herbal tea, maple syrup, a large cookie dough Dairy Milk bar, Hawkins hard cheezies (I had to point out to my French friends that these didn't actually contain any 'real' cheese), pumpkin pie filling (yay!), chocolate chips (about 12 dollars worth by French standards), and (of course) a reasonably-sized package of M&Ms! All food -- wonder why? They somehow know me well after only working with me for nine months; I guess my interest in food is a bit obvious. Thanks so much, Serena, Jenn, Sarah, Meg, and Jana!

Posted by mzemliak 13:49 Archived in France Comments (4)

Visiting Ben's Castle

Sunday, September 25, 2016

On Sunday, Myriam took a rare day off and the two of us went on a sojourn to the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg, an aptly-named medieval castle in the Vosges mountains. As it was a couple of hours away, we left mid-morning and arrived precisely as the rest of the hoards started to descend. We were really surprised to find such a crowd as it is nearing the end of September but it appears the unusually warm weather on a Sunday drew tourists and locals alike to the attraction. I guess today's count explains some of the 500,000 visitors the site receives annually.
The castle was abandoned some centuries back but then renovated a hundred years ago to restore it, if not to its original state, at least to reflect the era of the time. We each rented audio guides so that we might understand some of the history and restoration. The dialogues were unremarkable and did not give us any really interesting tidbits or anecdotes but I was grateful to have mine as it meant that Myriam would not try to relate the detailed French/German history, which I've found particularly torturous in the past, with mention of various kings, dukes, reigns, etc. I find it impossible to follow and it takes a lot of energy to try and to add confirmation here and there that I'm getting some of it. It was interesting parading around the halls and seeing the furniture proposed for the time period, the marvellously carved doors, and, above all, the incredible views of the countryside from the turrets. I counted at least fifteen little, red-roofed villages nestled in the green valleys below, each just a few kilometers from the other.

After our visit, we stopped at the onsite restaurant (when we could find no other open) and enjoyed a repast of quiche Lorraine and chocroute, an Alsatian recipe of sauerkraut with sausages, other salted meats and potatoes. Myriam said her meal tasted quite industrial but I really enjoyed my quiche and added a local cheesecake, softer than ours in Canada but no less tasty.

On the way back, Myriam took us through the 'route du vin,' a winding road tying together a number of the incredibly quaint villages we'd seen from the castle. They are served by a multitude of just-ripened vineyards, which filled the green space between each. It was too tempting not to stop for photos, AND to check out the grapes too. They were the sweetest grapes I'd ever had, and I bemoaned the fact that they were going to be destroyed by being turned into wine shortly. I snatched a quick handful as I returned to the car, only to find that Myriam felt obliged to take a bunch home for Thierry! Each town had a tall spire rising from the centre, a testament to the importance of the church in medieval times. We stopped in a couple of the little hamlets to wander around briefly, soaking up the perfect little French town atmosphere (again, with many others who had the same idea).

Today was Hannah's birthday and sad though I was to miss it, it was helpful to Skype in for a few minutes to share a bit of her breakfast with her and the others, as they enjoyed our family's traditional birthday offering of waffles and sausages.

Posted by mzemliak 11:13 Archived in France Comments (2)

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