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Archive for September, 2009

Grenoble

Bonjour! I’m currently in Grenoble sharing a hotel room with several other assistants and checking out the city before we have to meet up tomorrow with ALL of the assistants in the academie (whether English, Spanish, Italian, etc). and are ushered into the mountains in several big buses for a 3-day orientation.

So far all is well here. I like Grenoble, though I’m really glad to have been placed in Annecy. It’s just smaller, much more quaint, and stunningly beautiful (though Grenoble has some nice architecture and views as well).

I had my first real French dinner with French people in their French home last night! It was with an older woman and her husband who live in an apartment downtown. They had a couple other youngsters staying with them (a 26 year-old Hungarian who is looking for an apartment in the city and a 20-something French girl whose purpose here somehow got lost in translation – for me at least. lol) and cooked a lovely meal which all five of us sat down at the kitchen table to enjoy. I was quite pleased at how much I was able to understand and contribute to the conversation (all in French). Three hours later and quite content (especially from the tiramisu dessert), the husband walked me back to my hotel (about 10 minutes away) and wished me good luck for my stay in France.

Then today I had the pleasure of having lunch with a French woman whom I met in Baton Rouge this summer. She cooked pasta and taught me how to eat a whole artichoke…quite an interesting experience as I really had no idea what to do when she put it on my plate. lol. It was very nice to see her again and to once again gain insite into the traditional French way of life!

Other that that, we’ve visited a couple of museums in the city like the baptistiere (where you can view Roman ruins) and the Musee de Grenoble (with a lot of classical art and artifacts). We’ve eaten crepes in the park and ridden on la telepherique (four bubble-like cable cars that allow you to see the entire city among the mountains.

We’re still waiting for a few more friends to arrive this evening, and tomorrow it will be off to orientation. Hope that goes well too!

Clear Fishy Toilet Seat...?GrenobleGrenoble Skyline

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I Have Arrived!

Whew! What a blur the past few days have been. I am proud to say that I have FINALLY found a place that has internet access where I can also plug in my computer (because it’s crazy and dies in only 30-45 minutes without the chord). There is so much to tell, but I will try to give you at least the basics because I’m not sure how long the Bonlieu (sort of like a mall area with a bunch of shops around a central courtyard) stays open. Here goes nothing!

Sept. 22nd – I left New Orleans around 1pm and had two stops, the first in Philidelphia (with an hour layover) and the second in Zurich, Switzerland (with ~45 min. layover). Needless to say, I was quite afraid of missing one or both connections, as well as not having my two checked bags arrive with me in Geneva, so I packed double of everything (one in each suitcase). Miraculously, both les deux valises and I arrived safe, sound, and on time in Geneva. From there I took a bus (11 euro) to Annecy. Buying the ticket was simple but juggling my suitcases with a backpack and laptop case was not, so once I arrived to Annecy about 30-40 minutes later, I took a taxi from the train station to l’auberge de jeunesse (the hostel). I chose to stay here because I knew I needed a place for approximately a week until I go to Grenoble for orientation, and it’s only ~17 euro per night. The only problem is, in order to get from the hostel to town, I have to walk down a quite long and VERY STEEP hill. This isn’t so bad going down. Walking back up is another story. In short, I get a really good 20 minute workout each time I go home (which is no more than twice a day if I can help it. lol). It’s even worse with my laptop on my back (since there is currently no wifi at the hostel due to a mysterious power outage which occurred the night before I arrived. C’est typique, non? lol)

So since I had no internet and no phone (well I have a British phone but need a French Sim card so it does me no good at the moment) I was a bit lost for the afternoon yesterday. My first order of business was to find an adapter for my computer (got one from FNAC for ~10 euro), and then just wandered around town for the rest of the evening.

Okay, so enough talk about boring stuff. Let me tell you about the city. First of all, no one was kidding when they said that Annecy is gorgeous! I had seen pictures online, but now that I am here, surrounded by the mountains and the lake and all the quaint streets of the old town, it is just what I hoped it would be! I feel right at home with the temperature (I’ve got on jeans and a sleeveless shirt au moment – at night it gets cool enough to add a sweater). Now that I know I’ve got decent internet access I will try to post a few photos tomorrow to give you a better idea of what I mean. The people seem relatively nice (considering that the French are stereotyped for not being the friendliest of peoples). They’re not going to smile at you on the street or anything (unless you’re looking for a certain kind of attention that I certainly don’t need…), but if you are polite and try your best to explain your problem en francais, they don’t seem to mind helping most of the time.

I met up with an Irish assistant today who is here with her dad (he tagged along for a week just to make sure she got settled alright), and it was sooo nice to see the face of someone who is also in my situation (we have chatting on Facebook throughout the summer).  We went to the BIJ (office where students go when they are looking for housing) and an older lady overheard us asking for an apartment. She promptly came over and said she had un appartement avec deux chambres (appartment with 2 bedrooms) and that we could go check it out right then and there if we were free. Having nothing better to do, we said, “Pourquoi pas!”, and she took us on a 15-20 minute trek along the lake (stunning views!!!) to a quaint place on the rez de chausse (ground floor) of a building. This apartment has everything we are looking for (sauf internet but that can be arranged) and is quite cute as well. The only possible problem is that it’s a bit of a walk from le centre ville. Apparently there is an old bike that we could use though, and that would make things much easier. So we thanked her for the tour and said we would call her this weekend with our decision. A couple of things that I think were interesting…the bathtub was not a nice-sized rectangle as tubs normally are in the states, but a petit square that you sit in (imagine you are an egg and the tub is your petit place in the carton) with no curtain but a shower-hosey thing that I’m sure I would make a huge mess with until I figured out how best to use it. lol. Also, while stumbling along the vieille ville today, I was excited to see signs for a public toilet just when I needed one. Interestingly enough, it was pretty much a hole in the ground (I think they’re called Turkish toilets?), and there was no toilet paper or even any napkins to be found. Needless to say, I now know better and will keep some tissues on-hand at all times, should I find myself in this situation again! lol

I visited my main school today (College Blanchard) and spoke with the secretary who was very nice and called a few other schools to see if there were any rooms available (no luck), and she also informed me that the principal and prof d’anglais will be available tomorrow just after lunch, so hopefully they will be as sympa (nice) as Agnes. I am also going to try to meet another prof d’anglais at my Lycee Berthollet (high school – which is thankfully right next door to College Blanchard!) tomorrow morning. I have only spoken with her by email but she seems very nice and genuinely interested in making sure I settle in okay.

So in short, I still have a lot to do (find housing, buy a Sim card, open a bank account), but today has allowed me to breath a sigh of relief in that I don’t feel like these things are so impossible and I am thankfully no longer cut off from the world (merci pour l’internet!!!).

Hopefully I haven’t bored you all to tears, but thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. I think that my stay in France has lots of potential!

P.S. I have been thanking God today for guiding me to participate in the programme d’immersion at Sainte Anne’s last summer because without that practice, I would be so much more lost. Actually today, someone even commented that I spoke French well (or at least could get my point across decently enough, but it’s the little triumphs that help me get through the day).

A plus!

Ashley

Annecy - 9-27-09 002Annecy - 9-27-09 042Annecy - 9-27-09 095

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I finished up work yesterday at the Baton Rouge Center for World Affairs, Inc. It’s hard to believe that 9 months have passed by so quickly, but I am very grateful to have had to opportunity to be a part of such a unique and interesting organization. During the past few months I’ve taken on the enormous task of putting on an international festival; networked with organizations, business professionals and internationals all over the city; and received an in-depth behind-the-scenes glimpse at what it takes to develop and maintain strong international Sister City relationships. Preparations are now in full swing for the Center’s 11th Annual International Tasting Fair and Cooking Competition to be held November 1st at the Louisiana State Museum in downtown BR. And though I won’t be there to see the finished product, I’m proud to say this anticipated annual event has been tweaked into a fundraiser with great potential!. Support the mission and programs of BRCWA by attending, volunteering, donating or just buying a raffle ticket! Visit http://www.brcwa.com/ for more information.

2008 ICC Winning Recipes

2008 ICC Sample Dish

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Hopping on a jet plane and galavanting across the world is one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced. Moving thousands of miles away always has its drawbacks, however, especially when it means leaving a place you’ve called home for several years or maybe your whole life. The growth and success of the Internet has led to instantaneous and cheaper (if not free) ways to keep in contact with loved ones far away via voip programs like Skype, instant messaging forums such as MSN Messenger, or social networking sites (ex. Facebook). A wave of blogging sites like this one allow just about anyone to share their experiences with the world. But none of these virtual contact mediums can replace true physical prescence.

My decision to move to France means I will miss quite a few people, things and events. My friends and family, of course, are at the top of this list. I won’t get to watch my little sister do cheerleading, or my brother’s graduation. I’ll also miss cantoring at my church, a task I truly cherish every Sunday. And I just had to turn down singing at the wedding of two good friends because they will be getting married a week before I return home. This is the price I pay for following my dream. Maybe one day I’ll be able to afford frequent trans-atlantic trips and won’t have to give up quite so much for my passion. Until then I’ll just enjoy letters from home and care packages. This is going to be an amazing journey, but not one I’d want to face without support!

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What a whirl-wind September has been so far!

The week after my birthday was filled with three lovely dinners: one at a quaint restaurant on River Road courtesy of my boyfriend, a second French-inspired, home-cooked meal by my best friend, and finally a third at the Islamic Center of Baton Rouge.

This dinner was particularly interesting because it was a special informational evening held to allow community members and non-muslims to visit the Center, ask questions about Islam and view prayer celerbations/rituals during the holy month of Ramadan. I didn’t realize how little I really knew about Islam until this night. Everyone was very welcoming and answered all of our questions knowledgably and with a good sense of humor too.

As females, my boss and I were particularly interested to learn about Islamic traditions and guidelines in regards to women. We were suprised to discover that what we’d heard from the mainstreem media and movies is quite the extreme – more beliefs of Islam so tightly interwoven with strict cultural traditions of some middle eastern countries that non-muslims are led to believe they are one in the same – than just Islamic religious teaching (and what most muslims in the U.S. practice).

To top off the informative evening, the food was delicious! Dinner began with traditional light snacks to break the Ramadan all-day fast and led to a savory plate of lamb curry with rice pilaf and the best eggplant I have ever tasted (I normally hate this vegetable!). We parted several hours later with our minds enlightened, our stomachs full, and colorful gift bags of informational packets on Islmaic beliefs and traditions – should we have further questions. It was my first visit to an Islamic mosque and hopefully not my last.

The rest of the weekend was spent in Ponchatoula celebrating my birthday once again (and my dad’s – Sept. 5th) with the family. Mom went all out with three cakes that were all very tasty. On Sunday, I visited my friend and former roommate Amy. Her family was finally getting together to celebrate HER birthday (which is a day after mine) as well as a family friend’s. Now, I had heard of their family tradition of rolling the birthday person under the kitchen table, but I had never witnessed it until that day. It’s quite a long table, made by Amy’s dad specifically with this tradition in mind. All the family members gather on two sides and join in rolling the birthday girl/boy/uncle/etc. back and forth according to how many years old they are. They decided that I needed to be rolled under the table as well, which was quite a funny experience!

Now that the birthday celebrations are over, my time is consumed with the final stages of packing and running last-minute errands, along with attending good-bye parties for several of my friends. September seems to be the month of change, and I must say, I’m looking forward to it!

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I found this article in today’s The Advocate, but, since I can’t seem to find a link to it on their website, I’ve just re-typed it here. Looks like my reception into French culture may be a bit different than normal if swine flu keeps up…

Also, here’s the link to a new CNN video on the matter.

Paris – It’s a ubiquitous French tradition, as familiar as a baguette or an espresso at the neighborhood cafe.

Now, “la bise,” the cheek-to-cheek peck the French use to say hello or goodbye, has come under pressure from a globalized threat: swine flu.

Some French schools, companies and a Health Ministry hot line are telling students and employees to avoid the social ritual out of fear the pandemic could make it the kiss of death, or at least illness, as winter approaches.

For students in two schools in the town of Guilvinec, in France’s wester Brittany region, the first lesson of the year came from local officials: no more cheek kisses to teachers or other students.

“I asked the children not to kiss anymore,” Mayor Helene Tanguy said. “I felt that the protections sought – to wash hands regularly, not throw used handkerchiefs around, and not cough any old way – had no meaning if we let the kids keep kissing.”

There’s no punishment for those who do kiss, she added.

France has had three swine flu deaths.

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Just a heads-up to anyone who will be living or traveling in Europe between the end of September and December 2009, RyanAir (one of Europe’s fabulous discount airlines – it keeps prices low by minimizing frills) is having a HUGE SALE and is selling FREE and REALLY CHEAP FLIGHTS until tomorrow, Sept. 4th at midnight (that might be midnight UK time which is 6 hours ahead of the U.S. Central Time Zone, fyi).

If you don’t believe it, check it out for yourself. A couple of years ago, when I was living in Wales, I scored a flight from London Stansted to Shannon, Ireland, that cost me a total of 2 pence (for Americans that was like a round trip flight for 4 cents!). Granted they do charge you extra if you check a bag (I just stuffed a backpack for the weekend and took it carry-on), but other than that, it’s a great deal!

P.S. The website says the sale only lasts until midnight on Sept. 3rd but I just received an email notice saying it was extended until the 4th so if you think it’s too late I’d try it out anyway just to make sure.

Happy flying!

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