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Archive for December, 2009

I don’t have time to write an actual post at the moment (Elise and I are finishing up our preparations for the next leg of our Christmas adventure, Switzerland), but I would like to share with you a few photos of the fun-filled activities I have had the pleasure of enjoying this Christmas holiday… (Not included in these pics: lovely dinner with a lovely French family on Christmas Eve, Skyping with family and friends, lots of laundry and packing!)

Ready for mass on Christmas Eve

Last-minute Choral Preps

Evening mass was held in the "Espace Rencontre" to fit many more people...

Christmas Day dinner. And, yes, we made it!

Yummy made-from-scratch Christmas quiche

Christmas crackers that Adam sent!

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Students from the LSU Department of French Studies recently published the first issue of a new Francophone literary & arts journal, Pages d’art. This trial-run printing was met with approval by the department, but the publication’s future is yet to be determined (until funding becomes available).

Several of my photographs of France were chosen for the publication. You can view them and the journal in the following links:

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I haven’t been feeling up to par for the past few days – my throat has gotten progressively scratchier (did I make up this word or should it be “more scratchy”? lol) since the weekend – and finally, yesterday I just felt horrible. So after realizing that my illness was not going to go away on its own and that this couldn’t be a worse time to be sick (Elise arrives Thursday and we leave for our crazy Christmas adventure on Saturday), I called up my doctor and scheduled an appointment (yes, I actually talked to him – he is his own receptionist/nurse/cashier) for the next day (today) at 8:45 a.m.

This morning feeling I woke up feeling even worse (my gum has also been bothering me and is quite inflamed – not sure if it’s because there’s a wisdom tooth under there or if it’s something else), so I couldn’t wait to jump out of bed and walk 3 minutes up my street to the doctor’s office.

Once chez le médecin (the doctor’s office), I let myself in and headed toward the salle d’attente (waiting room). I was surprised to see five other people already waiting in the small room (guess everyone wants a morning appointment…), and sat down with a magazine for what I figured would be a decently long wait. Sure enough, 40 minutes later, the doctor opened the door to the waiting room and called “entrez” to the next person in line (moi), shook my hand once firmly and led me into his office.

For someone who plays every role in the office, it’s amazing to watch this man work. Women are notoriously known for their multitasking abilities, but this man’s also got skills. Here’s what he must have been thinking during my visit:

Greet patient. Ask what’s wrong. [door buzzer rings] Press buzzer to allow person to enter office corridor. Back to patient. Take blood pressure. Check health history and find out what actually is wrong (i.e. do you get sick often, what hurts, say “ahh,” etc.). Translate occasional work into English when patient looks confused. Back to desk. Begin writing prescription. Ask why patient is in France (this part’s just in my case). Ahh, English assistant from Louisiana? (Get sidetracked and start talking about how it’s a shame that so many languages – like Cajun French – are in danger of or have already been lost.) [phone rings] Answer phone (“un moment s’il vous plaît” to patient). Lady just had operation – needs house call tonight. Schedule house call. Back to patient and loss of languages. Finish prescription. Receive payment (“That will be 22 euros.”) Make change from wallet. [door buzzer rings] Press door buzzer. [phone rings again] Schedule another appointment. Say goodbye to patient. [phone rings again] Schedule another appointment. Get up to call in next patient. Previous patient is in hallway – forgot doctor’s excuse. Give patient “avis d’arrêt de travail” (excuse from work) and explain how to send it to MGEN. Say goodbye to patient for the second time. Call in next patient. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Honestly, I have no idea how he does it all. There’s so much going on at every moment, yet he is extremely friendly, knowledgeable and actually manages to carry on a sincere conversation in the midst of everything! It is clear, however, that he could use someone to help him get a bit more organized – the glass shelving units in his office are crammed with papers, medicine bottles, and other random medical instruments, and half his desk is piled high with paperwork. Guess he can’t do EVERYTHING himself…lol.

I walked out of the office feeling the same physically but mentally more optimistic, and headed to the nearby pharmacy with my prescription in hand. I had only taken about three steps when I noticed what looked like little flecks of dandriff on my coat. I looked up and sure enough, these mini-flakes were swirling all around me in the air. “Now this kind of snow I can handle,” I thought,”…tiny flakes of the fluffy, powdery stuff.”

I arrived at the pharmacy a few minutes later and handed my prescription/information to the pharmacist without even attempting to explain anything in French. He asked me if I had a carte de securité social. I said no – that’s why I gave him the official MGEN paper with my social security number on it. He asked me if I had a mutuelle (supplemental insurance for what the general securité social does not cover). I said no. He looked a bit puzzled for a minute, conversed with another pharmacist, and the proceeded to search for my medicine. I was still debating on whether something was wrong and wondering whether I had enough cash to pay for the medicine (surely 30 euros would be enough?) when he came back to the cash register, placed two little packets on the counter and said, “That will be 1 euro 88, please.”

“C’est vrai?” (“Really?”) was my shocked response. He laughed and assured me that yes, that was the price. I explained that I was from the US and had never paid so little for prescription medicine. Cheap in my mind is under $25 (usually medicine from the LSU Student Health Center), but 1 euro 88??? I stepped outside feeling lighter than air and oh so happy to have had such luck. (I know this doesn’t mean that French national health care is cheap – all those taxes – or free of problems, but I can’t wait for the day when the US finally solves its own health care debate and manages to lower health care costs for everyone without sacrificing quality of care/etc. At least one can dream, right?)

And that concludes my adventure “chez le médecin.” Now onto feeling better ASAP!

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I’ve been informed that my second article, “Discovering Annecy,” has run in the paper version of The Ponchatoula Times with much positive feedback, but the online edition of the paper hasn’t been updated just yet. So to all my readers who are outside the Ponchatoula area, here’s a copy of the article’s text below:

Life in the Alps:

The everyday trials and tribulations of an English language assistant in France

By Ashley Herrick 

Trial #2: Discovering Annecy 

After spending 14 hours on three different planes, I was so relieved to finally set foot on Swiss soil. The low silhouette of Geneva and the city’s famous fountain – the Jet d’eau – had been shielded from my window seat due to an abundance of clouds in the sky. But I had arrived, and, amazingly, so had my luggage.

“Now if I can just find the bus to France,” I thought as I glanced around the airport. It was small compared to many I’d seen, and I quickly found the tourist information desk. But my mediocre French skills almost failed me as I asked the rather tall and intimidating woman behind the counter for a bus ticket to Annecy.

“That will be 11 euros, please,” the woman said dryly. Then she held out a receipt and told me where to wait.

Feeling amazingly refreshed after my cross-Atlantic flight – the planes had been practically empty so I was able to stretch out across several seats to get some sleep – I found the bus and loaded my suitcases. We set off shortly after, and I wondered what kind of life awaited me as the Alps drew nearer and nearer. Forty-five minutes later I arrived in Annecy, and I feel so fortunate to say that the city I discovered was even more beautiful than I had imagined.

Le Petit Venice

Traditionally, cities like Paris, Marseille, Lyon or Nice come to mind when thinking of great French vacation spots. But each year, more Americans discover a place that the French have been treasuring for years: the medieval city of Annecy, lovingly referred to as the “Little Venice of the French Alps.”

This charming city is set in the heart of the Haute Savoie region of France and offers magnificent views, a quaint Old Town with petit canals and plenty of activities for outdoor enthusiasts.

Traces of a nearby lake-side village date back to 3100 B.C., making Annecy one of the earliest inhabited areas in the Northern Alps. The population of this fledgling community grew throughout the centuries, particularly during the medieval age when the Count of Geneva sought refuge there  – he had been chased out of his capital due to disputes with the clergy. By the 1500 and 1600s, Annecy had become a religious stronghold, causing some historians to dub it the “Rome of Savoie.” Visitors can still see remnants of this glorious era by visiting the ornate churches that dot the Old Town.

Annecy is characterized by the surrounding mountains and its lake, the third largest in France and one of the purest in the world. Lac d’Annecy was created more than 18,000 years ago from glacial melting and provides not only the city’s drinking water but is also a setting for many leisure and outdoor activities. Walking along the waterfront, taking a day or dinner boat cruise, water skiing and cycling are among the favorite pastimes of habitants and tourists alike.

But even if you’re not a sports enthusiast, there are plenty of other things to enjoy. Take a leisurely stroll through the city’s Old Town, made up of cobblestoned streets and bridges which cross the Thiou River. Stop at one of the canal-side restaurants to take in a gorgeous view as well as sample traditional Savoyard fare such as tartiflette and fondue. The city’s glaciers (ice cream shops) are well-known for their Italian-influenced gelato, and don’t forget to pause for a photograph in front of the Palais de l’Ile (the town’s old prison) which sits in the middle of the canal.

Perched high on a hill not far from the Palais de l’Ile is the Chateau d’Annecy. This castle crowns the top of the Old Town and houses the city’s main museum. Walk back down to the lake and take a one to two-hour boat tour. This will give you a glimpse of the petit villages nearby such as Talloires, known for its world-class restaurant and as the birthplace of Claude Berthollet, a French chemist who introduced the use of chlorine as a bleaching agent. For a breathtaking view of the entire lake, take the short drive up to Col de la Forclaz. If you’re a bit more adventurous, try your hand at paragliding near the mountain’s peak; or just enjoy a beverage and admire the view from the summit restaurant.

High tourist season is in the summer when the weather is warm, but early fall offers incredible views of the mountains in crisp golden, orange and red tones, mixed with the clear blue lake water. Annecy is also frequented in winter months by skiers looking for a bit of rest after spending their days on the nearby mountain slopes. Winter sports are so popular in this region that Annecy was recently selected as one of only three cities worldwide who will compete to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

Whether you are into sports, culture, history or food, Annecy has something to satisfy every craving. But the secret to this old-world meets 21st century city is that, once you leave, you will always want to come back for more.

Must see events:

February: A tribute to Venice’s “Carnival” – Annecy hosts its own parade of more than 250 masked marauders slowly promenading in full costume along the city’s waterfront and bridges

August: Fête du Lac – a grand firework spectacle 80 minutes long

October: Retour des Alpages – an annual festival that celebrates beginning of autumn when the cattle return from alpine pastures for the winter. Includes a walking parade with both animals and people, and a market of traditional foods and crafts from the region.

December: Christmas in the Alps – Christmas markets, concerts, lights and festivities that are sure to warm up even a chilly winter’s night.

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Christmas in the Alps

Since Megavideo is unfortunately telling me that I must wait 20 more minutes before continuing “Sweet Home Alabama,” and I’m not in the mood to continue reading “Le Jardin Secret,” it looks like this is the perfect opportunity for a blog update.

My 10 euro, 1 meter Christmas tree!

Let’s start with yesterday when I rode my bike home from school with a Christmas tree under my arm. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “Is she crazy?!?” But in my defense, it was only 1 meter tall, was wrapped up in a box, I’m very good at riding with one hand, and the bike lanes I took to get home are extremely well-laid out and safe (a.k.a. I don’t have to worry about riding in the same lanes as cars).

When I got home, Lynsey and I decorated our new, scrawny, 10 euro tree with white twinkle lights (that blink – not sure how that happened), little red ornaments that I found at Monoprix and paper origami Santas which I had left over from the Christmas lesson that I did with my 4eme and 3eme students earlier that day (which was quite a hit by the way). We folded a paid blanket that I found in my closet beneath the tree to serve as a skirt, and then I attempted to make some sort of tree-topper paper snowflake thing which didn’t exactly turn out how I’d hoped but I think it will do for our purposes at least.

I’m also excited to say that I found an Advent calender today in the Petit Casino (little grocery store near my apartment) and promptly ate all of the chocolates I had missed up until today (Dec. 10th). This was the moment when I realized that there are only 15 more days till Christmas and Elise arrives in less than a week!

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Laura in Lyon for the fête des lumières. Not only did we enjoy the sights, but I got a great dose of French culture as well (a metro strike on Saturday + a display of French justice at its finest: a group of guys chanting “Liberate Sponge Bob” (Libérer Bob l’éponge) which has a surprisingly catchy ring to it (someone was carrying a Sponge Bob balloon through the crowds so it was quite funny – leave it to the French to use such elegant language in a joke). It was great to see the city, the light shows, and share a bit of home

Ice Skating in Lyon

with a fellow Louisianian (Laura even gave me some delicious gumbo to take back to Annecy!). And strangely enough, in a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people throughout the entire city, I managed to randomly run into the other Annecy assistants who had taken a train in just for the evening. Go figure!

Lyon Festival of Lights

Lyon Festival of Lights

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If you can’t tell by the title of this post, I’m in a great mood! I just got back from weekly choir practice and am so elated thanks to the beautiful music we made tonight. We’ve begun preparing Christmas music (which I love and would listen to/sing year round if people wouldn’t always get annoyed by it) , had a great turn-out as far as attendance goes, and sounded amazing!

This is the kind of feeling that I haven’t felt in a long time (mostly because I haven’t had the opportunity to sing truly simple, yet beautiful music in harmony in a while). I think it also helped that we had a young and sprightly choral director (maybe even a bit younger than me) who will be with us just for this season, has a great voice, and really knows how to get us to sing as an ensemble. I was in such a great mood by the end of the evening that, even when one of my fellow choir members told me that it wouldn’t be possible for me to sing with the Grand Chorale d’Annecy because the director couldn’t change the rules for just one person (I will no longer be in France by the time of the concert), I wasn’t that disappointed (this also means I can continue going to French class on Monday evenings which will benefit me more in the long run anyway).

Then to top my evening, as we were heading out the door, one of the choral directors asked if I would be in town for Christmas. I responded, “Yes,” and she asked if I would sing the soprano line of a special Psalm quartet for Christmas mass! Yay! I’m so glad that Elise and I have planned a tiny pause in our crazy vacation to be in Annecy for Christmas Eve and Day so that I can say yes to opportunities like this. And who knows, someone may also invite us over to their house for Christmas dinner – the French have been so wonderful about that so far, and everyone has been very concerned to make sure that I will at least not be alone during the holidays. Ahh, I love French hospitality.

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One thing that makes the assistant job (and life) here in France a whole lot easier, is if you have a good secretariat, and mine just tops the cake. She has been very nice from the beginning – not overly friendly, but friendly nonetheless, and genuinely so (that’s the most important part). From the first day that I arrived, she has made sure that all of my paperwork goes in on time (or earlier if possible), she is more than happy to make photocopies of things for me (visa documents, CAF documents, etc.) and also makes an extra copy to keep in my dossier (which stays in her office in case she or I never need anything). Even though this is her first time coordinating assistant paperwork (Blanchard has never been an assistant s main school so Berthollet usually does it), she was extremely efficient in finding answers and did not hesitate to call the necessary people in order to find out what to do with me and my mountain of paperwork (grr not having the same rights as an EU citizen in Europe – that would be amazing!) So here’s a shout out to her – a big “THANK YOU!” for making my transition to life in France just a bit easier!

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