Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sundays in Paris

Parisians are not particularly religious; on any given Sunday, churches are relatively empty, despite the strong Roman Catholic traditions. Parisians spend their Sundays outside if weather permits, enjoying the the hundreds of espaces vertes (green spaces--parks, squares, etc.) scattered throughout the city. Street performers are on every corner, bridge and stoop, and lots of roads are closed off to traffic. It's commonplace to see kids and adults alike with an ice cream cone or crepe, fresh from the corner vendor. Bridges are swarmed with all walks of life, from tourists to life-long residents, children to old. For one day a week, people leave their worries at their apartments and enjoy some time away from home. The city thrives with life.

I love Sundays in Paris.

This is the Centre Georges Pompidou, or as the locals call it, Beaubourg. You may have heard of it before--it's a museum of contemporary art and all the pipes are on the outside and color-coded to function. Blue for air, green for water, yellow for electricity and red for elevators.

However, my favorite part of the museum is the WORLD'S BEST LIBRARY EVER. It's called the Bibliothèque publique d'information, and people, I don't know how I wasn't aware of its existence the last time around. It's huge, has thousands of documents, and the best part--it has a LANGUAGE LEARNING CENTER. Nerd. Heaven. The downside is that there's no checking out, but it's also kind of nice, because it means the information is always there..which I'm pretty sure is the intention. I did not, however, know this little gem of information on my first visit. So I learned the hard way, i.e. trucking down 10 books to the main floor, asking where I could check them out, only to get dirty looks and a disapproving, "Mais madame, il n'y a pas d'emprunts ici." (Ma'am, there's no check-outs here.) Well thanks for the heads up, Paris. A SIGN would help!

The line was ridiculous today so I decided to take a little stroll around the city instead.

There's always street performers and artists looking for une petite pièce.

The city of Paris encourages the Sunday outings by blocking off certain streets to cars so that kids

can ride their bikes and rollerblade.

Notre Dame

La Seine

A street performer wrote on the pavement: "I love life, I'm invincible!"

Since I was in the area, I decided to make a quick stop at Shakespeare and Company, an institution of Bohemian Paris. It's an English-language bookstore, filled with books from floor to ceiling. I'm not sure how they actually stay in business since so many people just read, but I love it. Loves, loves, loves it.

Some quotations outside the store


"And there by the Seine was a bookshop, not the same, but similar to others I had known.

An utrillo house, not too steady on its foundations, small windows, wrinkled shutters. And

there was George Whitman, undernourished, bearded, a saint amongst his books, lending

them, housing penniless friends upstairs, not eager to sell, in the back of the store, in a small

overcrowded room, with a desk, a small stove." (Anais Nin, Diary, Vol. 5)

Luxembourg Gardens. The leaves just started to turn this last week and the city has turned a

beautiful bronze color.

Well I'm on vacation now, but am still waiting to be I can't go anywhere! :( I have lots of annoyances right now, mostly with the French goverment and the French family I work for, but I won't go into them right now. I'm focusing on the fact that I don't have to work (at school) for another 10 DAYS! Still have to work for two hours for the family make them dinner and speak eyes are rolling but I'll write about it another day.

Good week to all!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Maîtresse Rachel

Well, week one down of teaching and now I'm just waiting another week until I have vacation. Yes, vacation! Twelve splendid days of not making a 90-minute commute! Gotta give it to the French for the vacation thing..I'm definitely okay with two weeks of vacay every six weeks.

As for the teaching, I started last Monday and it went okay. I teach 15, count it, 1-5 different classes, so keeping up with the grades (I teach 2nd-5th) and then each class within the grades (some get along farther than others) is a challenge! The first week was pretty easy because I was just kind of seeing their levels, going over the "Hello, how are you?" "What's your name?" "How old are you" genre of conversation. The little kids I have (CE1--French equivalent to 2nd grade) have never taken English, but a lot of them still knew colors and numbers from who knows where; a few knew "My name is.." Overall, it's a bit frustrating because there's so many kids that I have to keep track of and there's so many levels. And to add to that, here's a sampling of names that I have to try to pronounce/remember:
Mustafa (like the Lion King, ha!)

And those are easy ones.

I'm so very impressed by the kids and all the languages they speak. As a language-enthusiast, I'm more jealous than anything--they're like sponges. One girl on Friday told me she speaks FIVE languages fluently! French, German, Portuguese, Arab and one other I can't remember. Surprisingly, a good number of kids speak German, so it comes as no surprise that they are already ahead due to the similarities to English. Is it bad that I just want to speak to them in German instead of English? Steh auf! I mean, um, stand up!

I wish I could take pictures of the school and get permission to follow one of these kids home. They live in what is called la cité, basically a whole neighborhood of projects. There is a fresh market once a week in the center, and both the schools I work at are surrounded by these kids' homes. Many of the kids never leave la cité, let alone the town, which is only a 30-minute train ride to Eastern Paris. Anyway, it would make a great photo essay. Unfortunately, the French have some of the strictest laws in Europe against taking photos without permission. Especially for kids. If I want to take any pictures, their faces can't be visible. And if I do want to take a picture of their face, I have to get permission from a whole hierarchy of people, starting with the préfécture, down to the parents. So, yeah. Might not be possible. But I was talking to a teacher about it and I don't know, maybe I can work something out. Might not be easy, but I really would love to do it. I'll have look more into it. If it's just for my portfolio, and the images won't be published, I'm not sure if the rules apply?

So to tie photography to today, I went to Le Salon de la Photo, a photo fair in Paris not far from my house. All the big names were there--Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Pentax, Manfrotto, Adobe, etc. ad inf. It was huge. And also, 3pm on a Saturday.

It was cool to be surrounded by all the coolest new gadgets, but photography is an expensive hobby so it was lots of window shopping for me! I also listened to a photojournalist talk about a few different assignments he had--in Japan, Iran, Mexico and Siberia among others. It was really interesting and it made me realize how much I'd like to do that as a career. The guy himself, Guillaume Herbaut, said it was a hard career to get in--like a lot of things, it's being in the right place at the right time, knowing someone who knows someone, who knows someone..depressing! Guess I need to starting meeting some people who know someone, hmm?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Paris in Pictures

Well it's Saturday night and can I just say, it's FABULOUS having weekends off! Like real jobs! No more aching feet after a 13-hour shift! Anyway, haven't done much today except mundane cleaning, grocery shopping and watching episodes of Grey's Anatomy..from 3 years ago. Ha!

Here's some photos of the last few weeks:

I got into Paris on the same day of J's birthday party

The next weekend, I took the kids out to the 'burbs where their grandparents went and we went on a walk in the local park

This park was designed by the same person that designed Versailles

I just had to take a picture of my fab parking job because LISTEN! Driving in Paris is hard enough, but parking, PARKING! is the hardest thing about the whole process! Sure, the pedestrians that walk everywhere and ignore the red lights (I do it too), the cars that cut you off, the motos that weave in and out, the one-way streets, the stop lights every 5 feet--with a stick shift, mind you--all that is ridiculously nerve wracking! But when you're all done with driving (in my case, a sweaty, hot, very tired mess from moving all my stuff into my flat), thanking the gods above that you didn't kill anyone, the biggest hurdle is trying to fit a car not much bigger than a Geo Metro into a parking spot that leaves inches, yes INCHES on each side of the car! And did I mention that the entire area is hardly even big enough to do a 3-point turn in? This feat took me no less than 10 minutes. So I had to take a picture. Just for the record, I'M DONE DRIVING IN PARIS!!
***annnnnd all the rest of my images were just DELETED!!! AHHHHHHH!!!!! I HATE COMPUTERS!!!****
well, anyway, it's not the end of the world...
here's some pics of my studio:
Lots of storage for my nasty little book-buying habit

My little desk area where I spend an unspecified amount of time

Everything a post-college student needs: microwave, tea kettle, the world's smallest washing machine (no it's not a dishwasher, I WISH! Most French dry clothes on a drying rack that I conveniently moved around while taking the pictures)

Proper bathroom unlike last studio I had

Happiness in my bathroom!

This is a bad picture, but you see the light in the sky? That's the Eiffel Tower lights. Once winter hits (not looking forward to the cold btw), it'll be beautiful!

Well anyway, I've got some lesson plans to draw up because I actually start teaching on Monday! I know that after a week or two, I won't be stressing about it at all, but at this moment, I'm a little worried because I've never taught before! To add to that, my computer is broken so I'm really bummed about that (using borrowed laptop from family for a few days) because I actually do need one to work up documents for school and such..of course it happens right now! Once I get paid (finally got a French bank account), hopefully some of my troubles will be over! In the meantime, if anyone wants to buy me a laptop haha..

Bon weekend à tous et à toutes!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Paris, Deuxième Partie

Hello all! I've been in Paris for nearly three weeks and I'm finally getting around to writing about it...

I'm just going to FAQ this thing!

So, what exactly am I doing?
I'm teaching English in two French primary schools in the suburbs. I'm essentially the teacher for 45 minutes--I take over the class and I make the lesson plans. I'll also be giving tests and/or quizzes. The teacher is supposed to stay in the class while I'm teaching because in the end, it is their class and they're responsible. I teach all grades from 2nd to 5th. I have slightly different plans for each grade, but basically, I'm trying to immerse them in as much English as possible for the small amount of time per week that I'm there.

What are the schools like?
Well, ahem. I work in a difficult neighborhood. I'm in the worst (so I've heard) department in the Parisian region. Most French schools follow a strict curriculum that is followed the same no matter where you are in France. These schools do follow it, but it is slightly easier, especially in French, because so many of the students are not native-French speakers. I was talking to one of the teachers today, and she said in her class of 21 students, 12 of the parents do not know how to read or write in French (many of them are Arab, so the script is entirely different). Some of them might just be illiterate, I'm not sure. Also, every single student in her class is at least bi, if not trilingual. Many of the kids only speak French at school, and go home to their parents who speak Arab, Turkish, Portuguese, or a variety of African languages. Also, a lot of the kids have traveled around from countries and have picked up languages along the way. It's impressive, really, because even though they struggle a little in French (although if the teacher hadn't told me, I would've never guessed..they speak French well and have no accent), they often know how to read in Arabic or another language.

Of course, the entire problem with the language thing is that the kids a) can't get much help from their parents and b) they learn languages, but not entirely, so they end up being semi-fluent in a few languages, but not entirely fluent in any of them. But..I have to give them props: French is not an easy language, especially written. They seem to do okay considering the circumstances.

What's different about the French schools?
A lot of things. Too many to list here, and I see more everyday. They have a 2-hour lunch. The cafeteria food is a three-course meal (we are in France). In the morning, kids line up and walk two-by-two up to their rooms, led by the teachers. Doors are ALWAYS locked after school starts and until the lunch break. And then they're locked after the parents come to get their kids (oh yeah, a lot of the kids go home for lunch). And then they're locked from 1:30-4:30 (end of school day). I have to get the principal to even let me out. There's no school on Wednesdays for primary schools. Middle and high schools have half days. (This is awesome for me because HELLO! DAY OFF MID-WEEK!)

Kids write in pen, and they have different colors for everything. They write in blue or black, underline in red, and correct in green. Their notes all look identical, and are very, very clean. Crumpled up paper is looked down on and students are scolded for not making their notes look exactly like the ones that the teacher writes on the board. (And oh, yes, the teacher has colored chalk to match the colors.) They learn cursive before they learn print letters. They use grid paper and they measure letters and numbers in with the squares. (I do not exactly know the formula for the squares..)

The teachers are MUCH more severe than in the US. They are not there to be your friend. One of the teachers explained to me that a lot of the kids don't get much dicipline at home, so I understand that part..but seriously, sometimes the teachers are really hard on them! You can't really critique it; it's a different culture and the French (parents, too) are notorious for being hard on their kids to mold them into good, obedient citizens. The kids really don't seem to bent out of shape about it--they're used to it. It's kind of expected, even by the parents, that the teachers will be hard on the kids. Corporal punishment is not allowed..but a small slap with a ruler on the head or hand doesn't really count..

I wrote down a few things that I heard this week from while observing:

Teacher: I'm not speaking one more word to you! If I were you, I would not say anything for the rest of the day! Don't open your mouth, is that clear?!

Student: I don't understand.
Teacher: Did I not say it in French? Did you understand? Is this a joke? Are you kidding me?!

Teacher: Come up here and just dare to say that to my face, because you're a liar! (Teacher made the kid go up to the desk and say whatever it was to the teacher.)

Teacher: Frankly, I want to cry this is so bad! This is not possible!

Ah, the French. Gotta love 'em.

But, for as many differences as there are, there are a lot of similarities, too. Kids will be kids. They have recess, they have cliques, and they have lots of energy. The teachers hang out in the teacher's lounge and they love to bitch about their jobs. Kids do and don't do their homework, teachers get annoyed, kids's not that different. It's just France. I'm sure I'll have lots of good stories to share after this year!

Where are you living?
I live in a studio in the 15th arrondissement. Here:

I live on the west side, and it's about a 10-minute walk to the Eiffel tower (exciting!). I was really looking for a place on the East side of the city since my suburb is way to the East, but I'll take what I can get. I can see the Eiffel Tower light up through the trees out my window at night. Once the leaves fall off, I'll have a fantastic view of that giant monument.

I work for a family as a nanny after schools. I spent the first week I was here working for the my old family in Paris while the parents were on vacation, and in that week, I got lucky and found this family. I don't get paid, but they don't charge me for the apartment, so it's a fair trade. They used to rent it out for 950€/month, so for Paris, it's awesome that I essentially have free housing. I also have cable, internet, bedding, a washing machine, dishes, etc. etc. The last two tenants that lived here left more than enough stuff for me to use.

I watch two boys, aged 6 & 10. They're entirely French and speak hardly any English besides a few phrases like Hello, How are you, My name is, etc. Plus some colors, numbers, random things. The mother's brother is married to an American and lives stateside, so they are trying to get their boys used to the sounds of English so they can hopefully become fluent someday (and talk to their cousins? Who speak French?) I'm skeptical about all of this. As much as I really want them to learn English, the time we spend together is limited (about 3hrs a day, 4x/week), and even then, they have homework, friends that come over, tennis lessons, etc. I've been talking to them in English first and then French, but I constantly get Quoi? What does that mean?! I don't understand! It'll take time, but I'm hoping that at least by the end of the year, they'll understand more and be able to have simple conversations with me. And I hope they won't have a horrible French accent when speaking English!

The boys themselves are good, but it's just very different from the family I had before, who felt like an extension of my actual family. These boys are very reserved, serious, and well, French. Today, I was in the elevator with the little one, and I jumped ONCE (don't tell me you didn't do that when you were little!), thinking he'd be like yayyyy let's have fun! NO, NO, NO! He almost had a heart attack and scolded ME! We don't do that! It's not allowed! It will break the elevator! I tried to explain to him that, um, the elevators hold 8 people and really, we aren't going to die..but no. NO POINT. They need to be little kids, not mini adults!

I have off weekends (save a babysitting or two per month) and most Wednesdays. It's not hard work, and even though I'm tired by 4:30 from being up since 6, it's worth it because rent in Paris is RIDICULOUS!

Anyway, I'm going to end this now. I have much more to talk about, including people I've met, observations of Parisian life, and my new addiction to soup and tea, but alas, another day. I'll put up pics of the apartment tomorrow (after I clean it!). It's tiny but I finally have a place to call my own!