Archive for November, 2009

When I first arrived here in France I thought that the measures that were being put in place, regarding Grippe A, were pretty radical – and not necessarily in a bad way, either. Reading the BBC news and seeing one more person added to the Swine Flu death toll most days made me wonder if England was being as pre-cautious.

Today, at approximately 6pm I got a phone call from the directrice of one of my schools informing me that the school will be closed as a result of grippe A. Zut alors, those kids were near me less than a week ago – giving me bisous and hugs. I feel a flu coming along all of a sudden. Ha. No, pas vraiment! Je suis en forme, I’m fine! However at my schools for the next few weeks I shall be holding a slightly “ne me touche pas” stance. Hearing the stories of people with underlying illnesses or stories of people that had illnesses in the past that affected their immune system thus resulting in death or near death makes me paranoid. What if my heart condition + H1N1/09 = death? I’ve had no heart problems since being about 12 so I’m being slightly hypochondriac and conditional here, but it just makes you wonder if the number of precautions you put in place can really make a difference. The school which is closed for the moment due to the illness had previously enforced rules regarding hand washing, sneezing into tissues and then disposing of them in a sanitary way, being at home if illness was severe/potentially swine flu. So it’s an eye opener to see that we’re not always as safe and healthy as we think we are going to be as a result of putting precautions in place.

For now though I’m going to stick to my “ne me touche pas” stance, my eating very many vegetables and being generally healthy. Maybe I’ll buy some vitamins and minerals… too far? Yes. Thought so.


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This weekend a good friend came from Lyon to visit me here in Carcassonne; she arrived with the preconception that it was a quiet and beautiful town and left feeling that whilst it was beautiful it was drama-central!

The Friday night we went for a quiet meal and had an evening of catch-up on each other’s lives, it was nice. The Saturday we let ourselves wake up naturally, got ready, went to the boulangerie, bought a beautiful cake each and then sat on a bench to watch the hustle and bustle of the Saturday morning market. (When I say “watch the hustle and bustle” I really mean I spotted a man that I would quite like to marry and set about creating plans on how I could make that scenario come about). About half way into our cakes a man walks buy, apparently hears our English and back-tracks a few steps. “You speak English non?” “Oui, nous sommes anglaise”. Error. He plops himself down on the bench next to us and drawls on at us in incomprehensible English. We tell him we don’t know what he’s saying so he drawls on at us in almost incomprehensible French instead asking us if we’d like to spend the last day of our holiday with him (okay, we lied, he doesn’t need to know I fully live here!) We turned him down and he replied “ah dommage” and wandered off. I’m pretty sure he was stoned.

After that minor incident we headed up to La Cité and did some shopping. We found a lovely little restaurant and decided to have lunch. I chose this as my time to have my first taste of traditional Carcassonian cassoulet. It was so amazing that right now I am craving it – who craves cassoulet at 7pm? Me, that’s who!

We finished our afternoon off with a nap which saw us into the early evening, we then got up, got ready and headed to a friend’s for pre-drinks before heading to our local bar. As we got to the bar we saw that one of the windows and the window in the door were smashed as we walked in we were told by the barman to be careful of the glass and that he wasn’t serving drinks for the moment because they were just waiting for the police. As the police and the firefighters arrived, took statements and carried a man away on a stretcher,  we were filled in on the story. I’m not 100% sure what the reasoning was behind the attack on the bar but metal bars were used to smash through the two windows by men who were angry about something thus injuring one man and shaking up many others. When the police left the bar was back in service and we ordered a drink, sat ourselves down around our normal table near the window and assured my visiting friend that this was not a regular occurrence  in Carcassonne. No sooner had we maid that claim there was sudden smashing noises, I could feel liquid splashed on me and without even realising it we were all darting to the back of the bar. The violent guys had returned and were lobbing glass bottles of some sort of liquid at the windows and the front of the bar. We were so lucky that one didn’t come straight through the window near us and injure us – from where I was sat I could’ve been badly hurt, as could most of the other people sat around the same table. Shaken up wasn’t the word! The landlady had tears in her eyes, the police were called again and the bar was closed and we were sent away… reassuring my friend, encore une fois, that Carcassonne is in fact quite a tranquil town. I’m not sure she believed it though.

Definitely my most dramatic weekend in Carcassonne!

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I have been here, in Carcassonne, for 93 days – that doesn’t sound too long to me until I put it into context in that it’s been almost half of my year abroad. Wow!

It has taken a while but at the moment I feel an incredible sense of belonging here, I no longer feel like this is a place I HAVE to be, it’s a place I WANT to be – well for this week anyway!  I still, of course, miss my family, friends and English way of life, but  I am enjoying myself here.

I’m not sure what has suddenly flicked a switch in my head to make me realise that this isn’t as bad as I initially though but I’m glad it has. Maybe it’s the fact that I know people here, I feel involed, for instance, I was in the pub last night with people from my foyer and saw the secretary from one of my schools who in turn saw me and there was a nice conversation before she wished me a “bonne soirée” and “à demain!” It felt like seeing a friend in a bar back at home… but, of course, it was in French. It’s the same with the people here in the foyer, we’re all becoming more familiar with each other and it’s easier to just drop round at the room of someone for a chat. Homely! 🙂

Tomorrow morning, 9:45am, I have an inspection from my responsable – she’s coming to see how I’m getting on, observe me teaching and give me any tips she thinks I need. J’ai peur. I’m scared. I know that I in theory I have nothing to worry about but the worry comes with the fact she’s observing me in my CM2 class – the oldest. The very CM2 class that asked me to explain the difference between “a bitch” and “a beach” the other day. What a cauchemar! O well, bonne chance à moi!

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One thing I find truly bizarre and often even a little annoying in France is the constant direction needed by the children. I know you’re probably thinking “they’re children, of course they need direction” but here direction is taken to a completely different level. If you were to have a piece of work for a class to copy out you couldn’t just go into the room and say “copy this piece into your work book” and if you did you would get absolutely bombarded with questions. It’s necessary to say “take your English book, take your green pen and your ruler, underline the last piece of work, take your blue pen, write the date and title, take your red pen, underline it, take your blue pen, copy the text” – so okay, that’s a little exaggerated but to be truly honest, not by too much.

Even after saying all of those things there’s about an 8 out of 10 possibility that there will be a raised hand somewhere in the class asking a mundane question that, as a child, I would probably have just made my own decision about. For example, I’ve underlined my piece of work but there are only 3 lines left of the page – now do I continue writing there or do I start on the next page. Personally I feel that it doesn’t really matter so long as the work is being done – but a situation like this can send a French child into panic mode and they have to be directed. “It will probably be better to start it on the next page where there is more room”  “Oh, d’accord”.

I’m not ranting or complaining at all about this, I think it actually shows that the French kids are more ready to listen and to take into consideration what they are being asked to do. I just find it un peu bizzare!

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This weekend, 6th, 7th, 8th of November, here in Carcassonne was the Fête des Saveurs… and what a fête it was!

On Friday night we didn’t go to the fête des saveurs, we headed off to the lycée where a few of the other assistants live, and they held a soirée italienne. Miam! They prepared some fabulously yummy food, we talked, ate and drank various wines. It was a lovely evening. I awoke on Saturday completely unaware of how amazing this weekend was going to be. I did some washing, planned some lessons and swept my floor then I received a text telling me that people were heading to the fête des saveurs! I headed out to join them and that’s when my amazing weekend started.

On entering the Salle du Dôme, I paid €5 for a weekend ticket for the festival and as I stepped into the huge room full of stalls, food, wine and people I was initially a tad overwhelmed. There was so much and it was difficult to know where to start! Wine. That’s where we started, a helpful and friendly American man explained wine to us and we tasted it. Then we headed off to the food stalls and also to have some champagne.


Colourful ice cream!

Pastry Eiffel Tower.


Today we went again to the fête des saveurs, pourquoi pas?! This time I took much more money and ended up buying some yummy fromage, biscuits et truffles. I’m so excited to eat them (I’ve already had a truffle, but don’t tell anyone).

I wish they held more events like this in the UK, or, if they exist already, just advertise them better. Things like this make life better, a cheap (well only if you don’t have a wallet bigger than your belly) and cheerful day out for everyone, just on your doorstep! Miam-miam.

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Anxiety. That’s what it’s all about. It has finally hit me, that feeling that washes over me and brings me to the brink of breakdown is due to my over-worrying nature. If I didn’t worry about things this year would be amazing (although, of course if I didn’t worry about things I wouldn’t be human). Despite being more prepared for lessons than ever, thank you to my bedridden Toussaint holiday, I headed off to school, for the first day back after Toussaint, worried about everything I could possibly worry about. Everything went fine. There was no need to worry, at all, so why do I do it so often? I’m not sure if I think so little of myself that I’m sure I’m going to screw up majorly. Surely I don’t have that little faith in myself!

I’ve got ulcers and bad skin as a result of the fact I am quite stressed and run down at the moment. However, in my breakdown curing skype call to my dad last night we talked about a lot of things to take my mind off the fact I was actually having a breakdown and one of those things was cooking. I’ve recently realised that cooking soothes me, I really enjoy it and also is the key to not only physical but mental health, I’ll be doing more and more of it. I’m going to teach myself to cook different meals in order to relieve my tensions.

45 days until I go home for Christmas and I am really looking forward to it, if only to see my parents again. I’ve got many things to do in this time to make it fly. Italian cuisine night tomorrow chez another assistant, my best friend is coming to visit me in 14 days, I need to visit La Cité to do Christmas shopping for my family, regular lesson plans, Christmas lesson plans (I must admit, I may be a little more excited than the children) and other mundane daily/weekly chores/living/rituals. Things like this make me realise that I can definitely do this, no matter what this experience throws at me I’m in it until the end. Definitely not getting off this ride until it is over.

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