Monday, 31 May 2010

Hanging on to the positive

What a mixed bag of a day.

After spending hours making materials for my next lesson (for today) my trainer (who had already known I was making a Snakes and Ladders game) then told me he didn't think it was suitable because there wasn't enough speaking involved for the students. Of course I could still go ahead if I insisted on using it...

Well what would have been the point of that? I go ahead and not pass? I wasn't falling for that so I said I'd think of something else before I had to teach in less than two hours. Big disappointment and huge pressure. I never know what is really wanted. Somehow all my efforts end up having to be re-done because the goal posts aren't where I thought they were. If effort and student enjoyment were the criteria-no problem. But particular processes are required.

As I tried out one process with Axel last weekend it didn't work as smoothly with him as it does with the students at the  Centre because they are used to the process. But we mustn't deviate from the process for students who don't understand it.

This is foreign to my way of thinking, caring and operating from 10 years of successful teaching but I have to pass this course. I'm not enjoying it. I feel like a loser compared to the others who have no training or experience. Only one other person is more confused than I am.

My colleagues enjoy my teaching but they don't make the decisions. My confidence in myself is at an all-time low. God help me tomorrow when my assessment comes back. If I haven't pleased the trainer that's my money, time and future eradicated. Sound dramatic? You bet. It's that serious for me. No one else on the course has set their future on this qualification as much as I have. Some have parents helping with money and education, some have jobs to go back to, some have husbands who can support them. I'm feeling squeezed by events. It feels as though I'm headed for a 'bottle-neck'.

I'm pretty resilient and I don't quit easily but when you don't know exactly what is required to succeed it's a bit demoralising.

Two lessons today under the belt (successful or not). I'm still trying to prepare a 90 min grammar lesson on conditionals and active and passive voices. I've almost completed part 1 of a student profile assignment. My self-assessment from today is complete as is a peer observation. More lessons and lesson planning required this week too and lots of tests next week.

No wonder we all had to sign a disclaimer about the stress causing problems for students here. I thought it was a bit over-the-top at the time but now I can see why people pack their bags and walk out, as some have done in the past.

On the up-side. A lady who is very active in couchsurfing has offered to spend much of Friday with me in St Brieuc so I can see something of the place, practice my french and make a new friend. Maybe I can drop off some CVs, who knows (only worthwhile if I indeed pass this course). It's important to have some time-out from all this. I'll then head to Rennes to see Pascal and do some more work at his place over the weekend.

The other upside is that I will now be spending an extra night in Paris. Rather than leave Plelauff on the morning after the course, we finish early enough on the 11th for me to travel to Paris and arrive in the evening of the Friday, instead of after lunch on Saturday and this is fine with Frederique. I'm spending my time in Paris with her. She stayed a few days with me when she visited Auckland recetly.

If only the course and finding work would fall into place the way meeting kind french people seems to.

Right. It's heading towards 11pm and I must return to the tangled web of grammar planning.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

A big oops!

I missed my train from Rennes to St Brieuc.

Pascal was cutting things fine when he left home but there was a 10 minute discrepancy between the internet confirmation I gave him and the time on the actual ticket. What a quick trip from St Aubin du Cormier to Rennes. Cars and lights were against us, there was no parking to be found.

The two of us dashed across the pavement to the Gare de Rennes. On the departure board my train was no longer to be found. Disaster. No more trains that could connect with the bus from St Brieuc to Rostrenen. "merde! merde! merde" was buzzing in the air.

Poor Pascal had to drive me all the way to Plelauff in the centre of Brittany after dropping Axel off at his mother's. It doesn't pay to treat the french transport system casually because, as I've said before, it doesn't wait one second for you and it's always on time.

So I'm back in my little room at the  Centre, about to work on an activity for tomorrow. I will also check out the times for travel to Rennes for next weekend, the last time I will see and spend time with Pascal and his son. I feel rather sad about that. They are wonderful people who have opened up their home and friends to me. I feel I am beginning to know them and I'm very fond of them. What you find you eventually lose, it seems. I hope they will remember me kindly. I'll try to take more photos next weekend for my 'memory bank'.

I've lost quite a bit of weight, despite Pascal's cooking. Maybe it's the conditions at the Centre. They are not atrocious but they are not easy. I notice that many french people who are older than 30 are usually quite trim. I've never seen anyone here over-eat or over-drink. The meals are simple and very modest. Health is considered. Plates are not loaded and there are not a lot of courses although cheese is usually offered.

Over the weekend I played a french card game and watched another. I ate a yummy home-cooked galette and a pork steak thingee, pasta and a french coffee. All very down-to-earth and normal.The weather continues to be disappointing so I'm hoping it will improve for my last weekend in Brittany.

News with 'bite'

The weather is, once again, not encouraging for getting outside so today we looked at photos of Akaroa, Kaikoura and Christchurch, plus a vacation Pascal and Axel had near Aix en Provence some time ago.

Yesterday I practised my Intermediate lesson with Pascal and my beginners lesson with Axel. I still have some process issues to fix with the beginner process but hopefully it will be easier at Plelauff because the students are used to the process. However, Axel got the hang of it once he saw things written down. The process I have to use is probably very different to what happens in his school. The Tefl process concentrates more on the spoken language.

I enjoyed trying out my ideas and it was the first time I have given individual lessons rather than in a group situation. In the evening we drove to Pascal's friend's house in another area. His name too is Pascal and I met him two weeks ago at a BBQ. A very nice man. We watched TV and ate ordered-in Pizza, pepperoni for me. I like the french pizzas because the emphasis is on the toppings, not the crust. The pizzas were washed down with a bottle of rose and water.

When I write my blog at Pascal's place it's usually in his laboratory, because that's where the internet router is. I decided to learn a little bit about how dental crowns are actually made because, for most people, it's a mystery - one minute you have a bad tooth and the next it is replaced with a gorgeous 'fake' one.

Well, Pascal is a dental technician of many years experience. It seems to require a great deal of equipment, time and mess. It also requires a lot of precision, of course. Moulds are made, plaster is poured, crowns are sculptured and painted with ceramic materials. It's extremely time-consuming so I suppose that's why such dental work costs a fortune.

Today I must catch the train and the bus to return to Plelauff but I'm hoping to spend a wee bit more time here again next weekend. We don't know if Pascal will have much time available for sightseeing but, fingers crossed, we might see another area of Brittany. Alas, we may not have time for Mont St Michel. I might have to find a way to come back to France in order to see that marvel (more visited than the Eiffel Tower).

Saturday, 29 May 2010


I’m sitting in Pascal’s living room having just exhausted the last of my energy playing soccer with Axel. Well, I tried to in my street boots. It’s a peaceful evening in St Aubin du Cormier with only the sound of birds. There is scarcely any air movement but it’s not sunny and the temperature feels as if it’s uncertain what to do next.

So am I. Pascal is busy with his work tonight and much of tomorrow. He and Axel are off to Brazil next month so there is much for him to complete. I wish I knew what I was doing in the months ahead. I wish I knew that I could succeed in my dream just by working hard.

Last night I sent off nine more CVs to language schools in or near Paris. I changed the beginning of the email to be a bit more daring and try to catch the reader’s attention. I’m starting to run out of contacts as the ‘yellow pages’ doesn’t list the email addresses or internet sites (if they have them) of all language schools. It’s extra tricky because some schools only teach French. I’m running out of ideas and time; time to catch the interest of a language school, time to make and conduct an appointment, negotiate and arrange a contract. I’m in Paris only 5 days and two of those are the weekend with another set aside to go with Frederique to Giverny. What will be will be, I know. I remind myself to keep focused and enjoy the time I have.

As I sat on the train on my way from St Brieuc to Rennes, watching the green, green fields and their civilised wildness, quaint villages with town church spires reaching to the heavens, I wondered about all those French people who were related to me. What were they like two hundred years ago. Were they happy, struggling, fighting, gardening? Would they have welcomed me back if I could have stepped through a time portal to their time? Did any of them look like me? The answer came back – “They ARE you. It’s the reason you feel so settled here.”

I’ve lived in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland. Each city was a different experience. I’ve travelled most of New Zealand, especially the South Island and its rugged beauty. It has been interesting, beautiful and it was all I’d known apart from the odd trip overseas. Sometimes places had the WOW factor but none of them had the IS factor. That’s where to be there is simply enough, in harmony with yourself and you scarcely notice that you are a separate entity from it. It’s not a romantic notion, it’s not a theme-park ride. It’s all about being at peace somehow and I’ve found that place.

I come from the last country on earth to be established, to one of the first. France has a different language that I am not skilled in, a culture very different yet natural, a different hemisphere, different food and yet it is a place of belonging. I did not expect it to be quite like this for me. I thought it would be fun and exciting and full of adventures. That’s not the way it is so far. For those of you who have been a little concerned I might have expectations of France that could not be realised, no, it’s not the case, it’s much more dangerous than that.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Ramping up my efficiency

It was a very late night again last night but it moved me forward a little in my lesson preparations. I know what I'm doing, for the most part, for my intermediate lesson next week and the subject and dialogue for my repeat beginners lesson have been approved.

Next week is massive in terms of workload. I need to complete all the materials preparation still; finish writing out my lesson plans as well as prepare for doing language use diagnosis on one of the village women. That has to happen on Monday. I also have to plan and prepare for the 90min grammar lesson and fit it all around a quick trip to Rennes this weekend.

I'm hoping I can do some practice and prep at Pascal's place during convenient moments. I don't want to skip the weekend as there aren't many left and things depend on how hectic his workload is (usually pretty bad).

I've managed to squeeze in hand-washing my laundry again and doing a dance practice which Caroline watched. My body was very out of breath from the virus but not as stiff so maybe the jetlag effects are wearing off. Yay!!!

There is a small improvement today with my head and throat. Still sore and it's in my chest but my energy level is brightening. Test results should arrive tomorrow and I'm due to see the doctor and pharmacy then too. If they find nothing at least I know it's not something nasty.

Next Friday we have a free day. I'm not sure what I'll do. I may contact a couchsurfing member living in St Brieuc. That's on the bus route to Rennes. The others are off to Mont Saint Michel in Normandy.

So... off to Rennes via bus and train connections, some of them tight (eek). Haven't done this before and no idea where anything is but, hey, that's what it's all about. I just don't want to miss my train connection.

Two weeks down already. Have definitely learnt to live like a very poor student with inadequate diet and ablutions and survive. I must say though, I don't like literally living out of a suitcase. I keep mislaying everything. OK back to work.

Disaster looming

Yesterday morning I stood outside, leaning on the old stone fence by the gate. The morning was fresh but comfortable and everything was peaceful. Chirrups from the sparrows, the occasional 'caw' by a crow flapping in a tree and the lacey patterns of the trees against the sky were so different to life back home. I was waiting for the french phlebotomist to arrive.

Corrine drove through the driveway and walked over with her very organised 'blood collecting' kit. She made an effort to speak some english words but we ended up speaking in french. She asked me if we had problems with foxes in the area. We hadn't but Corrine had lost 3 hens to a fox overnight.

Corrine was very good. One of the best I'd say. Usually phlebotomists have a dickens of a job finding my fine veins and then getting any blood out of them. I was about to point this out to her in advance when I realised I didn't know how to say it. While I searched for the words she had it finished. Then there was the paperwork and me handing over yet more euros for medical expenses. I am now informed it will cost me quite a bit of money to pay for the lab tests. That was the easy part of the day over with.

Each day we have a brief feedback session with our trainer to make sure we are on track with assignments and to discuss anything relevant. I was in for a nasty surprise. I was told my performance in the classroom the previous day was not acceptable. I would have to repeat it and be certain to get it just right or I would have to come back for the following month's course (impossible and he knew it). Well, I knew I had made a few mistakes in the process but the outcome was that the students had thoroughly enjoyed it, learnt what they needed to know and I had discovered I enjoyed doing it.

My good feelings about being in the classroom evaporated instantly and were replaced by extreme anxiety. Here was I, a successful teacher of more than 10 years experience, being told the main portion of my lesson was a 'mess' and that my charisma, personality, rapport and interesting exercises meant nothing. A robotic but complex manoeuvring of flash cards had let me down. There's no intelligence required with the process but it's extremely easy to get the sequencing out of whack. None of us had been aware in advance that passing the course depended on robotic-like precision. We do now. I was shocked. My colleagues were shocked. I haven't seen any of my other colleagues do it perfectly yet but I'm so far the only one who could fail this course and if that happens I feel my life and dreams are down the toilet.

My trainer then suggested in a round-out way that I reassess my weekend activities since some students do work during them (it's not compulsory). I pointed out that I work my butt off during the week until after midnight each night (sometimes later) with almost no time to do anything personal and I'm flat out looking for work.

Giving up my weekends to stay at this cold and primitive spot wouldn't do my sanity, health or performance any good. I'd end up going back to NZ having never experienced Brittany at all. Still, I must pass and there are many assignments still to go.

I spoke to fellow student Caroline who has agreed to let me practice on her early next week. I have sent a message to Pascal to request an opportunity to practice on Axel or, if not, himself. Otherwise I can offer a beginner's lesson for Axel and an intermediate one for Pascal. We'll see what happens. In the meantime I must start over and plan a different lesson as I'm not allowed to repeat the previous one.

Next week I must teach two language lessons plus a 90min grammar lesson. None of us has ever seen a demonstration of an actual lesson like that although our trainer has gone over aspects of functional and formal grammar with us in the past two days. I'll be trying to pin down a few more details of his expectations and marking criteria today, that's for sure. All we've been told it to include a warmer, grammar exercises and then a finishing activity. It's too vague for me to have any confidence now in what I'm doing.I need specifics.

Somehow I need to fit in time to do a week's laundry, dye my greying regrowth and do more prep for my coming assignments. This is an experience but at the moment it's not fun. OK, sucking it up and moving on to see what today rustles up.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Challenges galore

What a day!I'm pooped!
I had two lessons to teach today; one to my fellow students and the other to french residents. Lesson planning and materials preparation took a lot of time. I taught the french students about going to the cinema. We played 'spin the bottle' discussed chosen male actors, watched a YOuTube of Mr Bean via my laptop and did a comprehension exercise. They enjoyed it. The methodology is very process-driven which doesn't suit me. Nevertheless, I have to memorise it and put it into practice. It didn't go perfectly but I kept going and it all worked out in the end. Tomorrow I will receive feedback from my fellow students.

The other challenge is my health. I have had a sore throat and been feeling unwell since I arrived. It waxes and wanes. Sunday and Monday it decided to wax big-time. My throat was on fire and a cold started to develop. It's difficult to enjoy one's time off or concentrate on one's intensive study in these conditions but there is no option. I have to keep going like the others as all lessons must be attended and all assignments completed.

I've struggled with this for the past 10 days and finally had an opportunity to see a doctor. A french doctor who speaks no English. Plenty of challenge there. It's not easy to give a quick summary of recent treatments, my date of birth, explain the intensity and duration of the malady, in a second language.I f I didn't understand something I asked him to repeat it. If he didn't understand me I found new ways to say something. He checked my throat-very red. He checked my ears-slight temperature. He tested for bacteria-none. Of course it's viral and giving me a nasty cough now too. I must make an appointment for a blood test to determine the virus. The laboratory (in Rennes) will send a report to the doctor and then the doctor will contact me for treatment options. In the meantime I have to suffer, not even a painkiller, (lucky I have a few with me). It's clear there will be no possibility of treatment until next week. Understandable but miserable for me.

After completing some assignments I must find a way to get to bed a bit earlier. I'm not sleeping well but that's not unusual. I've booked transport to and from Rennes this coming weekend so I need to be able to cope with the travel which is 3 hours each way involving buses and trains. Good experience in being independent, I guess.

The Auckland Transition Authority want some input from me which may or may not affect my likelihood of having some sort of job after October. It's important I suppose but I'm not feeling up to it physically and I am so time-starved I don't know how I will fill in yet another of their damned forms.

If only I could secure some employment here. I'm becoming quite anxious about that. I've sent out more and more enquiries to language schools but still only have the one interview (I hope it's still valid). The citizenship thing is a huge barrier, otherwise I think I'd have a Teaching Business English job by now -and no one here has offered to marry me. Sigh!

Yes, I have achieved my dream to visit France and yes I am having a lovely experience but it will NEVER be enough. If anything, it has made things worse.My key dream is to live and work here and the more time I spend in France the more desperate I am to make that happen. To be denied that is becoming insupportable and I'm not sure how to deal with it as it's truly a 'soul thing'. I still have a few weeks left for a miracle and that's exactly what I need because effort is not enough. Damn.

Monday, 24 May 2010

More photos out west

Here I am enjoying a BBQ at Eric's house with his family and Pascal. There's me getting close to ancient history in the megalith field at Carnac, South West Brittany.

Photos from the west1

Photos are of St Augustin and its markets and Quiberon shops and beach

Wet and wild out west

Late last night I arrived back at Plelauff from a really lovely weekend. With Pascal’s generosity and assistance I saw the 'Cote Sauvage', Carnac, Quiberon, St Augustin and St Goustan. Friday night we settled in with a late night Pizza, very different to NZ. The base is very thin but not hard and was covered with various types of very thin sausage, cheese, sauces and washed down with a nice red wine of a beautifully dense colour. We walked for a bit in the village and headed back for urgently needed rest.

On Saturday we went kayaking off the coast with one of Pascal's friends who runs a kayaking business. The location was St Joseph de l’Océan à Portivy.We had fabulous weather and Eric our teacher spoke a little bit of English as did his wife so I had a productive lesson what to do and not do in a kayak. Did you know that most of your efforts should be with your feet and legs, not your arms? Somehow I made it to a little island in the Gulf of Morbihan with a sandy beach where we could rest before the row back to the mainland. There we discovered that the suncreme we had been using wasn't actually suncreme. It was simply a light moisturiser. Oh oh! After a few hours in very bright sun Pascal was looking like a bottle of Rose and I was only slightly better. Along the way to and from the island I saw enormous orange jellyfish swimming near my kayak. Fabulous! And the temperature was an amazing 29 degrees. Yes, I did see topless bathing.

Was I tired and relieved to be back at the beach? You bet. As I sloshed through the slippery seaweed at the water’s edge I found some cute crabs. The male was on top of the female, protecting her from me. The male is much bigger than the female. Neither of them was at all aggressive, simply trying to sashay sideways out of my hands.

After a quick clean up and change of clothes we headed to Eric's house for a BBQ with his family. Invariably, the french people I meet are extremely hospitable, generous, kind and jolly. Pascal has a large group of very close friends. The men are sensitive and extremely supportive of each other. Friends and family are the centre of French life. It’s not really the case so much in NZ. The differences between NZ and France are becoming more obvious to me and although I’m still in the ‘honeymoon’ stage of my French experience I am completely clear on which I prefer.

The strawberries I’ve eaten in France are smaller and have the most wonderful flavour. It’s also easy to buy strawberry juice for drinking, the juice of Clementine oranges and other tasty delights.

Another delight is the shops. I am so impressed. The presentation is exquisite, the staff are so friendly, helpful and professional that just the experience of going into a shop (and not even to buy) is enjoyable. I’ve needed a new swimsuit for a long time.

The vendeuse was charming, making suggestions as to how I could add to my ensemble with things I couldn’t afford but it was fun anyway. Personality plus is in evidence with the shop assistants and proprietors. I ended up buying a simple one-piece and tie-thing to go with it. Unfortunately the budget could not run to a dress and pantaloons to match.

The wine shop was amazing. ‘Fine’ is how you would categorise it. The choice of french wine was purposeful and high class for any budget, the proprietor really knew every wine intimately and provided a very professional advice. Also in the shop were other fares to match a dining occasion such as beautiful chocolates, specialised ciders, unusual jams. If you found yourself unexpectedly invited to dinner there would be no excuse to arrive empty-handed. The bottle of red that Pascal bought was automatically wrapped as a gift with a beautiful and classy sticker on it to acknowledge the shop it was bought from. Everything is done with care and extra attention.

On Sunday we went further afield. Quiberon is at the end of a peninsular and very scenic. Just off the coast are islands, the largest is Belle Isle and really beautiful but there wasn't time to visit it.

Carnac is famous for its megalithic alignments- dolmens (with a stone across the top) and menhirs which are placed singly but often in arrangements. No-one is certain what they mean but they were established 4,000 years ago. Those of you who have read Asterix comics will know what these standing stones are called. The area is much bigger than Stonehenge but is of a different style. They are now protected by a fence so I couldn’t give them a hug.

St Goustan is a resort town. It’s very high class. There is beautiful architecture of mixed age and a very vibrant community. We arrived during market day with people selling the wares they wanted to pass on. What an eclectic mix of old furniture, homewares and even ancient diving equipment.

Dinner for me was a crepe au chocolât and a galette for Pascal at St Goustan. We had a running joke that every time he ordered a coffee it seemed to be smaller. It’s not the size, it’s the quality, he explained. They don’t do big cups of anything in Brittany except the bollé for cider. Water is always on the table.

I got back to Plélauff late and poor Pascal had to then drive an hour and a half back to Rennes. Perhaps next weekend I’ll try making my way to Rennes. In the meantime I need to take care of an extremely sore throat and complete all my assignments each night.

Sorry about the photos, they wouldn't upload, will try again later in batches.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Second time around

Here I am with a day totally revolving around study and how to eat as cheaply as possible. My bread has had to last a week and is now at the toasting-only stage. Dessert is an over-ripe banana on bread which follows a packet minestrone soup, half of which had to be saved for lunch tomorrow. I reckon I could give a pensioner a run for their money in the efficiency stakes. Lunch is usually a miniscule pot of yoghurt and a piece of fruit but was today supplemented by some vinegar crisps for added carbohydrate.

It's amazing how you can manage on a lot less than you have back home. Certainly things are rather simple and require less technology here. No oven, no washing machine, no TV or DVDs, just keeping in touch with friends via the internet and lots and lots of homework.Tonight I have a 5 page assignment to do and I've already been preparing for some teaching practice next week. This is my second time as a 'serious' student and it's no easier this time around.

I love the quiet here: no traffic noise, noise from neighbours or lawn mowers, no planes overhead. Only the sound of the nearby animals at the centre, only the enveloping calm and quiet of country Brittany. I'm really enjoying La Bretagne.

Tomorrow Pascal is collecting me at the end of the day and we will explore Carnac over the weekend. check out
for information on this amazing place.

Hopefully the weather will be warmer. It's not summer as I had expected. Hope you've all survived the new budget. I can't imagine there's any good news in it for me so I'm ignoring it. I'm not checking out the NZ news sites. Actually, I'm not missing NZ at all, just some special folks who happen to live there.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Down at the Ganges

Who would have thought doing the laundry would be quite so... well... primitive.

I have discovered that I definitely didn't pack too many clothes and that every three days I need to do a little laundry. The problem is, there isn't one.

I asked the director of the centre if there was somewhere to wash my clothes and she pointed me to a couple of sinks outside. Cool, I thought. Cool indeed. It turned out there was no hot water supply and the cold water was so icy I couldn't get my hands in it let alone wash my undies. Back at the accommodation I thought perhaps the basin in the 'bathroom'? nope, no plug could be inserted as the old arrangement was permanently jammed open. This may seem a little unorthodox but I had no choice but to do my washing in the kitchen sink and then rinse it in the outside sink. Brrrrrr! I then hung it on a line with little confidence in it drying before nightfall. Not much different to washing in a river and no chance of it turning out whiter than white but at least it's clean.

My special task today was to teach a 'warmup' session which went OK but needs some adjusting to enable more communication between the students. During the afternoon and evening we watched a demonstration lesson by our trainer to a class of beginner students, mostly middle-aged ladies from the village. This was followed by a demonstration intermediate lesson.

This method of teaching English is a far, far cry to what we all would have experienced if we had learnt another language in our youth-I know it was for me. It requires a LOT more effort from the teacher but the students eventually learn the second language without needing to have any instructions in their native tongue. It's quite exciting to see really.

The photo shows me and Suzanna (Sth Africa), Julia (USA), Patrick (USA) and Caroline (Australia).

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Is there an IT guru in the house?

You know how it is: new operating software, new version of an application, new laptop, new country. A recipe for immense frustration.

For some strange reason my Outlook won't send messages and despite advice from a friend it's still not sending though receiving is OK. My word 7 is misbehaving and colleagues can't seem to fix it. All the paragraph marks etc stubbornly remain despite clicking on the P button on the top. Grr. It's affecting documents my teacher is trying to send to me, rendering them unusable so I'm stuck with hard copies which I can't modify. It's times like this that being overseas has its drawbacks.

Today in this blog I've included photos of my room and the classroom. Note the clever use of space for my pantry. I'm based at the Centre in Plelauff, Brittany.

Tomorrow I have to deliver part of a lesson and tonight I have to prepare for it as well as finish another assignment. It's full-on so I made sure I got some exercise this afternoon in the dance studio. It's a large new building which has a great dance floor and a sound system I have managed to operate. Tomorrow we work late so exercise and leisure are off the menu.

Speaking of menus, I'm not sure what I'll eat tonight. Maybe tinned ravioli or some vegetable and lentil soup-probably the later. Lunch is always yoghurt and fruit although today I added in left-over cold sausages from my cooking 'extravaganza' last night. Sausages and a whole tin of carrots and peas. Bizarre but yummy for this student.

I do enjoy my cups of tea still, using sugar cubes here instead of loose refined sugar as back in NZ. Enjoy your takeways and meat and veggie meals while you think of me in my little garret lol.

Monday, 17 May 2010

My studies commence

No time for photos today I'm afraid. I did not sleep well last night with the sound of other students' voices, the cold, then too hot, nightmares (which are uncommon for me) and then the rooster crowing at 6am. I got only 3 hours sleep which is not that unusual but not good on top of jetlag and feeling unwell.

The sore throat I developed before my trip has not improved and my chest is feeling more and more painful. There is no access to a doctor in a nearby village for at least two days so I'll have to box on somehow but it's making sleeping, studying and enjoying myself more difficult.

The facilities here are very basic and my diet is very 'student-like' but I am working around the limitations. We visited a supermarket today to stock up on provisions and I ended up spending more than I had anticipated. That's because I discovered I needed non-food items like toilet paper, clingwrap, stuff for hand-washing my clothes, shampoo and conditioner and, horrors, a hairdryer. Twenty euros went just on that but with my long hair and not feeling well I decided not to risk getting a chill from wet hair in the cold weather. We are hoping the temperatures will go up this week because it's certainly not summer-like.

The course is interesting and certainly covers a completely new approach to language learning. I had the opportunity to participate in a French lesson at Intermediate level with two other students here who have a lot more exposure to French than I do. Happily I found I could hold my own at that level which was all in French with no English. The thing now is for me to learn how to do that for students of English.

My French got a workout at the supermarket to day. Having never done shopping in French before and not knowing product types vocabulary it took me longer than usual to find what I needed. I had to check labels carefully. I discovered I had no idea what hair conditioner was in French so I found a friendly-looking lady shopper for her advice. She seemed a bit surprised and bemused to have me ask her in French but kindly assisted without giving too much assistance. This gave me self-confidence but included some challenge in being resourceful for myself. The locals here are used to English speakers arriving in the village to study.

I have just put in a couple of hours of homework already tonight so will close and hope that tomorrow is just as good. On a positive note too, the director of the centre has kindly given me a key to the dance studio so that I can practise when I want to. It's a shame I don't feel up to it tonight, hopefully tomorrow.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

French conviviality

I enjoyed the BBQ. What a challenge for my french language. In the end I had to concentrate on one conversation at a time and even then it was extremely difficult but I joined in when I could and Pascal and his friends are great company. Did I mention Pascal is a great cook? His chocolate desert is amazing and so was lunch today. I have drunk french champagne (no, not Dom Perignon) and something alcoholic made from apples (no not cider).

I've tried a few new food items and have bought a few groceries to get me started this week. Must find a cheap hairdryer too.For some reason my outlook email won't send mails. Thank goodness I now have hotmail- it seems more reliable. My jetlag is starting to catch up with me- well I haven't rested since I got here so it's probably a good idea if I get to bed before midnight.Thanks for joining me on this journey.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

New friends

What a busy day. I woke up at 8am feeling reasonably OK after my jetlag but no-one else was up so I decided to take some photos and then go back to bed for a while. Suddenly it was 10am and time for breakfast with Pascal, his son Axel and his daughter Rebecca who was with a girlfriend. We drove to another village to drop off Rebecca's friend. The countryside is just gorgeous and the villages with their stone houses are equally so. I love the French architecture - medieval but beautiful, strong and very functional but always in harmony with the scenery.

Pascal and I visited Rennes. The largest city in Brittany. Once again, I fell in love with the older buildings, the shops and municipal buildings. There was a civil marriage at the Town Hall and many markets and buskers. We visited some jeweller friends of Pascal where I explained my father had been a manufacturing jeweller. It was great to be back in such a workshop. It reminded me of the times I visited my father's workshop because I could recognise a lot of the equipment-some things don't change much. After a coffee we walked through Rennes for a bit before collecting Axel from the birthday party he was attending. He seems to greatly enjoy the toy Kiwi I gave him. It goes everywhere with him and seems to inspire a great deal of imagination.

Tonight Pascal will create a BBQ for some friends. It will be interesting to see if I can manage enough French to cope with a French social event. I know it will be difficult to manage with a room full of native French speakers, especially with my reduced hearing lol. Perhaps I'll go to bed a wee bit earlier tonight in preparation for transferring to Plelauff tomorrow.

Each day I'm here I feel I am living in the present because everything is fresh and genial. There is no baggage, only new experiences and good people.

Friday, 14 May 2010

The Phoenix has landed

Despite years of trying to get here, dreams in flames and unexpected obstacles I am really in France. Am I jumping up and down in excitement? Strangely, no. I remain relaxed, everything is new but everything is ‘normal’. I’m so hungry. It’s almost lunchtime and I haven’t eaten since 4am this morning.

I’m glad I planned thoroughly but there was a nail-biting moment when the disembodied voice on the Air France Bus to Gare Paris Montparnasse announced we would arrive at 9.58 am. My train was to leave at 10am. A Singaporean man and I looked at each other in horror. Two hours to bus from the airport to Paris? I sat there for a moment feeling helpless and silly but then thought- better see what I can do to get back on track. I spoke to the bus driver and explained my situation. He said no problem I would arrive on time. I had to trust him. It appears that Paris traffic can be very challenging but on this occasion the motorways were flowing freely. The Singaporean made his stop at Gare de Lyon and I made mine in time too.
As the plane taxied on the runway at CDG I was a bit surprised to see numerous rabbits bounding about as we cruised past. No casserole de Lapin?

The TGV is a wonderful creation. It leaves on time. It was almost imperceptible that we had taken off. I saw the station moving but there was no sensation that it was really me inside the train which was moving. It’s so smooth and quiet. I can even plug in my laptop to the free power socket. No internet but it’s great to replenish my battery. That just leaves me to be replenished, in Rennes.

What a beautiful countryside. The trees are wearing their newest clothes, everything is so ordered, tidy, beautiful. I suppose that when a country has been established for 2000 years even the grass and trees know how to present themselves at their best. Even the wind turbines seemed to be at peace alongside the pretty little farms and villages.

And coming up, the next stage of getting to know France will be to meet and get to know Pascal, whom I have never met but who has so kindly offered to be an ambassador for France and look after me for two days.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

On My Way

What a civilised way to start my journey; my friends hugging me and wishing me well, taking me to the airport and lingering long enough to see me settled with a hot chocolate. Thanks Yasmin and Muhab for your love and kindness.

On my own and strolling through the international departures it all felt so natural. No great excitement, no anxiety, just at peace with everything. This was rather unusual for me because, if you know me well, you’ll agree I’m rather a worrier, a bit intense and always full of feeling. Instead, I’ve been living in the NOW all day.

As the plane launched itself into the blue I felt no emotional connection with Auckland at all. I wasn’t leaving home, I was leaving a place where I live. Simply a fact, just an observer, mild surprise at this discovery. I’ve never taken this flight path before so it was a pleasant surprise to look down at a couple of Waitakere dams showing signs of emptying from the drought and then we skimmed over Piha and out to sea.

Right now, as I type rather awkwardly in my squashy economy seat, I’m flying at an altitude of 34,000 feet with 4 hours and 53 minutes flight time remaining until I land at Singapore. So far I’ve been in flight for 6 hours with one toilet stop, plenty of food and water but nowhere to plug my laptop in. The guy along from me is OK because he’s got a power supply that plugs into the arm rest. I tried to do the same but my plug doesn’t fit and I don’t think the volts are right so I’m on battery. I’ve also got two movies under my belt, neither really entertained me and my gaze frequently drifted out of the window. Leonardo Di Caprio in Shutter Island or watching The Tasman Sea? Denzel Washington in The Book of Eli or check out the Northern Territory of Australia? Decisions.

I can see a bush fire below me. Either it’s accidental or a controlled burn-off, hard to tell. Inland Queensland has a landscape reminiscent of Mars; expansive, desolate and red, only with a bit more water in ill-defined lakes and puddles. Outside my window right now is the Northern Territory and it’s even bleaker with a colour palette limited to muddy tan and blackish green. The straight lines that dissect the landscape are the only sign of man’s attempts to tame nature. This country really doesn’t seem to want or need people in it.

Now safely at Changi Airport and trying to work out how to use my portable technology. As you can see, I've succeeded with he internet but don't have the right adaptor to power up my laptop so if you don't hear from me for a while that's why, plus the very long flight to Paris Roissy Charles de Gaulle.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

What should be exciting is now filled with anxiety

Only four days to go until I leave New Zealand for the biggest and most important adventure of my life (other than becoming a mother). Last week I was happy and excited but over the last two days those positive feelings have been smothered by anxiety. Smothered by cinders threatening French airspace, smothered by molten rock from the centre of the earth.

I absolutely must be in Paris on Friday or I lose the opportunity to get my new qualification, I miss my job interviews and the hope of the new life I have always dreamed and worked for. It cannot be rescheduled.

So much detailed planning to create this window of opportunity. So many encouraging moments from friends and colleagues, the little synchronicities that have occurred lately.

It was great to have Stephen's help to set up my laptop, Laura's best wishes today for Mothers Day, chatting with Lindsay. So many contributions to this milestone in my life. I feel as if I'm taking many well-wishers along with me on this journey. Please make it happen for all of us.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Planning, packing and panicking

I don't know how some folks can make sudden decisions to up and go overseas; blink and they are gone. Not me. Long-haul seems to require army precision and a major packing campaign.

My trip has taken so much planning, dreaming, hoping and effort. Those myriad tasks that demand attention before I can relax into the idea that I'm almost on my way. I'm talking about finding a safe board for Laura, getting on top of my work at Waitakere, obtaining a WOF for the car and paying the registration. Then I discover my drivers license will expire while I'm away. I ask myself what bills will come in while I'm in France. Will my luggage be overweight? How on earth will I know if I'm under or over 20kgs? Is there a weigh-station somewhere for suitcases?

My phone: a friend has suggested I DON"T go for roaming - far too expensive. She suggests I get a french sim card when I arrive.

Watch out for your mascara and liquid foundation at the airport security area - must be in a plastic bag. Mascara for heavens sake? In reality there's never enough of the liquid in those dinky little tubes to last long. What am I going to do with a mascara wand- threaten a gay pilot? Is liquid foundation such a danger to passengers and crew? Only if some people DON"T use it I'd suggest.

I'll have to shove spare knickers in my laptop bag if I want to arrive 'fresh'. Well, I do hope the nice man at customs doesn't get the idea I'm trying to bribe my way into France when I accidently deposit my G-string on his desk along with my passport. Then again, being French, maybe he'll understand perfectly and waive me through with a twinkle in his eye.

Bellydance practice gear, hair dye to cover my grey for several weeks, copies of key documents, CV and cover letters, language course binders and materials, enough pharmaceuticals to look pretty dodgey. Madam, please explain the 2 doz enemas you're carrying - I can just hear it.

No room for a raincoat or umbrella and I've only packed three pairs of shoes. THREE! How on earth will I look presentable in the fashion capital of the world? I've been told to pack a towel but I don't think there's room. Maybe I could wear it instead.

You think perhaps I'm freaking out a wee bit? Getting a bit excited? Feeling as if this is a really big deal, going to France? YOU BET.