Monday, October 27, 2008

Getting Settled, Part the Second

And more explorations:

Saturday we went shopping again, although neither Nikki nor I wants to buy too much until we get our salaries. First we stopped at the cathedral to actually go inside. It was magnificent; all lacy carved stone and stained glass windows and gorgeous little details. There was also a little model of the cathedral, which not only made me happy but also gives an idea of the overall shape of it:
There were dozens of stained glass windows, all this size:
They depict various biblical stories, and they were all done by different artists, dating from the 1400s to the 1950s. One said that it showed Saint Nicholas, so I looked up expecting to see Santa Claus. I should have remembered what I learned in Tufts chorale:
Those boys in the barrel had been cut up and pickled, I forget why, and Nicholas brought them back to life (if any chorale members remember more of the story, please let me know – all I remember is that bit, and the cute little boys that sang the pickled boys’ roles).

There was also a cute little staircase, the bottom part of which was built in the 15 or 1600s, and the top in the 1800s.
It always interests me to see the dates that a cathedral spans – this one was started in 1205 and completed in the 1800s, with repairs after WWII (where it got pretty badly bombed).

Then we returned to shopping. Olesya bought a lovely white wool coat, and some boots. On the way back, I stopped at a bookstore near our apartment and bought a book of short stories by Maupassant (very appropriately, because he lived in and wrote about Normandy) and a book that seems to be the French version of Anne Frank, except this girl survived. Since I’m not taking any classes, for the first time in 13 years, I think I’ll try to read a lot of French books.

On Sunday, Nikki and I went to the market. It was raining, so there weren’t quite as many people as the last week, but it was still quite bustling. There was a tent with second-hand clothing, which as you know is like crack for me, and I found a light sweater:
And a cute little light coat:
For 3 € each. Nikki also found a really nice H&M coat for 8 €. Clearly this tent is going to be dangerous. We then went merrily off to buy vegetables, after first walking all around and seeing vegetables, fruits, flowers, meat, cheese, dried fruit, nuts, fish, shellfish… She likes markets just as much as I do, so we had a great time looking around. I also decided to buy some sausages, because buying meat has always frightened me and I want to get over that. I got some nice herbed ones that didn’t look too scary (staying away from the boudin noir (black pudding) – I’m not quite French enough for that yet). I cooked them that evening with zucchini and onion and they were quite good.

On Monday, I went to the school to sign papers, and ran into an English teacher who took me to lunch, then into her classes. We went to the school cafeteria, where we get to cut in line because we’re teachers (woo!). The teachers also get a special room to eat in, where in addition to pitchers of water, there is cider. The alcoholic Normandy kind. At lunch. In a school building. Where the teachers are going to have to go back to class in an hour. Hurray for France! I didn’t have any, because I was sitting with three French people I didn’t know and didn’t want to make an ass of myself. The conversation got quite animated, talking about the economic crisis, which I can’t even discuss intelligently in English, so I just watched, understanding maybe 6 words out of 10. It was interesting from an anthropological standpoint, though – French people are hilarious when they get really into a discussion, and it doesn’t take much to get them to that point. One of the professors also started teasing me about how much he liked Sarah Palin, and how she was such a good example to women everywhere. I was mostly sure he was joking, but I didn’t want to get into a huge argument with him just at first, so I didn’t say much. He came up to me later and assured me that he’d been joking, which I thought was nice of him, since I probably looked frightened. I was forgetting that in France it’s totally okay to disagree vehemently with someone one second and kiss them on both cheeks politely the next.

The teacher I was with has “secondes”, who are the equivalent of our sophomores (it goes troisième, seconde, première, terminale, confusingly enough). In the first one, I just watched from the back, but in the second I stayed up front and helped her answer questions, which was fun. A few of the students had the guts to ask me, in English, where I was from and how old I was and stuff, which was great – they seemed to be excited to have me there.

Afterwards, I went shopping to get some clothes hangers, finally, and something to organize the growing mountain of paperwork that I’ve just been tossing onto a pile. I also got four folders; I don’t know if you’ve experienced the joy that is a French folder, but they are magnificent. They’re really more like little portfolios – they have sides that fold in all around and elastic bands to keep them closed, so you can fit hundreds of pages in them without trying to stuff them into a pocket, like in the US, and nothing falls out because all four sides are closed. They are, of course, ridiculously expensive, but they make me so happy they’re worth it.

On Tuesday, the last day to turn in my paperwork (with a bank account number) in order to get paid at the end of October instead of the end of November, I still hadn’t opened a bank account (banks are closed Mondays here because they’re open part of the day on Saturdays). So I arrived at the bank at 9 am sharp, prepared to grovel, on my hands and knees if necessary, for an appointment. The man asked, doubtfully, if I had an identity card, so I gave him my passport. He asked for proof of address, even more doubtfully, so I whipped out my carefully-prepared “attestation de domicile” and gave it to him. He asked for a pay stub, which of course I don’t have, so I handed him my teaching contract. Finally, he said he was going to go photocopy my passport, but I handed him copies of the identity page and my visa page, whereupon he finally looked impressed and gave me an appointment later that morning. The woman I met with, with the unfortunate last name of “Rat”, which means the same thing in French as it does in English, was absolutely delightful. We ended up chatting a bit while she was setting everything up, and she asked me how to say “cathédrale” in English so she could direct the tourists who always come in. At the end, she gave me a little binder to hold my bank statements, a card-holder, a key ring, a pen, and approximately 4 million pieces of paper covered with teeny-tiny legalese, in French. I tried to skim it, and as far as I can tell I didn’t give them the right to take all my money or kill my first-born, although I couldn’t swear to it. Afterwards I got the best accomplishment high I’ve ever had – that’s the most complicated thing I’ve had to do yet here, and I did it completely in a foreign language and even managed to form a little bit of a relationship with the person.

This sense of accomplishment was short-lived, since I had a meeting with my professeur référent, Anne, right afterwards. She’s very nice, but she’s never organized the assistant thing before, so she has no idea what she’s doing and neither do I. A lot of teachers simply don’t have the time to work with me, since English classes are only 2 or 3 hours a week, so we might have to schedule things outside of class for me to get enough hours. I’m sure it will work out eventually; I would just like to get a clearer idea of what exactly I’ll be doing, and no one seems to be able to tell me. Everyone is very nice and welcoming, though.

After the meeting, I handed in all my paperwork, so hopefully I will get paid in a few weeks! I took the opportunity, while waiting for the secretary, to take a picture of the hallway:
Sometime when there aren’t any kids around, I’ll try to take a picture of the outside of the school. I don’t mind (much) looking like a tourist on the streets of Rouen, but I absolutely cannot be gawking at the school one minute and expecting the students to treat me with respect the next - I have enough trouble getting them to shut up as it is.

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