Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas and everything after

Sigh, the longer you leave blog posts, the more boring they are for all involved... So here goes a quick summary of what I've been up to in the last week or so.

Today we basically just drove around. We went up to the north into Cumbria and saw a couple of bits of Hadrian's Wall and the ruins of some Roman forts and stuff, then across into Northumberland for more of the same. It was freeeeezing cold and icy and horrible. We visited an ancient stone circle somewhere near Keswick, which was pretty amazing. It's set in this flat piece of land surrounded 360 degrees by mountains. Today, with snow covering everything as far as the eye could see, it was really impressive. You can see why the druids or whoever it was would want to hang out there. As scenic as you'd find anywhere in the world. Then we just drove back down through the Lake District and home.

Yesterday we went into Manchester... Chaos. It was Monday after Boxing Day so the sales were still going strong and there were just millions of people everywhere. It was quite stressful and nasty. You could barely even look at anything on the racks, there were so many people, let alone try stuff on or get to a till. After lunch we tried to go to the Trafford Centre, but all the carparks were full. Wikipedia informs me there are more than 10,000 parking spaces, so this is quite the feat. It took us about half an hour to get into the place, around a roundabout and back out again. Looks quite impressive on Wikipedia, but probably would have had a nervous breakdown if we'd actually managed to get inside the place. Slow-moving crowds, ugh.

On Boxing Day we went into Liverpool, and after a bit of a look around the city centre we were lucky enough to get tickets to the match. We had pretty good seats in row L, towards one of the goal ends. Best of all, Liverpool won 2-nil. Unfortunately the goals were up the other end and I didn't see them very well, but it was an okay match.

On Christmas Day I was hungover as anything. I don't think I had that much to drink on Christmas Eve, but there was a shot of sambucca at one point, maybe that did it. Christmas was uneventful. Santa bought me a new digital camera, much appreciated, and assorted other little presents.

On Christmas Eve we did some shopping in Lancaster. I bought myself a new netbook for Christmas. More an insurance policy than anything, as my laptop has already completely crashed once and now goes for max about three hours at a time before it overheats and shuts down. Having it crashed for a few days last time was a complete nightmare. More addicted than ever living in France, far away from everyone and most forms of entertainment. We went to dinner on Christmas Eve, to a nice pub with good food. This little 8 year old kid schooled me in the arts of pool, which enabled me to beat my brother, yuss! Then I played the kid, and he won, but only by a couple of balls, so maybe he taught me something. It was a fun night anyway, chatted to various locals, although perhaps not worth the hangover.

The day before Christmas Eve was spent shopping in Morecambe, nothing terribly exciting. I have managed to purchase a jumper and an angora jacket though, which have already come in handy considering it's frigid around these parts. It hasn't snowed for several days, but the snow's hung around, especially out of the towns. Everywhere is very slippery, I have no suitable shoes and not much in the way of warm clothing. Of course this just means there is more shopping to be done!

I think that brings us up to date with everything... Tomorrow we're meant to be going to Blackpool, shopping etc. I was supposed to be going to the midlands for New Years, but that didn't work out so looks like I'll be stuck up here with the rents for a super-exciting NYE. Oh well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

En Angleterre

Looks like it's definitely set to be a white Christmas up here in the north of England... Just arrived after about a 13 hour door-to-door trip from Nice to Liverpool. Granted, I arrived at the airport stupidly early as usual, but the real problems began when the flight was delayed. Of course, they didn't announce it until the last minute when we were all stuck beyond security with nothing to do. First an hour's delay, then another. Then they announced boarding and then called it off, leaving us all to stand around hopefully for another 20 minutes or so. Some amusement was provided by the dude who had bought a duty-free bottle of red and consumed it in its entirety in the departure lounge.

Finally, we were off. No problems (apart from the screaming brat sat next to me) until we got to Liverpool safe and sound. Where we sat, and sat, and sat waiting to get off the plane. For 1 3/4 hours. Apparently it was too icy for us to get off safely. Wtf? Did the 2 hour delay not give them enough notice that we were coming? Seriously, why does England go to pieces completely whenever there's a cold snap? Granted, this is the snowiest I've ever seen it, but it's not as if I've spent my whole life here. Moscow copes every winter (jackass schemes about cloud-seeding notwithstanding) - what's England's problem?

Oh and then I just found that they destroyed my luggage's locking mechanism. It wasn't enough for them just to cut off the padlock. Or just to cut off one of the pull tabs for the zip. No, they chucked the padlock away, took the entire zipper off one side, and took the pull tab off the other side. So now it doesn't lock, I have no padlock, and it's difficult to even close. Thanks a fecking lot you dicks. Everywhere else they at least do you the courtesy of telling you to remove padlocks if necessary. It came all the way from Auckland to Brisbane, Brisbane to Dubai, Dubai to Milan padlocked - but Nice to Liverpool - oh noes, let's break in! Plus the top layer of all my stuff is wet. And a promising young bar of chocolate, only days away from consumption, was ruined. Tragedy.

Anyway, I'm tired, and sick and grumpy as you might be able to tell. But I'm here! Reunited with the fams, looking forward to Christmas and shopping and Englishy things. Of course no-one will even read this blog since I am currently using the only familial laptop, but oh well, I enjoy me. Someone doesn't though - I notice I have one less 'follower'. Boo :(

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

I can't believe it, it snowed! Here! In Nice! I'm so excited! (Can you tell?) I was hoping to get some snow in England, but didn't dream that it would snow here. The weather the past few days has seriously been testing the limits of my wardrobe by the way... I had it in my head that winter in Nice would be like winter in Auckland (i.e. daytime temps around... I don't know, 12 degrees?) but SURPRISE, it's cold! I won't complain too much, as long as it gives me snow. Which as of now, 9.40 am, is still lying on the ground, rooftops and on trees and looking all wintry and Christmassy and fabulous. Only a couple of centimetres, but still. I didn't see it actually fall because it was night and my shutters were down. I read online that the forecast was rain/snow mixed and I was just kind of like "yeah whatever" so was so surprised when I saw it that I got dressed and ran downstairs at 1.30 in the morning to play in it a bit. Then I threw snowballs off our balcony and accidentally hit the same car twice (sorry!)

Yesterday was my last day of school until the new year. Ugh, hard day as well. Well, hard two hours. The last hour was the last before the holidays and yeah, the kids were being real pains in the arses as I suppose is the custom before the holidays. Even when it's only been like 6 weeks since the last holidays! I taught them the 12 days of Christmas too, with varying degrees of success.

My parents and brother landed in the UK last night :) I leave here on Tuesday to join them for Christmas. Can't wait! The list of things I want to buy in the UK is growing by the day (hair clips! insoles! cider! chocolate!) Oh and I will finally get hold of the Eftpos card for my UK bank account, which was mailed out to New Zealand. Thus magically unlocking 500 pounds which I plan to do justice to clothes shopping! Yay!

This doesn't really fit in the post, but I have to tell someone - walked downstairs the other day early in the morning and sprung this shaven-headed, be-earringed teen practising his moonwalk in the mirror in the lobby. He had his back to me and his ipod in so he didn't hear me coming down the stairs until he saw my reflection and pretended to be tying his shoe. Too late, buddy! Ahahahahaha. Shame on your name. That is all.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

All-singing, all-dancing

Since Santa prefers to communicate in blog comment form, I might as well write a new post while I'm here.

Today's post has a musical theme. Last night my colleague Ibi and I went to see a recital put on by the prépa (prep school) classes from our school, held at the regional conservatory just down the road from me. They were pretty good! Our school is, I believe, popularly regarded as the best or second-best in Nice, depending on who you ask (i.e. people from our school or from our rival school!) so for the most part we have pretty good kids, especially in class prépa. I may have explained this before, but just as a reminder, prépa students are 'the best of the best' who take an extra 2 years of classes between finishing high school and starting uni, in preparation for a national competitive exam to try and get into les grandes écoles, the French equivalents of like Oxford and Cambridge or Ivy League colleges. They come from all around to attend prépa at my school, so there's some talent there. I'm always surprised as well by how much I recognise of the music at these things. I'm by no means a classical music buff, so it really makes you realise how much these pieces have permeated popular culture, whether it be in Disney movies or in car ads or whatever, which really shows, even if you hate the stuff, that there must be something to them! Especially the 'Fantasie Brillante sur Carmen' by Borne, which had two entirely different bits that I knew. Anyway, left the concert at about 10 pm - FREEZING! Haven't been out at night for a while, it was a real shock! Google informed me that it was 5 degrees, 1 degree with wind chill. This is the same Google that told me it was -15 and snowing in Auckland last week, but on this occasion I'm inclined to believe it. It's still reasonable during the day, as long as there's sun about, but you do need to take a jumper (and a coat, and a scarf, and a hat, and gloves if you're French).

I also did a bit of singing in class yesterday, teaching the kids the 12 Days of Christmas - Kiwi version. It went quite well actually! My singing did not, however. It was a bit high and I have a little bit of a sore throat so it was cracked and awful but I soldiered on in the name of education. They had the courtesy not to laugh at me (at least not that I saw) although they did laugh (rightly so) when I was trying to count down 12-11-10-9 etc. with my fingers and kept mucking it up. What a 'tard eh?

Getting them to sing was largely prompted by the fact that last week my most difficult class, who never wants to participate at all, spontaneously burst into song when I asked if they knew the names of any carols in English. Colour me surprised! I don't think you'd ever get a group of kiwi teenagers doing that! And it was led by the Macauley Culkin-looking dude who always lounges around looking too cool for school with his perma-scarf. Well I've said it before and I'll say it again - those Frenchies really do love their singing!

That's about all from me. I'm looking forward to going to England next week - fish & chips, real cider, Galaxy chocolate, English TV, pubs, crackling fires (maybe), & of course seeing my family! Joyeux Noel à tous!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Mise à jour

The computer guy who fixed my laptop put this stupid French anti-virus programme on that feels the need to SAY "la base de signature de virus a été mise à jour" to me every day... Anyway, French for update!

I had fun the rest of the night on my birthday. We had dinner here, which was yummy, much wine was drunk. Emily made me a birthday cake with 27 *trick* candles, fun times! They were actually the best trick candles I've seen, cos they actually waited like 10 seconds before relighting, so you actually thought they'd all been blown out (the first time at least, they had to eventually be pinched by braver souls than I). Then we went into down, there was dancing, yay! On Tuesday one of my students came up and said she saw me out, which is one of my recurring nightmares... Seriously, they're like 16, find your own parks to drink in or something! Anyway, she was all "I was going to say hi but you didn't see me", to which my improvident reply was "sorry, I was quite drunk". So was she though, so no harm done!

I realised earlier this week that due to various cancellations and illnesses, I only have to work 4 hours this week - but still get normal pay :D The resulting boredom, however, drove me out of the house today. It was a lovely sunny day, as per. Went down to the beach and actually went ON the beach for the first time. Feel a bit lame saying that, but at least I've done it now! Yep, it is entirely covered with stones, but they are mostly quite flat and rounded off, and I discovered that you can in fact lie down in relative comfort, just make yourself a little hollow and spend the first few minutes removing offending stones from your back and you're set. And really is super beautiful. I imagine it's a nightmare in mid-summer, but at the moment it's sparsely populated, and you can actually hear the crashing of the small waves over your ipod and not much else (bar the occasional inevitable scooter).

After I'd got bored of reading on the beach I tried to go to the modern art museum, which was equipped with an array of doors smack bang in the front of it which I just knew from looking at them weren't going to open. What is it with museums and having large, conveniently-placed entrances that don't actually work? Under the scrutiny of gangs of youths the like of which would just LOVE to hang about at the Westgate movies (eh Ranch?) I tried all the doors, wandered around to the side, decided it must be closed, saw there was someone inside, wandered around to the other side, found a door covered with a curtain which presumably didn't open, and left. So who knows how you get into the fortress of modern art?

Being still in the museum-going mood, I wandered over to another part of town and checked out the Musée Masséna, which is a museum of the history of Nice. It's set in very nice grounds, slightly back from the sea, in a beautiful 19th century palace. The entire ground floor is decorated as presumably it always has been and is really pretty. There are also no ropes or anything, so bar the odd discreet sign, you really feel like you're actually in a palace, not a museum. It used to be owned by a Masséna, who judging from all the stuff named after him in Nice, is fondly regarded in these parts. I figured out from the museum that he was born in Nice, was the son of a wine merchant, but ended up the Prince of somewhere thanks to helping Napoleon out in various wars. Not bad, eh? There is apparently still a Prince of whatever - someone should really go strip him of his title and point out that it's even more made-up, meaningless and ridiculous than the average petty European princeship.

Upstairs is the museum part, which is no longer decorated up like the villa downstairs, don't know if someone came in and stripped out all the decorations (if so why?), or if the downstairs was restored? The exhibits up here were of moderate interest. I started feeling a bit sick and decided to go home. Not sure why, although I had run out of water before getting to the museum, which is somewhat of a crisis for me, of course.

Anyway, this resulted in me fainting on the bus. Or perhaps 'collapsing' would be a better word, since I don't think I passed out. The bus was hot and crowded and I had to stand. I wasn't feeling too awful, but then I suddenly felt nauseous. Thought about getting off the bus at one stop, but it was just on a bare footpath and I didn't want to throw up there (yeah, it would be *much* better to do it on a crowded bus... I think my brain wasn't quite functioning properly). Anyway, shortly thereafter I really intensively felt like I was going to vomit and then all of a sudden my knees just buckled and I fell over. Luckily enough I was against a wall and just went straight down. Don't remember feeling especially dizzy or anything, just nauseous and like my ipod was suddenly very very loud and then my legs just gave way. My favourite part was hearing an "oh là!" from someone as I did so. Ha. I got up somehow and someone gave me their seat, which was nice, but I got off at the next stop anyway, partly to get some air and partly because despite my feeble bleatings of "ça va, ça va" (I'm okay) people just kept staring at me anyway. And then I came home and slept all evening, which probably wasn't the best move, but yeah...

So just goes to show, outings are foolish and I'm much better off holed up in my apartment!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

My birthday thus far

Thanks everyone for all the birthday wishes in various formats :)

I'm having a lovely day so far. After a lie-in I wandered down to the shops (lovely, sunny, warm but not hot day) to spend my birthday money. Thanks Mum & Dad for buying me a new dress! Then I went down to Place Massena to check out the first day of the Christmas markets. There's a giant ferris wheel, various children's amusements, an outdoor ice rink, English, French, and Russian carols blaring on loudspeakers, a labyrinth of Christmas trees punctuated with displays of Russian stuff (the theme is a Russian Christmas, for some reason), and lots of market stalls selling handicrafts and food and so on. I succumbed to the general Nicois desire to pretend that it's proper cold even though it's not, and got a cup of mulled wine. Once it cooled down a bit, it was actually pretty good, although it made me sleepy! The last time I had one of those was in Chamonix, where it was much more seasonally-appropriate...

Also had a bag of churros - like fried doughnut sticks, presumably of Spanish origin? - with chocolate sauce. These are either popular carnival food or popular Christmas food, because there were about 5 different stalls selling them and I couldnay resist the wafting smell of hot fat :D They were okay, a bit hard though, I'll take delicious L'il Orbits mini donuts any day! The bag was hu-age as well (should have been too, for 5 euros!) so I am feeling slightly overly replete now, even though that's all I've eaten all day (not by design, just ended up too caught up in SHOPPING). Well, there's a couple of hours till dinner still, so hopefully I'll recover!

So that was all very pleasant. Tonight a friend of mine, Klara, and her boyfriend are coming over and we're having dinner with my flatmate Emily and her boyfriend who's visiting from America. I did invite a few more people, but left it a bit late and they had things planned already - including my other flatmate who's gone to Rome. Hopefully it will be fun anyway, although I'm the odd one out with two couples... Well, should be used to that, having been single for forevs! Will let you know how my evening went at a later date.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sanksgeeveeng etc.

On Saturday I had my first taste of Thanksgiving, courtesy of my American flatmates. What a production! I can't believe they voluntarily do this so close to Christmas... Especially if it involves flying home from all over the States etc. But anyway, a day themed entirely around eating and drinking is okay by me! It took me all morning to track down the ingredients for my contribution - raspberry and marscapone tarts (recipe courtesy of Dad). Turns out the French apparently don't believe in tinned or frozen fruit at all, and I had to go to two different supermarkets (including the freakishly large, blood-pressure-raising Carrefour) to find ready-made pastry shells. It ended up costing me a hideous 20 euros for my ingredients, which made 8 large tarts and 12 bite-sized ones, and then only the small ones ended up getting eaten, so I could have made half as many... Anyway... I'm of the fond belief that this was owing to the abundance of food, not because the tarts were no good. I liked them at any rate. There were 10 of us to dinner, mostly Americans and me and two Brits. Most of the food was pretty good - no dreaded pumpkin pie! I did try the sweet potato casserole, against my better judgement, and I'm sorry but it was absolutely hideous. It was so sweet that it made my teeth ache - and it was a main course dish! The turkey and stuffing were delish, however, and there were some yummy sides like mashed potato and stuffed courgettes, and my colleague Ibi made a lovely apple crumble as well. We're still working our way through the leftovers, which doesn't include the 10 empty wine bottles accrued by the end of the evening!

Have been reflecting on my working life and come to the realisation that, other than the two observation weeks which don't really count, I've yet to do all 12 hours in any given week. One class I've only seen once, which is a bit of a pain, because they never tell me they're not coming so I just have to sit there for a decent amount of time before I dismiss my class of one. So yeah, no complaints still on the teaching front.

It rained today and yesterday, probably about the 5th and 6th or so days of rain since I've been here - not bad for 2 months. However, it simply cannot seem to rain without thundering, and it's the loudest and longest thunder you've ever heard. Usually starts with a very loud crack and then rumbles on for 30-odd seconds, and always at night. It always puts me in mind of storms on the Med and Turner-esque seascapes... So it's not always beau on the Cote d'Azur, but mostly...

Cannot believe that it's December tomorrow - nearly my birthday and 2010! Tomorrow I'm planning to do an exercise with my kids: 'the best of the decade', since such lists seem to be popping up in every newspaper, blog post etc. I find it VERY hard to believe that it's 10 years since the millenium. In the year 2000 I was 17, in my final year of school... in the decade since I've gained 3 university degrees, travelled overseas 4 times, to Europe 3 times (and to Canada and Australia), lived in Auckland, Wellington, London, Prague, Moscow, north-East France, Chamonix and Nice, had probably a dozen different jobs, broken up with my boyfriend of 6 years, learned and (mostly) forgotten Russian, partied a lot, and made lots of new friends. So yeah, an eventful decade!

Here's my list for my best of exercise. If anyone would like to chip in with theirs in the comments, feel free:

1) Best band: Kings of Leon
2) Best actor/actress: I can't think of anyone, so if you have suggestions, please put them on the back of a postcard to me by tomorrow :)
3) Best film: No country for old men was the only one I could think of. Not very good at remembering films.
4) TV show: The League of Gentlemen. Classic surreal insane Britcom.
5) Most influential person: Gotta be George W. Bush. Love him or hate him (hopefully hate him) he definitely had an impact.
6) Most historic event: 9/11 is the one "I'll always remember where I was when I heard..." moment of the past decade that I can think of
7) Best product: I heart my iPod!
8) Hottest celeb: This is another hard one... I might go with Wentworth Miller, the cute one on Prison Break.
9) Best song: The only 00s song to get 5 stars on my iPod is All These Things That I've Done by The Killers. Epic rock
10) Best book: Again, I drew a bit of a blank, but for the moment, I have fond memories of The Crimson Petal and the White, a contemporary re-imagining of the epic Victorian novel, starring a London prostitute... For those of you who live in my house, it's on my bookshelves and recommended for long plane journeys!

Okay must run, they've asked me to come in specially this afternoon to help build up a sound archive of native speakers talking about stuff. Blech!!!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Some observations on France and the French

Before I publish part one (probably more forthcoming eventually) of my collected wisdom on the French, quick update on moi. Most glaring event lately has been the death and resurrection of my laptop. I was unbelievably distressed when it crashed. Despite the hours spent on it every day, I hadn't quite fathomed the depths of my dependance on it, but it's my entire communication and entertainment apparatus, plus really quite useful for work, and I was lost without it. Thankfully some dude fixed it for me for a reasonable price, but alas, all my files are gone, including my iTunes library (which is backed up in New Zealand thankfully) and my photos. Which are not, for the most part, backed up anywhere. So, of my trip to Italy, there remains pretty much just the photos on this blog :( So that's upsetting, but daddy dearest burning down the garage has taught me not to get too upset at the loss of physical (or digital) "memories". C'est la vie and next time back the things up! The thought crossed my mind every now and again, but yeah... Oh well. I'm hoping like mad that it won't die again. My flatmate is of the opinion that it will, but don't know whether she actually knows what she's talking about. Not sure if the guy who fixed it had an opinion on the subject, I was seriously struggling to understand a word out of his mouth - he was of the French-speaking variety whose every sentence consists of "mumblemumblemumblemumble, quoi?" but I figured that most of what he was saying would have equally gone over my head in English, so just nodded and smiled and panicked slightly on the occasions when he was actually asking me a question. PS on a tangent, it's a somewhat endearing French young person tic to end sentences with 'quoi?' ('what'?), and is not indicative that they're about to break in to 'topping day, old bean' mode.

So anyway, things I have recently been thinking about, enjoy:

- On the bus today there was not one, but two obese people (one man, one woman). The man, at least, was French, don't know about the woman. Anyway, this reminded me of how rare it is to see overweight people here, they virtually don't exist. Almost all the young 'uns are skinny as (boys included) and the women mostly stay skinny until about 50, when some of them start piling on some grandmotherly pounds. Of course, they are all obsessed with dieting...

- Also on the bus today was a woman wearing a CAPE. Sweet. And it has to be said, she was semi-rocking it. Kudos. On the subject of dress, my high school students frequently make me laugh with what they wear. Not so much the girls, you kind of expect sophisticated French mode from them, but the boys vary from jeans and t-shirts to looking like they stepped off a catwalk, it's hilarious. All charcoal turtlenecks with elegantly knotted purple scarves and man bags. Heh.

- There are way, way too many motorbikes and scooters here, and their owners have all taken compulsory wanker courses before being allowed to ride them. They are really loud, they often go through red lights, they drive on the wrong side of the road wherever possible, they drive up on to pavements and 'park' in the middle of them, they rev their engines at you if you cross the road in front of you (that's on the rare occasions they stop at all)... Yesterday I even saw, would you believe, someone going down the wrong side of a busy multi-lane street at 11.30 am doing a wheelie. Wank-ers!

- It's been said before and it'll be said again, but France really is full of merde. That's poo to our non-French friends. Specifically, it's merde of the canine variety. Crottes de chien are everywhere - it's less "keep watching the skies" than "keep watching the pavements". I don't know how many times I've suddenly noticed a pretty building or sign or whatever that I must have walked past a million times before and thought "well, up to now I've missed it because I've been on dogpoo patrol". They - and this must be with malice aforethought - seem to take special delight in pooing in the gaps between parked cars, also known as the part of the street where the crap is likely to be difficult to see and easy to step in. I've escaped so far, but for how long??? Possibly the worst is when it rains (granted, that's not often) and the piles of crap are replaced with melted dogpoo puddles leeching across the pavement. Nice!

- I haven't seen it, but apparently there's another memorial somewhere in my school to all the Jewish kids from the school who got taken away to concentration camps in WWII. I've seen my fair share of Holocaust memorials by now, but what an especially sad idea to think of students like mine sent away to their deaths :(

- Was having chats with the two students who turned up to my class this afternoon. One, a 16 year old, is planning on 'drinking' this weekend - she's been going out to bars for about a year now. Both of them said that teenage drinking was a big problem in France, and it's 'bad' how easy it is for teenagers to get into bars and buy alcohol. They thought it was hilarious when I told them how, in New Zealand, the French are held up as paragons of healthy drinking behaviour. So suck on that, all you journalists who act like the French are universally sophisticated and sensible. (For one thing, you only have to watch a bit of French TV to see that's not the case. Cheese city!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A la recherche de willpower

One of the best things about France has got to be the food, right? Pains au chocolat, chocolate eclairs, croissants aux amandes (croissants filled with almond stuff, one of my personal favs), chocolate mousse... A recent discovery in the frozen food section of my local Monoprix is Flammekeuche (sp?) an Alsatian dish which is to diiiiie for. Imagine a very thin pizza with its crust raised around the edges and the middle filled with this creme fraiche concoction, onions and bacon bits and you have flammekeuche. Omg it's good.

So yeah, I'm in grave danger of turning into a petit pot au chocolat or something along those lines, so in an effort to gently encourage myself to do more than walk down to the nearest bakery to get another beignet or chausson aux pommes (why? why do you have so many delicious treats, France?) I will name and shame my exercise efforts here, and if I don't then pleeeeease hassle me. My mum does already, so everyone else get on board. I work 12 hours per week, there's really no excuse.

So today I have hopped on the wonder that is You Tube and done a 10 min cardio workout, a 5 min Pilates core workout and a devilish chair-based workout, which may sound easy but was the hardest of all. If you don't believe me, you try repeatedly sitting down and getting up off a chair standing on one bent leg without using your arms. Hard! Okay so that's not a lot, but it's day one. Stay tuned.

The only other thing of note for today was some guy turning up to inspect the ceilings - there was a flood of some sort upstairs, and some minor water damage here but it didn't leak through so don't be concerned. Anyway, that in itself wasn't especially noteworthy, but I found it hilarious that 3 other random neighbours took it upon themselves to tag along. I'm pretty sure they had no reason for being here other than to sneak a peak at our apartment and have something else to gossip about behind our backs. Not that I have any reason to believe they're maliciously inclined towards us (well, other than the two occasions that people have let the front door slam in my face so I had to open it with a key instead of just holding it for me) but they definitely talk. Everyone who comes to our door opens with something like "I'll talk slowly for you" so they've identified us as dirty furreners, and today the workman asked me if I was the owner and some old lady I'd never seen before jumped in with "No, they're foreign students" (not true of course, but whatever). Luckily we run a pretty clean ship around here so there can't have been too much for them to oh la la la la about with the rest of the crew.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The park that gives on giving

I know I've said it before, but I heart the park.

To recap, not only is there:
- Pretty olive trees
- Old men playing petanque
- Genu-ine Roman ruins
- An archaeology museum
- The Matisse museum
- A pretty church with a mummified corpse in it
- A Franciscan monastery with museum (which I haven't been into yet)

But I discovered on Saturday that there's also an old graveyard with (partial) sea views, and a 17th century monastic garden which houses Matisse's tomb (all by itself) and is wonderfully peaceful and deserted. Strictly speaking, I suppose the church, monastery, graveyard and garden aren't really part of the park, but they're right there behind it, so I'm counting it. And making this wonderful park of splendour officially my favourite place in Nice. And it's just down the road and everything! Good show, park!

The only other thing of note to report is our little dinner party on Saturday night - the 3 flatmates and 3 other American assistants. We dined splendidly, thanks to Emily, resident chef, and a good time was had by all. Our neighbour (the quiet, religious man - he does exist) came round to complain at 10.30, which, in my opinion, is pretty ridiculous. Even if you're quiet and religious, you should be able to put up with 6 girls talking at 10.30 on a Saturday night. No loud music, it wasn't a party, and they were gone by 11.30. Honestly, if you can't get up to that sort of mild fun, what can you do? Oh yeah, hammer/drill away continuously all day from 9 am on weekends, and whenever you knock off work during the week, yeah I'm looking at you, upstairs neighbours. However, in the defense of the religious gentleman, I must admit that the girls were VERY loud talkers. Not all of them, but enough for it to rachet up the decibels considerably. And yes (please close your ears to this piece of bigotry, my American friends) when complainerson came to the door I said to him "I'm sorry, they're Americans" and he just nodded sagely as if to say "I quite understand". Ha ha ha! I'm sorry, but yeah, as a sweeping generalisation, you guys is loud, aiight?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice Day

Today was another public holiday, unfortunately same old for me as I don't work Wednesdays anyway. The buses were flying little French flags though, which I thought was cute. For fairly obvious reasons, they're pretty obsessed with the world wars here. Every town, big or small, has its war memorial. My school alone has two war memorials (!) which were draped with flags yesterday - apparently there was a remembrance ceremony in the morning, but I didn't make it along. Coincidentally, I had to say the word 'Vichy' in a dictation to a class yesterday. So I mispronounce one French word (which like pretty much every place name in French, turns out not to conform with the norms of French pronunciation (well, at least in my probably inaccurate book) - rhymes with fishy, who knew?) and that's license for the class to crack up like it's the most hilarious thing ever. But it's okay for zem to talk laike zeees...

So anyway, after my laundry was done I ventured out into what was another gorgeous, warm day. Ahhh, I really am lucky to live on the Cote d'Azur :) Whenever I see the weather on TV there's pretty much three bands - rain in the north, cloud in the middle, and sunshine down here! I mean, Nice has its off days too, but overall it's pretty sweet. I headed down to the park and finally managed to find the archaeological museum hiding in a corner that I never knew existed. It was free (yay) and practically deserted, which are always plus points. It wasn't the most exciting place I've ever been, but it was pretty interesting to see the exhibits and photos of archaeological digs and reconstructions of buildings etc. etc. and know that they were actually from right here where I live. From the looks of it, the Roman settlement up here (called Cemenelum, presumably the origin of the suburb's name - Cimiez) was a pretty happening place, with an amphitheatre, pretty extensive baths, graveyards (yeah, those count as 'happening') and later a Christian basilica. Photos and so forth here.

The best bit is that you can walk through the museum and out into the ruins (those that aren't currently being restored) and just walk all around the site. I hadn't actually realised you could do this - from the park, you can only vaguely see them from behind a fence and trees, so it was a nice surprise, and very peaceful and pleasant on a lovely day like today. I definitely think my Dad would enjoy a walk around here, so that's another thing on the itinerary :)

Oh and there was a sarcophagus inscribed something along the lines of 'to my beloved husband Marcus, the best of men, with whom I lived for 20 years, 8 months and 9 days' which I thought was very touching. Also another one that was to 'our daughter, who died prematurely at the age of 19'. It's funny how difficult it is sometimes to realise that people in those days could marry for love and do things like count the days of their relationship, or that despite the high mortality rates, they could still consider dying at 19 as 'premature'. I suppose that's the real value of museums like this - they offer a small window into the past which somehow manages to make it so much more concrete and immediate than it would be if you read it in a book (or on my blog I suppose...) Semi-appropriate for Armistice Day then - remembering all the dead of Cimiez today.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Look, I did something!

So gave myself a stern talking-to for my inactivity over the holidays, which resulted in me walking up to the cemetery on the hill overlooking Old Town and the Baie des Anges. Luckily, last Friday was warm and sunny and gorgeous - unlike the last few days - the walk was pleasant and the view was GORGEOUS. Will definitely have to take the fam up on a nice day when they come to visit. You can see the whole sweep of the bay, with the calm Mediterranean Sea looking like someone has spilt a bucket of bright blue paint on a mirror. In the other direction, the red roofs of Old Town stretch out (well, for a short distance) before you, and then there are the hills behind (couldn't really work out where my house was, sense of direction = poor, as Ranch would agree).

Up the top of the hill are a lot of walking trails, park-y type spaces, a pretty cool man-made waterfall, and some ruins of the old castle and fortifications which once defended Nice. Supposedly this is the oldest area (some pretty old prehistoric remains have been found) along with the Greek/Roman ruins near my house. Makes sense since it's a pretty strategic position with the view across the bay etc.

There's also the Jewish and Christian cemeteries, which are pretty cool, especially the Christian one since that has more fancy statues. Plus I found one section which is like a street map of Nice brought to... um, life... All the big names - Medecin, Malaussena, Grosso, Pastorelli. Would be interested to know who some of these people were and what they did to deserve streets named after them and being buried in the special section of the cemetery. There was also Garibaldi's grave (not with the Nice bigwigs) which was pretty cool as far as grave-spotting goes. He must have been so gutted that Nice didn't wind up as part of Italy. Sucks to be you eh Garibaldi? Hmm I actually just Wikipediad him and turns out his grave is not in Nice, they just for some reason put a monument to him amongst the other graves, in a graveyard, which looks exactly like a tombstone. Oh well, whatever.

The only other thing of note that happened while I was up the hill was the 12 o'clock cannons going off. These fire twice every day at (duh) 12 o'clock. If you're alert, you can hear them from my house and presumably all over the city, but day-ummm, they are LOUD from the vantage point of that hill! Luckily enough I had heard the church bells a second before and knew they were about to fire, because I'm trying to cultivate an air of insouciance in the face of cannonry, in order not to jump and look like a dick/tourist whenever they go off.

Nothing else interesting to report (how could I top that story?) Had my first 8 am class today, wasn't too bad, it was one of the easy ones where I listen and critique their speaking. TWO of my classes are now cancelled tomorrow, leaving only one. Sah-weet! Will try to motivate myself again to get out and do something, even though it's rainy and cold. Maybe a museum or such. Wednesday is a holiday, Armistice Day, although typically it's on the only weekday I have off anyway, so same old same old for me. And yeah, that's it until the next exciting installment!

Thursday, November 05, 2009


I forgot to say I was drilling the students in my conversation class on the pronunciation of 'fifth' today (Remember, remember, the fifth of November). Mainly because frenchies have trouble with the 'th' sound. But guess what came back at me? "Fuff". Ah, just when you think you don't have a horrible kiwi accent, turns out you're infecting the French with it!!

Back to school

Getting up this morning at 7.15 was haaaaard. Admittedly, I have been in a pattern of being awake until around midnight and sleeping until around 9, but for some reason last night my body freaked out and refused to go to sleep until about 2.30 am, then I woke up at least twice that I remember in the night. So yeah, grumpy this morning. Presumably this had something to do with the fact that I opened my neglected diary at around 9 pm and realised that I had said I would present a lesson on 'Maori/NZ culture, differences, racism etc.' Erm, kind of a big topic, no clues where to start, stupid Google was giving me nothing... After much fruitless searching and no ideas whatsoever, I finally pulled together some Powerpoint images at about 1 in the morning. Didn't have time to get anything printed/photocopied today so ended up having to take my laptop in to class and hold it aloft while the kids just completely failed to get engaged or answer any of my questions. Painful - and next week the other half of the class comes along for that hour (don't ask me what the halves thing is about), so I get to do it again... (No planning though, woo!)

Anyway, that was after my ridiculously easy first hour (listening and correcting students' presentations) and before my conversation class, which went okay - we did Guy Fawkes & did my best to tease out philosophical debate on whether he was a terrorist or a freedom fighter, whether it was right to disobey laws you morally disagreed with etc. etc. Not the liveliest debate ever (me and two students) but at least the hour was filled.

Then my second conversation class was cancelled (woohoo). One of my classes tomorrow is cancelled, and one next Tuesday (sadly in the middle of the day so not a whole lot of use to me) so a pretty easy start back to teaching anyway. Then just 6 more weeks till the next holidays, seeing my family in England.

Yesterday, my last day of freedom, I decided to actually leave the house for once and went to the Matisse Museum, which as I think I said, is just down the road. It's free, which is a big plus. Otherwise, I might have been a bit disappointed. I'm not a huge fan of Matisse to begin with, but I still would have liked to see more of the characteritic large paintings or decoupage works, instead of lots of drawings and studies, a handful of early paintings, and some sculpture, tapestries and stained glass. But, ya know, free, a way to kill an hour, can't complain.

The museum is in a shabby-chic 17th century mansion, set in a nice park filled with olive trees that I like to visit quite often. It's always full of old men playing boules or petanque or whatever (is there a difference) in the afternoons, and has a generally livelier feel than many equivalents in other countries I've been to. The park is also home to some pretty impressive Roman ruins, which they're doing some sort of restoration work on at the moment. It cracked me up the other day when I walked past at lunchtime and saw all the labourers sitting down to lunch, outside, at a table outside - plates, glasses, the works. Lunch is something to be taken very seriously in France! There's supposedly an archaeological museum in the grounds as well, but I have no idea where it is - the whole place isn't that big, I must be missing something... Finally, there's a church, which is actually very pretty and peaceful and nice, and features the mummified corpse of some old saint, lying out for all to see. Spookilicious! The church has a museum to the Franciscans as well, which I haven't been in, and there's supposedly a monastery somewhere around the place, so all in all, a park packed with divertissements...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Lazy days

I've been on holiday since last Friday and have managed to do pretty much nothing, in life as on the blog. I am, of course, ashamed, but on the other hand, that's what holidays are for, no?

I did take one excursion to Peille which is a little medieval village perched up in the mountains, about an hour and a half's bus-ride from Nice, up roads windy enough to make one of our party throw up on the descent. Good times! Nothing much to report on it - it was small and deserted, we wandered about, saw the war memorial, saw the church, had a drink (no alcohol without food!) and that was that. But still, a nice day out with a couple of other assistants and their assorted friends, and it's only 1 euro on the bus to anywhere in the departement, which is a stone-cold bargain!

Back to work the day after tomorrow... actually won't mind it too much, considering all the pointless hanging about (mostly in the sunshine though) I've been doing. Hope everyone and RANCH is well

A view of the war memorial in Peille

A friendly kitty cat and me

Me, Ibi, Shaomei (Ibi's flatmate), 2 of Shaomei's friends and Ben another assistant in Peille. Probably not in that order, but I can't see the photos when I'm uploading them, so whatevs.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

La vie quotidienne - jeudi et vendredi


Up at the crack of 7.15 or so for my longest day - 5 hours at school, of which 4 are teaching.

I start from 9-10 am with another class with Mme G. (she of Monday mornings). I get to go to a room of my own for this and she sends students one by one to do their oral presentations for about 15 mins at a time, I correct them, that is that. Easy as pie, no preparation required. :)

10-11 I have class with Mme T. This is one of those classes where I'm not sure what's going on and I feel a bit like a spare part (not as much as on Fridays though). I work with Mme T. in the classroom - last week I presented a quiz on New Zealand, which worked pretty well (have done it with three classes so far) and then Mme T. split the class into two groups to discuss a painting by Norman Rockwell. Fun fact: the French school system is positively obsessed with Norman Rockwell. Apparently he holds the key to understanding the totality of American culture, despite being (in my opinion) hackneyed and dull. In line with this dull-and-hackneyedness, I found it very difficult to think of anything to talk about vis-a-vis this painting: it wasn't my job to do the talking, but the students didn't have much to say either and it was hard to lead the discussion when I pretty much agreed with their silence. Little bits of Mme T.'s group's much more focussed discussion kept drifting over to me and making me feel useless and inexperienced, which of course I am (inexperienced, at any rate).

Then I have an inconveniently-placed 11-12 lunch-break. I suppose it's good for avoiding the seemingly mandatory 12-2 closing of all the shops, should I have anything to purchase at this time. But anyway, then it's back to teaching.

From 12-2 I have two small group conversation classes with prepa students. Prepa students (now this truly is insane) choose to spend two extra years at school after they pass the final Bac exam. This is so they can study hard and sit a nationwide competitive exam at the end of it in the hope of getting into the best universities. Now there's dedication for you! Accordingly, these students are expected to be willing to give up an hour of their lunchtimes to come and have voluntary extra English classes with me. Last week no-one turned up for the 1-2 pm hour, so that shows how well that works out! I suppose it was the second to last day before holidays... No-one ever told me what to do if students didn't come, but I just waited for 15 minutes and then went home, so long may they continue skipping class! Anyway, the first hour is the litteraire bunch again - I had them for the first time last week, and contrary to my expectations that they would be particularly adept at languages, they kinda sucked (well the 3 that turned up, anyway). It was like pulling teeth getting them to talk (using the same game that I had used with great success with the 1-2 group the week before), they frequently couldn't understand me, made basic mistakes etc. etc. So that was painful and I'm hoping for a different group next week. Making mistakes is fine, but if people just don't talk it's awkward and sucky for all. I had the 1-2 group the week before that, these are the business stream, and the 3 girls who came were awesome! Chatty, pretty good at English, lots of fun. I would like all the conversation groups to be like them! I hope next time I don't just get a completely different bunch who suck as well.


Another slow start to the day, I don't have class until 1 pm. 1-2 is class with Mme M. who is a lot nicer than I thought at first when I was given her details as my contact person, and since she wasn't actually doing it this year, she just didn't reply to any of my emails or pass them on to my actual contact person. That's still totally arse though. This is another class where I have to work in the classroom with Mme M. and the whole class. Last Friday was more of me just awkwardly hovering on the sidelines with nothing to do for ages, then I took half of the class and listened to them present on newspaper articles. Nothing too exciting.

2-3 I have class with Mme B. who is just the nicest lady ever! When the students talk over each other (and they do, it's kinda annoying) she looks mournful and says something like "Don't you want to listen to your friends", it cracks me up. Her classes are also always interesting - she gets the students to prepare presentations on fun topics like concepts for reality TV shows. The downside is that I feel like a complete spare part in this class. Last week the students just did their presentations and I sat there and did nothing. Then Mme B. critiqued them, and I pretty much still sat there and did nothing, although she did ask me to point out some mistakes, at which point I did my best goldfish impression because, although I had taken some notes during the presentation, suddenly they were completely useless and I couldn't remember what they meant etc. etc. and then my hour is up and I have to leave in the middle of the class, which always makes me feel like I'm slinking out.

So anyway, as you can see, there's a lot of variety in what I'm expected to do and I'm not quite settled in to it all yet. Not much actual getting up in front of a class and teaching there, but I think in due course I will be expected to present more stuff in the classes where it's me and the teacher and the whole class, I think they're easing me into it a bit. The lines of communication are pretty poor and I only usually see the teachers in class time when they're busy teaching, so I very often just turn up to class with no clue as to whether they expect me to have something ready to go or not. I've tried to prepare a variety of exercises and themes so I can whip out something if need be and not be a total fail.

We often go out to town on Friday nights, which is a total pain because after 9 there's only one bus an hour home, and they stop at 1.10, which is a real struggle for me because I want to stay out all night! This means Saturday is often spent 'resting' and then yeah, Sunday's Sunday, whatevs. And that's my life thus far...

Last night I went out salsa dancing, which was fun although I pretty much sucked. It was a nice club though, it was nice to find somewhere that was full of (as far as I could tell) mainly locals and French people instead of English-speaking tourists like the places we always seem to wind up at on Friday/Saturday nights (partly because there are not a lot of clubs in Nice at all for some reason). And it was packed out on a Tuesday night! Might go again in future, I have Wednesdays off of course, so nothing stopping me other than money and laziness. Talking of which, have really done nothing of note with my holidays, and may very well not today either, considering I got to bed at about 1.30 last night and for some reason woke up at about 8 this morning, which cries out for an afternoon nap. Why do holidays always go by so fast??

Monday, October 26, 2009

La vie quotidienne - mardi et mercredi

The advantages of working four days a week, instead of three like my lucky so-and-so flatmates, is that at least my days are short. (And yes, we are ALL lucky with 12 hours a week teaching plus lesson prep time, but remember that we are earning povvo wages and having to pay for everything - rent, food, utilities, transport etc. etc. on our own dime.) So anyway...


I get to have a lie-in or whatevs, because I don't start work until 1 pm. Lie-ins are facilitated by the awesomeness that is the metal shutters in my room - they are electronic, and once they're down, by crikey, you could be in the Black Hole of Calcutta. I ADORE it! On the downside, this means when I wake up I'm usually none the wiser as to whether it's 2 am or 2 pm, so I've taken to leaving them open a crack at the bottom, which means that they aren't fully concertina-ed together and little bits of light peep through the whole way up - still dark at night, but enough to make waking up slightly easier in the morning. Anyway, if I manage to get on to the English-American library again, maybe I can fill my Tuesday mornings volunteering there. I tried dropping by this afternoon for the second time, because there are allegedly people working there on Monday afternoons, despite the library being closed, but no joy. Will have to email so they don't think I have no follow-through. (Update: email sent.)

So, 1-2 and 3-4 on Tuesdays I have more classes with the aforementioned Monsieur A. 2-3 I have class with Mme K. who is Irish and very nice but offended my patriotic sensibilities last week by telling the class not to buy NZ-origin produce because of the airmiles issue and said that my claims that studies showed that Europe-grown fruit and vege often used more energy overall than imported stuff from NZ was propaganda. So there you go, stand by for the economy to go (further) down the toilet. I tried. Her class is in the 'literature' stream, which requires a wee digression on the nature of the French school system:

For those not in the know, students at lycees (high school) are separated out not only by the type of lycee (basically, more vocational or more general/scholarly - mine is the latter) but also by the subjects they concentrate on. Effectively, it's like they pick their university majors already in high school. I know that my high school education was heavily skewed in one direction, but that's because I individually picked those courses - they pick a stream e.g. literary, scientific, business - and then their programme of study is mapped out for them accordingly, and they all stick with the same classmates. Even though 'literary' (litteraire) sounds like they'd spend all their time reading literature, a lot of the literary kids (to my surprise and disappointment) profess not to read at all, so a better word would be something like 'humanities' - they concentrate on learning languages (some more than others), history, philosophy etc. as well as literature.

After 4, I'm free again and more than likely ready to head back home.


Wednesdays are my 'sole' day off (obviously the weekend doesn't count, cos even wage-slaves get that...) and, unfortunately, also my designated laundry day. We were all mucho excited last week to get a brand spanking-new washing machine, one that doesn't perform so poorly that the clothes have to have an entire bucketful of water hand-wrung out of them after the end of the cycle. But anyway, there are still three girls and one (albeit capacious) drying rack between us, so we each have our designated laundry day, spaced out through the week. It obviously makes sense for this to be on my day off, but naturally it cramps my style going out-wise. So Wednesdays are at least partly dedicated to laundry and other such chores. Whether it be a peculiar feature of the lino chez nous, or whether it's owing to the curious abundance of antique wooden furniture (we seriously have so many chairs we don't know what to do - 4 wooden chairs and an armchair in my room alone, I would say perfect excuse for a party were it not for the "elderly noise-hating extremely religious neighbour" who supposedly lives next door to us. Said neighbour has never been seen, and his apartment is shrouded in such silence that I suspect Mme C. made him up in order to (if you'll excuse the semi-pun) put the fear of God into us, but I digress...) As I was saying before the sentence trailed into oblivion, for reasons unknown, our apartment is, like, crazy dusty. Once a week is the absolute minimum for vacuuming - in that space of time, actual dustballs form and roam about my room in search of sustenance. Or something. So, much to the anticipated disbelief of my father, we all wage a constant war on dust here. So that's my go-go Wednesdays.


I read my insurance policy and found out that, with what they call the 'el cheapo policy' (not really, but...) breakages are specifically excluded from cover. So, no free camera repair/replacement for me. Sigh. I found the names of a couple of repair shops on the net, managed to find one today but not the other - closed on Mondays. Fricking typical. Must preserve the sanctity of the 35-hour working week, mais non? After that, I had some socca - my students have been nagging me on the subject - this is a Nicois speciality - a sort of chickpea pancake. It actually wasn't too bad, I like chickpeas, albeit a bit greasy and coulda done with something else (an Instant Kiwi perhaps?) Then I sat around next to a fountain in old town, then in a park, enjoying the sunshine, then walked for a while and went home, where I cleaned the toilet and bathroom and vacuumed and mopped the whole apartment, then cooked myself a real honest-to-goodness dinner of crumbed chicken breast, mashed potatoes and spinach. So domesticated! Was wondering where the flatties had got to - turns out I had been an hour ahead since Sunday, as I didn't realise the clocks went back until this evening. They had actually been on a day trip to St Paul, a small village somewhere or other, which I'm sorry I missed out on. Big bonus is that we can go anywhere on the normal bus routes for free with our bus passes, and anywhere else in the whole departement by bus for a euro. Must profiter-en (as the French would say) during the holidays - particularly as I'm getting broker by the minute and can't afford to go anywhere else. And that is all the stuff wot happened today. No idea what stuff will happen tomorrow, hopefully something more exciting.

La vie quotidienne - lundi

So (Mum wants to know) how are things going? What do I do with myself all day? This week, and until the 5th of November, I'm actually on holidays, so the answer will hopefully be "fun day trips within my meagre budget!" but let's pretend you asked about the 40% of the time when I'm not on holiday.

MONDAY: I haven't had to do this yet, but in two weeks' time, I will have to get up at a ridiculous hour, probably 6.15 or something, in order to get to school for an 8 am class. :(

The day will begin with a shower. I'm still struggling to come to terms with ours - no shower curtain or similar, and it's one of those with no support thing for the shower head, so you have to hold it in your hands at all times (or between your knees when washing your hair). Cue a bathroom inevitably flooded with water. Seriously, French people, I know some of you travel. Why has no-one returned with the shocking news that THERE IS A BETTER WAY?

Then comes the commute to work - about a 15- or 20-minute bus-ride, normally not too bad because I get on early in the piece and can usually get a seat. Lately, since the weather has turned mildly cold, the sun-loving Nicoises have panicked and cranked up the heat on everything, including the bus, to stifling levels. The other day (by accident or design, I know not) my bus seat was so hot it was uncomfortable to sit on. And they all sit there in their jackets and scarves! They are actually insane. Do they not sweat? If you prick them, will they bleed? On Saturday we went to the park on a beautiful, sunny afternoon - all of us in summer dresses and skirts. Every French person about was rugged up for an Arctic winter. It half makes me wish for proper cold weather (and, actually, it is pretty cold in the mornings/night at the mo) just so I can blend in a bit more with these people.

Anyway... usually I get to work a bit early and check my emails, although this won't be as imperative now we have the blessed wifi. I also try to print out materials to use in class - you have to drop them off at the photocopy room for an up-to-24-hour-turnaround, so trying to get organised in advance.

Then I will have (haven't yet) Mme G.'s class 8-10. If I remember correctly, this is going to be one of the deals where a small group of up to about 5 students come see me in another room and I do... whatever... with them. Probably more kind of conversation-class type things than teaching as such. Or these are possibly the ones that are fiends for practising 'les documents (in)connues' - part of their Bac exam is giving a short oral presentation on '(un)known documents' - i.e. ads, photos, paintings etc. which they have to describe in English. So quite often, I just have to listen to students giving these presentations and correct what they say, ask questions, etc. I did this with three students last week, pretty simple.

Then 10-11 I have class with Monsieur A. Monsieur A's classes - I have three with him - are entirely different. He and I stand up in front of the whole class and (as far as I can tell from the ones I've attended so far) work through translations with them. This consists of a student volunteering his or her English translation of a French text, Monsieur A going "Gwan, will you accept that?" Me: "Erm, no..." Monsieur A: "She is too polite to say, but that was VERY WRONG! Gwan, what do you propose?" and then I have to suggest a translation. It's not so bad now that he gives me the articles in advance and my 'homework' is to translate them into English (it's like being back at uni!) but the first class with him, I went in cold without ever having seen the article before and it was HARD! I'm not a translator nor do I speak perfect French! It's often quite hard to explain why the students' translations don't work (I mean, sometimes they do, but...) mostly it's just that it sounds "off" to my native ears. Which I suppose is what I'm there for, as a big set of native ears (hold your cruel comments on my ears, please) but I often feel my explanations to be inadequate at this juncture.

Anyway, so 11 am Monday morning rolls around and that's it - finished for the day! I can't really tell you what I will do with my Mondays at the moment, although I have the distinct feeling that 'afternoon nap' will loom large in my timetable. My school is pretty centrally located - just across the street is Old Nice, the heart of the tourist trap, but also a pretty nice collection of narrow alleys in which to wander. Beyond Old Nice is the sea and the big avenues of the Promenade des Anglais and Promenade des Etats-Unis. We are also close to the central library, with which I am already well-acquainted. It has a whole row of English books - I'm pretty sure I'll get through all the likely suspects before too long, but it's keeping me going for the moment at least. If you head in the other direction, you get to Place Massena and the road which runs at right-angles from that is the main shopping drag. So there are lots of time-killing options in walking distance.

Or I can take the bus home. The main feature of my bus route, for tourists, is the Musee Matisse, which is only a few stops from my house. I like to amuse myself by spotting who will get off at that stop. Usually it's pretty easy - clutching maps, looking around anxiously, speaking English, wearing baseball caps - all dead giveaways. I had a bit of a malicious chuckle the other day when I noticed one couple, after having asked the bus driver about 3 times where to get off, walking past the entrance into the park where the museum is. Ah, cruel - and unnecessary, given how much touristing about I do. I just like to snobbishly think of myself as a better breed of tourist, but I'm sure I am equally an object of the locals' scorn, and even that of the semi-locals like me.

My flatmates and I are almost always home by about 5 pm, for a quiet evening of TV-watching and dinner-preparation, before bed at about 10. Indeed, life on the Med is full of glamour and excitement! My flatmate Emily is even teaching us how to knit, a process which currently consists mainly of doing the same row of stitches again and again after I get to the end and find all the mistakes I made. Our favourite show is a French version of Blind Date, which is known chez nous as 'the dirty show' because it features extremely average, usually 40ish, French men and women (the latter in embarrassing short skirts) who are only too happy to go on national TV and proclaim their willingness to do just about anything to snag a partner, in horribly suggestive detail. It's cringe-worthy fun!

So that's my Mondays. Stay tuned for the other exciting installments, and hopefully fun things I've done with my holidays!

Oh and PS - it's my one-month-aversary in Nice today. Time has indeed flown! That means only 6 months to go??? And then ???? Arrrgh!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Monaco photos

Sadly, as I said, camera is caput, so this will probably be the last of the photos for a little bit. Happily, a thought occurred to me the other day - I have insurance! For once in my life, basically because my landlady, the redoubtable and garrulous Mme C., MADE us, I have insurance. So, smiley face, I don't have to suck it up when misfortune strikes, I can (maybe maybe maybe) do something about it! Of course, this means navigating the uncertain shoals of French customer service, a harrowing experience at the best of times, even worse if done on the phone. I'm hoping in the holidays (yes, ALREADY) to go in to the office where they sold us the insurance and get them to help me. I bet you anything that they will refuse and tell me to call the claims number, but maybe if I look sufficiently pitiful they might take pity on me. Worth a shot, anyway. I'm hoping that they will pay for repairs/replacement up front because I don't really have the money to wait for reimbursement, but we'll see, anything would be gratefully received. Must have a camera! Discovered camera was broken when I walked past a shop here in Nice called "Moustaches" (gentlemen's outfitters) - how many more ridiculous shops must go unphotographed? The anguish!

Ads for superyacht insurance! Tres Monagasque, non?

View of the sea

The Rock

F1 tunnel

The excitement of an F1 corner! Revel in it! REVEL [shakes fist]

The gardens behind (in front of?) the casino

Cool fountain in the casino gardens

Fountain again

The casino, I think. Or possibly an opera house? But I think the casino.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Most girls would give their eyes for the chance of seeing Monte"

"Wouldn't that rather defeat the purpose?"

Ah, if there's anything better than a lame old joke, it's a lame old LITERARY ALLUSION. Ahhhh...

If that little auto-amusing exchange wasn't sufficiently clear, I went to Monaco the week before last, on a day which was sunny and glorious, instead of cold and rainy like today. Due to ongoing lack of internet access (still counting down to this Friday, yessss) my memories have become as blurry as a bus ticket left out in the rain, sad at my age, isn't it? So, what can I say about it then... It's pretty obviously the preserve of the rich and leisured - if nothing else, all the joggers out in the middle of the day on a Monday can tell you that - "there is no recession in Monaco" and all that. It has probably the best sea-front I've seen - the main drag has terraced rooftop gardens hanging over the sea - these are built on top of rooms of nebulous purpose, fronting directly on to the sea. You'd think they'd be luxury apartments or hotel rooms, but the ones I could see in to were identically and pretty cheaply furnished, so a bit of a mystery. Maybe you rent them by the day like you do with beach chairs in these parts? Prize (of my temporary gratitude) to anyone who has the answer. I got all excited, of course, whenever I spotted where the F1 is raced (they keep the red-and-white curb markings so you can tell). Other than that, I wandered about, tried and failed to find a Monaco charm for my bracelet, sat by the sea, and that was about that.

The rest of the week and a half has been pretty dull. I went to the Russian Cathedral as you will have seen, that's been my only expedition. Funny how easily you can fall into a routine when you live somewhere, and never stir outside the quotidien round of work-home-occasional outing to the "old man bar" (aka local Tabac, only watering hole of note in the neighbourhood, but I must give it props because on our second visit, more than a week after our first, they remembered us and proudly introduced me as "the New Zealander" to some guy trying to emigrate to Australia. I feel we are a conversation-piece in the old man bar, which is all to the good). Of course, I have been busyish working, although I've still only really taught one class (with three students), the rest has been mostly observing and introducing myself around - and at the end of this week, it's our first holidays! Yay! I've been sick for the past few days as well, so you know, nothing spesh.

We went out again on Friday, to this little jazz bar and then to the ubiquitous Wayne's touristy bar, because we seriously could find nothing else that wasn't a restaurant. Will have to keep working on this... It transpires that I dropped my camera, and it now functions perfectly in every respect except that every photo is just a mass of blurred lines. Displeased, but what can you do? Obviously no use crying over spilt milk or drunken clumsiness... Will have to see if I can get it repaired, presumably can't be that hard if it's not completely broken altogether?

Anyhoo, after this Friday I will probably be online at all hours, so my multitude of fans can look forward to more regular postings; always supposing that I have anything to say...

Friday, October 16, 2009

More Nice photos

The Russian Cathedral in Nice, founded by Tsar Nicholas II

Me and my flatmates Emily and Kelly at the bus stop pre night out

Drunk self-portrait with Ibiye, the other English assistant at my school

Mother, lock up your daughter! Yes, my neighbours include Casanova!

The library aka giant head! Not sure what this is supposed to symbolise...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Busy Busy

Hi all

Sorry I haven't been able to get on the computer very much lately, only at school where I don't really want to go on the blog and I haven't had very much time to do stuff anyway. Things are going well, Nice is beautiful as ever. Apparently there was some rain yesterday but it was while I was sleeping off Friday night, so there you go.

Talking of which - yes, I had my first night out in Nice! It was much needed, since our usual nightly routine at the flat is to all be home by around 5 pm at the latest, and hang out together before about a 9 pm bedtime! Ha! We went into town and met up with the other girl who works at my lycée at her flat and had a few pre-town drinks and then went to some other assistants' flat for some more drinkies then out to town. We ended up at Wayne's, which even I have heard of as a notorious haunt of tourists and expats, but it was fun and I even managed to make friends with some French boys who I'm hoping will serve as our entrée into the mysterious world of the French.

Today I went to the Marc Chagall museum which is basically at the bottom of the hill we live on. It was pretty small and had a late-career sequence of Biblical-themed paintings at its heart, so not much of the uber-characteristic Chagall style, although they were recognisably his. It was quite nice, and small enough to really take in the works, but not fantastic. Nice grounds though.

As for my "working life" - well there hasn't been much of it yet, not that I'm complaining. We had two training days last week, the first of which was set at tear-inducing on the boredometer, the second of which was more practical and helpful. The other days I spent observing a couple of classes at my lycée, mostly consisting of the students asking me LOTS of questions (including the likes of "do you want babies?" - they were so shocked when I said no that I don't quite know why they asked the question to begin with). I was meant to have a sweet timetable with Mondays and Wednesdays free, but I got a call on Friday saying it's changed - quite how, I don't know, and think I will have to work Mondays :( But not tomorrow - apparently next week will be full of observations as well, which will only leave one week of work before the first holidays, sah-weet! So might take a little trip to Monaco or something tomorrow.

Anyway, that's probably about it. I hate being always rushed and having to do résumés of my activities, the posts always seem a bit bland and blunted, but there you go. Internet at home before too long we hope.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Relief = palpable

So the big news is that I have somewhere to live! It's in a suburb of Nice called Cimiez, up in the hills about a 20 minute bus ride from the centre. Yeah, I had hoped to be living it up down by the Med I suppose, but this has the advantage of being quiet (except when French drivers go on a 5-minute non-stop honking spree like they did several times last night when we were trying to enjoy France's fab show "Who will be the best celebrity impersonator?" - hilarious btw, and I challenge you to have a better Saturday night in Nice), spacious, equipped with all the mod cons like washing machine and dishwasher, plus THREE balconies, one of which I can call my own, away from the tourists etc. etc. But the best thing about it is that I'm in it. If you've never moved to a foreign country where you know no-one, speak the language to an adequate but not fluent extent, and have a limited supply of funds, well - I'm sure you can still imagine the stress inherent in finding somewhere to live, so very very pleased.

Also set up with a bank account and mobile phone, so we have only to negotiate the horrors of signing up with social security, trying to get internet installed at our flat, trying to wring some housing support money out of the government, getting a badly-needed advance on my first month's salary... and the small matter of teaching. Tomorrow I go in to the school for the first time, meet my contact person, get shown around etc and hopefully start on some of that pesky paperwork the French are so fond of. Then the rest of the week is made up of two training days and two class observation days. I am, frankly, terrified. At the orientation (which was conducted entirely in French, but which I think I mostly followed) they said you should expect to spend about 6 hours per week preparing lessons, which is fair enough - so that's 18 hours' work per week. They also belaboured the seriousness of the whole affair, thus terrifying me further. Deep breaths, I'll be fine.

I haven't seen much of Nice so far, at least not 'tourist Nice' - too busy running around trying to get a life. Yesterday, buying sheets, a towel, rubbish bin and a laundry basket and finally getting my room in order represented a huge achievement. My money supply is vanishing rapidly - we had to give 2 months' rent as a security deposit, plus 1 month rent in advance, total of 1050 euros, which represented probably two thirds of the money I had left. I'm dreading having to pay for things like my bus pass, but has to be done... Good news there is that I'll get 700 euros back at the end of the 7 months, supposing my landlady isn't evil and/or we don't burn the place down, so there's a little nest egg for whatever my next move will be after the assistantship.

Okay, I could probably ramble on further but I think I should publish now as my battery life is draining away - using the free wifi at McDonald's until such a time as we get the net at home... Talk soon I hope!

First of many views of my bedroom!

My very own balcony, one of 3 in our flat

View from our balcony, on the hills above Nice

View the other way from the balcony

Amuse! The French ACTUALLY have "match of ze day" ha ha!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


We have orientation tomorrow, right now I'm at the youth hostel where they booked us all for the night before orientation - lots of people, not all in Nice proper of course. Mostly Americans, mostly girls, pretty much as expected. I actually haven't met all that many people who will be staying in Nice, but there's about 80 people, so I'm sure there are more.

Good news is that I think the apartment is ours and we can move in tomorrow, although the lady was stressing me out with French On The Phone, so there's possibly some kind of hidden snags that I don't know about... As predicted, Lisa was not keen, so we found another girl at orientation, Kelly, who was straight off the plane and only too happy to jump into a ready-made apartment! I will be very relieved to be somewhere settled so I hope there's no sudden pitfall. Fingers crossed.

Nothing else really interesting - oh I visited the library and it looks kinda like an old secondhand bookshop, but seems okay. She basically just said come in whatever and do whatever, so we'll see what my schedule is like... She seems to think that I would have to train again in France to work here as a librarian, so that plan might be out the window :(

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


So today was once again pretty much consumed with flat hunting. At least today we got out to view somewhere - on the minus side, it's about a 25 minute bus ride from the centre, but there are a lot of pluses - it's a nice place, in a quiet suburban area with some shops and so forth around, and it's completely furnished with everything you could want - oven, microwave, dishwasher, TV, washing machine, linen, cutlery, crockery, beds etc. etc. And enough wine glasses to entertain in style! There are three little balconies, which is nice, with a pretty nice view from the living room, which will be someone's bedroom, but it's closed off with a door, so that's okay. There is a table in the kitchen so there'll still be a bit of a common area outside people's rooms. So I think it's a good deal. We could keep searching forever for the perfect, cheap, central place, but to be honest, I just want to get somewhere and have a place to call my own again. Lisa, the German girl, seems less keen on the whole idea, so we'll see how it goes tomorrow at any rate... But I just don't want to keep moving (we have to leave this hostel tomorrow because they've booked us in somewhere else - according to Google, the absolute WORST hostel in the entire world! - for orientation) and then I would love to be able to move in somewhere instead of having to haul my bags again. And stop paying hostel fees, of course. Plus the landlady seems really nice etc. etc. etc.

Anyway, as they say in France, on verra... Stand by in other words..

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mon premier jour a Nice

Me at my new place of work! I suppose I shouldn't really put identifiable stuff up, but oh well... you can't google a photo

My lycee

The lycee where I'll be working

The beach in front of the Quai des Etats Unis

Fountain in Place Massena, a big square in central Nice not far from my lycee

So yesterday was my first full day in Nice, got quite a late start (damn you free wifi!) and then headed out on the 20 minute or so walk from the hostel to the centre of town, stopping for a pain au chocolat on the way, miam miam!

Basically we just walked around for a bit, went past my school which looks huge and gorgeous and is so centrally located! Quite excited on that! If my contact person still doesn't answer me, I might just rock up and see what the score is...

Anyway, the real job of the day was watching the F1, and Emily even came with me despite having no clue about F1! I had been tipped off to a bar that might show it, and indeed it did - very pleasant sitting outside in the heart of Nice, a block back from the water in a busy square, nursing our glasses of rose for the whole race. Downside there was no commentary and kept getting distracted chatting to Emily, so missed half of what happened - I checked later and heaps went on that I had no clue about!

In the evening, we cooked dinner and then looked for apartments, we found a few agencies that charge reasonable fees (some charge an entire month's rent, I balk slightly at paying 300-400 euros) and we're going to just go down to the agencies today, and thus avoid French On The Phone and maybe get something done straight away. I know I said I would find French flatmates, but Emily's really nice and this might be way less stressful, we'll see how it goes today. A German girl who's been in touch with Emily is meeting us too, I think she might be teaching at my school as well, along with a couple of other schools.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Nice to be here

After a decent night's sleep, I feel slightly more qualified to give you the rundown on my recent movements. Can't really comment on Nice yet, just took a taxi to the hostel yesterday and then we just went down the road for dinner last night. A big plus is that all the people I've met so far (being taxi driver, hostel guy and a couple of waiters) have spoken French to me, both at the beginning of conversations and in response to me talking, which is brilliant! Normally in tourist places like this, they start out in English half the time, and if not, they switch to English as soon as you open your mouth, even though I can clearly order off a menu or whatevs. I would be lying if I said I understood absolutely everything or could remember every bit of vocab I ever need, but I feel this is a good start and my brain is getting back into the French swing of things! We will be heading more into tourist-ville today to check out the F1, hopefully at least, (Emily, the American assistant at my hostel has kindly volunteered to come watch, despite having no clue about F1!) so we'll see if people still speak French to me there.

Probably won't be able to get much more done today, as it's Sunday and practical places close. Emily asked me to come along with her and a German assistant who's arriving shortly to look at apartments next week, and I admit, it's tempting... I know I was adamant about living with French people, but I think I will at least tag along and see what happens. I *do* want to live with Frenchies so I don't just slip into that anglophone-ghetto lifestyle, but it would be nice living with people I know I get along with, and are going through the same things as me. So we'll see. Plus everyone I contact about apartments tells me to ring them, which drives me nuts because I always explain I don't have a French phone yet, but more importantly (I don't tell them this part though) I hate/am terrified of speaking French on the phone - it's so much harder than in person and I was scarred for life by my experiences in Chamonix.. How hard is it to set up an appointment by email, anyway? I suppose it's a cultural difference, because not ONE person has suggested anything by email, or answered any of my emailed questions, they all just say "we can discuss that when you call me". Sigh.

Anyway, I should think about leaving my room at some point today! Last night Emily mentioned getting breakfast if I wanted - it's a real relief to have met someone that's nice, easy to talk to, around my age, and as she said last night - normal! My first friend in Nice :)