A Travellerspoint blog

French Films

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

I was so full from Sunday's lunch that I skipped supper that night and didn't eat until Monday noon. This is my new diet regime. Stuff myself and then don't eat for a day. Wonder how it's going to work out. It was pretty quiet here for the first couple of days of the week as everyone was at work or school. Therefore, I spent the time catching up on some blogs and worked on a presentation of Canada. Myriam is trying to get clearance for me to come to her classroom and help with some English lessons. Since the attacks on France, security at all the schools is even more heightened than usual. She thinks the clearance will be achievable but it is taking some time. She asked that I prepare a slide show about Canada to show to a few of the classes so I thought I'd get it done sooner rather than later. It's a novel experience trying to cobble something together for primary grades. Usually, I need to create slide decks for government executives. Come to think of it, the preparation for the primary class may be similar as the executives also tend to prefer few words and many pictures!

On Tuesday, I was planning on going into Nancy to see a museum or two but it turned out there was a one day bus strike that affected the line from Ludres. Myriam had alerted me to the possible strike action the night before so I checked the bus website in the morning and saw that due to a 'mouvement social' (the politically correct term), the strike was indeed on. That left me with another day at home so I devoted it to watching French movies. Upon the advice of my French friends, I watched two that I really enjoyed and would recommend to others (if available on Canadian Netflix). 'Ensemble, C'est Tout' stars Audrey Tautou (of 'Amelie' fame) and is a comedy/drama with the usual somewhat quirky French characters. 'Le Prénom' is a comedy that takes place in real time over the course of a single evening. It is a dialogue between five characters who meet for dinner, with the initial topic being what two of them (parents-to-be) are going to name their first child (hence, the title). I watched both using French subtitles and found I could get the gist (and even some of the jokes!) by pausing the film from time to time to translate a word here and there. And watching such films does reinforce the usual pattern of casual French conversation so that's a help for me. It would be interesting to see them someday with English subtitles to see just how much I missed.

Posted by mzemliak 13:45 Archived in France Comments (1)

Hiking and Eating, Two of My Favorite Sports

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sunday was a really enjoyable day. We set out in the morning for La Bresse, a small village of 5 000 about 100 km away, where both Myriam and Thierry grew up. Her parents and his father still live there so they manage a visit every so often. The town sits in the heart of a national park, noted as such because of the beautiful Vosges mountains. They are really better described as rolling hills, but grand nonetheless. There are dozens of walks in the park and, along with each collection of 'balades,' an 'auberge' (hostel) as a reward. Many offer both a restaurant and a place to stay. We arranged to meet up with Myriam's father and Thierry's brother, wife and son for the hike, leaving Myriam and her mom to meet us at the auberge for lunch. Upon meeting up at the trailhead, we saw that the trail we intended to take was actually listed as a 2.5 hr hike rather than the 1.5 hr Thierry had assumed. The solution was to hike more quickly, as we had a definite arrival time for our reservation. So, we started off at quite the pace, no one stopping for 45 minutes. I had to sneak pictures on the fly when I could, negotiating the twists and turns of the trail while doing so. In many places, the path skirted the edge of a small cliff but the powers that be were thoughtful enough to provide handrails at such points. The forest and field views were really pretty and it was wonderful to be out in nature again. The temperature was a perfect 20 degrees in many places but it still felt very warm when hiking at the pace we were. We made it through the walk in 1 hour and 30 minutes as hoped, each of us 50 year-old women agreeing we moved 'un peu vite.' The only mishap occurred when we stopped briefly for a picture of a waterfall and, as is my habit with my prescription sunglasses, I moved them to the top of my head to see the photo better. When I looked up to get a better angle, they promptly fell off backwards into the little stream some meters below. Fortunately, Thierry retrieved them without much ado, once he realized I wasn't making a joke.

Thierry's dad is a very fit man of 73 years. He spends one morning a week working on the trails to help keep them in shape for the hikers, but says he prefers biking in the Vosges to walking. He kind of reminded me of my dad because of his tanned, leathery face and fit demeanor. He also has a ready smile and is quick to engage a person in conversation. Thierry's mom is also very genial and it was to her I mostly spoke during the meal and afterwards. She speaks slowly and we were selective in our topics so it was a good plan for me to stay close.

When we met up with Myriam, we were joined by Thierry's dad, a recent widower. As we eagerly approached the auberge, I could smell the wonderful scents of that day's offerings. Eight of the nine of us opted for the complete meal so they served the main course 'family-style' by combining the plates into common dishes. This meal was enormous, not that they didn't warn me ahead of time. (I've included photographs for those who are as interested as me in the food.) They first served a warm, hearty vegetable soup, which was followed by the entrée (actually the first plate, or appetizer), a generous wedge of tortiere-like meat pie. That would have been enough to satisfy most people but we had the 'plat principal' yet, two thick slices of smoked ham and a large portion of thick mashed potatoes just how I like them (with plenty of butter, cream and cooked onions). Accompanying that was the traditional salade verte and usual slices of warm bread. Most people elected not to have the cheese course but I wanted to try the whole meal deal so the waiter brought me and Thierry a taste of each type of cheese. The first was good; the second, better; and the third, munster, which tastes like a cousin of Roquefort (which speaks for itself). By this time, I was full but felt the need to keep going, ending with the blueberry tart, another typical Vosgienne offering.

After rolling out of the restaurant, I learned we would be going on another shorter hike, this one with everyone in tow. It was a half hour uphill walk up to another 'point de vue.' I was surprised at how the older folk (i.e., those older than me) all did, with Thierry's 83-year-old father keeping up with his cane in hand. It offered a beautiful vista of a lake and several green hills, on which could be seen other auberges and walks in the distance. There were many people out that day as, when the weather is agreeable, people come out in droves to the Vosges.

We ended the day by driving back home, with many La Bresse-grown zucchini in tow, the rewards of having driven out to Myriam's parents for a visit.

Posted by mzemliak 13:57 Archived in France Comments (1)

I Hate French

Saturday, September 10, 2016

I hate French. I mean, I really hate it. There are so many tenses; the conjugations are hard to remember; and the past participles, so varied. And the pronunciation -- egad, I sound so flat and harsh to my own ears, it's no wonder I need to repeat myself so often. I still stumble through sentences, often still resorting to phrases instead. Some days, I feel as if I'm going backwards -- I think I spoke more in my first weeks than I do now. I feel downhearted about what I'm not learning. It all seems pretty impossible. Those people who promised that after a month, my brain would wake up and I would feel everything fall into place did not know my brain. It's working even slower than usual and even seems to be losing its English! I face the next few weeks with more than just a little trepidation, feeling as if I've let my 'instructors' here down. They were so hopeful at the beginning; now, they seem a bit more resigned and speak to others of how much I 'can understand' (but not speak). I know myself that I can understand even less than they think.

I felt I needed a social break from everything and everyone so just holed up in my room reading a book today. It was a much-needed sojourn. It helped me recuperate a bit from my self-pity and allowed me a chance to reanalyze the situation. I know this has been an amazing opportunity. Just being able to take the time and devote it to something that has been on my bucket list is worthwhile. The fact that it is not yielding all I wanted it to in the French-learning department is countered by the unexpected rewards found in other areas. Being able to live deeply ingrained in another culture, with a 'real' family who shares their thoughts, comings and goings, and home with me has been really fascinating. I find the ways they do things, interact, and think about their world at once intriguing and yet, still somewhat familiar, just with a cultural twist. The exposure to different foods, their acquisition and their preparation has been an education. I've stayed in a beautiful area and had many opportunities for exploring it through walks and new experiences. Working at Emmaus has brought unforeseen contact with many other cultures and perspectives, opening my mind (and heart) to the plight of the immigrant in new ways. Needing to approach new situations and rely more on myself has bolstered my confidence and distracted me from worrying about how I am perceived in others' eyes. Having more down time has allowed me a chance to reconsider all the great people and options I have back in Canada and given me renewed energy for my everyday life there. Given these rewards, at the halfway mark, I have to be content with what this trip has given me, and need to look forward to the next six weeks for what they might bring.

Posted by mzemliak 03:58 Archived in France Comments (10)

End of the Week

Friday, September 9, 2016

This morning, once we had readied the clothes section of Emmaus for the public, we moved onto the shoes. As I was distributing footwear to the various areas, I saw a couple of pairs priced for 100 euros ($150)! This really surprised me, and yet, there are some clothes here that are exorbitantly priced as well, at least for second hand (literally, 'de deuxième main'). However, many types of people shop at thrift stores and there are those to whom a brand name means a lot. Emmaus capitalizes on this by pricing specific 'marques' as high as possible. The shoes I saw apparently sell for about 700 euros ($1050) brand new.

I learned today that the workers at the store fall into three categories: there are six employees, who are long standing, highly trusted individuals that direct much of the store; there are us volunteers, who comprise a fluid, uncertain number; and then there are about 35 or so 'compagnons.' While translated literally as 'companions,' a better understanding might be 'members of a community.' These are actually individuals who come from a variety of backgrounds and are working here for various reasons. Some are new to the country as refugees or immigrants and are just starting out, hoping to learn the language and get a start; many are without formal papers and somehow, Emmaus can hire them. Others have been out of the workforce for several years and want to gradually integrate themselves back in -- apparently, there is a program here where the government pays 90% of the wage and the employer, the other ten, so it's a real incentive for the organization. There are also those who have come from the rougher side of life and need a chance to understand how to hold a regular job and work within a community so Emmaus takes them in and supports them. It's a real 'mélange' and I've come to appreciate the distinct mix. The focus is on community rather than on setting a fast pace. It often seems there are more individuals than are needed for the work but this allows for more of a social aspect that seems to embellish the day-to-day activities. I discovered today, while talking with my regular lunch mates (Dominique and Josiane), that Dominique and the 'King of Toys' (Pierre) live together, having met here some years ago. She continues to volunteer four full days a week and floats among the various areas, helping where she can. All know her and she receives many hellos and kisses throughout the day, from worker and client alike. I have a feeling Amirouche (the 'grand chef') asked her to take me under her wing initially as she's the really social one.

I have come to recognize a few clients now that I have been there a few days; apparently, about two thirds are regulars who come by a few times a week. There are also those who have been banned from the clothes area, under the direction of Jean-Paul, due to their penchant for stealing. In fact, one person is always assigned just to watch individuals. As I was working the ticketing booth this afternoon, Mbinti was at her observation station and came by to advise me she saw some suspicious behaviour from a fellow. In a few minutes, when I suggested to him that he hadn't yet bought the jeans he was about to pack away, he said he had bought them in another area. Jean-Paul and Mbinti got involved and after some haranguing and haughty words from the 'buyer,' he apologized, intimating he had made an honest mistake. He's now on Jean-Paul's 'watch list.' I was further surprised when Mbinti said we have to really watch out for the people from Eastern Europe as they are the ones who steal. Intolerance can come from all quarters, I realized anew, when she herself must have been the recipient of it herself. Later that evening, when I was wondering aloud to Thierry why Jean-Paul, an educated man with a degree in Informatics, came to be working as a campagnon, Thierry suggested it might have to do with the racism against Africans that is still prevalent in France.

At the end of the day, I waited for the bus with many others; on Fridays, the end of school tallies with my shift and the bus is standing room only because of it. This time, there seemed to be an inordinate number so I expected some of us wouldn't get on. However, the driver (the same one who I wrote about a couple of days ago) did nothing to limit the people so we kept pouring into the gaping hole. I found myself at the end of the queue as others pushed themselves forward, mounting the bus two at a time. When the front doors squeezed behind me, they pulled on my clothes and hair and I narrowly escaped getting pinned. I hoped the line would move forward but it seemed there was no excess room throughout the bus, so there we were, cruising down the boulevard, squished like French sardines, with no real concern, it seemed, for the safety quota, or for the 'magic yellow line' present in Canadian buses behind which all passengers must stand. I was acutely aware that, should the door not hold, I would be the first on the tarmac. Then came the first stop to let some people off. As the front doors were opened, I felt them try to slide against me and the others who were still at the front, jamming at intervals. I took this as an opportunity to move further inside the bus, relieved there was a new niche into which I could crawl. When the driver attempted to re-close the doors, they wouldn't budge from their open position. He tried again and again but to no avail. The earlier trauma had rendered them unresponsive. A passenger in mirrored, heart-shaped sunglasses suggested perhaps not-so-helpfully to the driver that he 'check the manual.' After several more tries, while we sweltered together, the driver -- and we -- finally succumbed to the realization that the bus was not going anywhere in this state. Despite this, Mr. Sunglasses tried to manually adjust the doors, pulling them shut with brute force. The driver allowed this but apparently recognized the safety issue when the doors wouldn't respond further. He called in the 'depannage' guys while we all waited for the next bus to arrive.

Amid those waiting were two women with strollers and young children, as well as a few older people (older than me, I mean). As we waited in the heat, I wondered how this would play out. When the next bus did arrive, the young people immediately swarmed it, leaving the strollers and elderly in their wake. While one stroller made it on, the other was eclipsed, along with the older folks. I, too, waited for the next bus. It was quite an interesting sociological scene. When discussing this with Myriam afterwards, over our rabbit stew, she indicated, sadly, that this was all too common in France.

Posted by mzemliak 02:44 Archived in France Comments (1)

It's Not Just Me

Thursday, September 8, 2016

I spent much of the day with Myriam, doing typical Mom things like running errands and being chauffeur. This woman spends a lot of her time planning meals, buying food, preparing ingredients, freezing fruit, cooking and completing after-meal clean up. I believe it was Sheila who said to Abby that I concentrated a lot on food in this blog and she asked if that was a focus of the French. Abby replied, "No, I think that's just my mom!" Well, you're wrong, Abby. The French love to think about food, talk about food, and eat food. And for Myriam, who lives in the country and is very health-minded (what with her lactose and gluten issues and strong organic food focus), the time spent on food is further amplified. She has two full sized fridges, each with the requisite freezer compartment, and two more full sized upright freezers. All the freezers are completely full. She buys a quarter of a cow and a similar amount of veal at a time from neighbouring farms, freezes a lot of fruit, and has great stashes of frozen vegetables. She shops for fresh vegetables two times a week and uses one fridge just for this and her eggs. It's quite the production, but when I was explaining this to Josiane at work, she said for someone who lives in the country, this is completely normal and she herself had two fridges and two freezers as well.

Amidst the grocery shopping, we took a break and explored a bit of the Plateau de Ludres. Apparently, you can drive up there -- who knew!? It's a large area on the outskirts of town devoted to a park, recreational area and some walking paths. Myriam doesn't often get up there but took me today to show me around. We had a short walk and then returned to Nancy to pick Nico up from his one-day mandatory exposure to the French military. Apparently, all high school students in their last year must attend the one day orientation to learn about the military and their responsibilities, as part of their civics education. Also, while formal conscription ended in 2001, all young men and women in France must register for possible obligatory service in case the need arises.

Posted by mzemliak 03:38 Archived in France Comments (2)

(Entries 36 - 40 of 72) « Page .. 3 4 5 6 7 [8] 9 10 11 12 13 .. »