Heads up: I posted two posts at once, so if you want to read this in chronological order, read the post below this one (called "Getting Settled, Part the Second") first.
On Wednesday (this is still going back awhile – October 8th, to be exact), it was actually nice out. I decided to en profiter (take advantage of it) and took a little walk. I found this little street called “Rue Eaux de Robec” which means “Waters of Robec”. Don’t ask me who or what Robec is or was, but the street is purty. I discovered very quickly where it got its name:
It reminded me of Freiburg, Germany, where there are little streams along a lot of the streets. Hurray bächle! The street also has a lot of antique shops with huge windows full of all things old and fascinating.
I got to the end of the street and turned towards home, whereupon I saw this.
I’m forever getting surprised by various towers and things in this city, not only because there are so blamed many of them, but also because I have an astonishingly bad sense of direction and can never orient myself in relation to landmarks. It’s rather nice, really – kind of like an Alzheimer’s patient getting to read the same books over and over again. This particular surprise is the Abbatiale Saint-Ouen, which I pass every day.
I really really like it, especially the spire.
There are signs in front of it warning you to keep off the grass, which is pretty common. What isn’t so common is the next sentence on the sign: “Danger of falling rocks”. I guess that’s why there’s scaffolding towards the back of the church…
That yellow thing is an elevator (I call them “lifts” more than half the time now, since I hang out regularly with a Scot, a Brit, and an Australian – by the end of the year my accent will be incomprehensible) and I really wanted to hijack it and go for a ride, but I thought the French would probably frown on that so I kept walking. As I got a bit closer I noticed that there were gargoyles, so I tried out the digital zoom on my camera and took a picture of one.
I really enjoy gargoyles – it always strikes me as odd that immensely majestic, solemn buildings like cathedrals have playful little carvings all over them.
I had a lunch date with my professeur référente, Anne, at her house. She lives in Mont-Saint-Aignan, which is one of those suburb-y things to the north of Rouen. I got there a bit early, so I took my time walking to her house and took some pictures along the way. There were some lovely brick houses with neat details around the windows.
I stumbled upon yet another church – it always cracks me up because French people are actually a lot less religious than Americans, but there are SO MANY CHURCHES here.
Finally I got to her house, which was lovely, and had lunch with her and her 15-year-old daughter. It was delightful, and Anne tried to get her daughter to speak English, but of course she wouldn’t. Afterwards, as I was waiting for the bus, a little girl and her mother walked up to the stop. The girl asked, in French, if the number 8 bus had gone by yet, so I told her I’d only been waiting for a minute and didn’t know. She and her mom sat down next to me, and the mom said something to her daughter in English, with an American accent. I decided to blow my cover and asked, in English, if they were American. As it turned out, the father is a professor for an American study-abroad program, so the family lives in France during the school year and goes back during the summer. The little girl is 8 and has been coming to France since she was 5, which explains her French, which was really good. It was nice to speak English, though.
When I arrived back at my street, there were trucks and busy-looking men all over the place – I guess one of the houses was being renovated. The cool part was this nifty rig:
I couldn’t get close enough to take a proper picture of the base without the men looking at me, but it’s got little stilt things that can be individually adjusted so it’s level even on a hilly street like mine. The legs have the added benefit of making the structure look like it’s floating, since its wheels are lifted off the ground. Cool, huh?
That evening, as I was making dinner, I was reading that book of short stories by Maupassant that I’d bought, having run out of English books in the first 4 days. The stories are all creepy (the technical word is fantastique) but they’re good creepy – lots of people going insane from fear and such. So I started reading one called “Who Knows?”, where the main character had come to Rouen to escape something horrible that was haunting him at home. He was walking around the city and came to Rue Eaux de Robec, which he described thusly (I’ve put the French in so those who speak it don't have to suffer through my translation):
Un soir, vers quatre heures, comme je m’engageais dans une rue invraisemblable où coule une rivière noire comme de l’encre nommée « Eau de Robec », mon attention, toute fixée sur la physionomie bizarre et antique des maisons, fut détournée tout à coup par la vue d’une série de boutiques de brocanteurs qui se suivaient de porte en porte.
Ah! Ils avaient bien choisi leur endroit, ces sordides trafiquants de vieilleries dans cette fantastique ruelle, au-dessus de ce cours d’eau sinistre, sous ces toits pointus de tuiles et d’ardoises où grinçaient encore les girouettes du passé!
One evening, around four o’clock, as I was walking down an improbable street where a river as black as ink called “Eau de Robec” runs, my attention, fixed on the bizarre antique physiognomies of the houses, was suddenly turned aside by the sight of a series of antique shops all in a row.
Ah! They had chosen their place well, these sordid traffickers of ancient things in this fantastic little street, above this sinister stream, under these pointed tile and slate roofs where antiquated weathervanes still creaked!
So that was Maupassant’s impression of my cute little street with the flowers… The man did in fact go crazy towards the end of his life, so perhaps we can forgive him some atmospheric exaggeration. Anyway, it was neat to see that not much has changed in Rouen since the 1800’s – I bet some of the proprietors of the antique shops are the great-great-grandchildren of the ones in Maupassant’s day.
On Thursday, I observed one of Michèle’s classes. She was working with terminales, so their English was quite good. Their accents are adorable, and I know I’m going to have to correct them, but it’s so easy to just get lulled into thinking that h’s are silent and “th” is pronounced “z”… I also had a meeting with the CPE, who is I think the equivalent of the dean of students. They deal with absences and punishments, but also keep an eye on the students’ general wellbeing, so if something goes wrong they can help. I learned what I can and can’t do to the kids (apparently corporal punishment is illegal in France – and just when I’d bought a nice springy ruler!) and saw how the attendance system works.
On Friday, I did the most teaching I’ve done so far, in Anne’s class. She didn’t tell them who I was or why I was there or anything, so they had to ask me questions to find out what they wanted to know. It was a good exercise because the “information gap” (language teachers love information gaps) was real, and they were genuinely curious. They wanted to know who I was voting for (the American election gets a lot of press over here) and what I thought about France and whether I had a boyfriend. It was a lot of fun, though, and the kids were cute.
When I got home, it was so nice out I decided to en profiter again, because here you never know how long the sun will stay shining, so I changed into my bright pink tights and black-and-white striped dress and walked to the park behind the Abbatiale to read my book. It was absolutely lovely, and the people-watching was good too. And there were, of course, Frenchmen to comment on my appearance, because this is France and I am a young woman.
That night a bunch of us went to O’Kallaghan’s again, where there was a live band doing covers of mostly American songs (Are You Gonna Be My Girl, Black Betty, Born to Be Wild… all hilarious in a French accent). It was fun, but we were supposed to meet up with some other assistants who never showed up. As it turned out, they were there, but there were so many people we just didn’t see them. This is why cell phones were invented, and why you tend to get left out if you don’t have one.
Saturday was a beautiful day as well (must have been some sort of record) so Emilia and I had coffee outside in the Place du Vieux Marché. I love French terraces because you can just sit there for as long as you want, chatting and enjoying the sun and people-watching. We were also enjoying the weird church (named for Jeanne d’Arc, who was burned at the stake there) in the middle of the square. This picture doesn’t do it justice, but I haven’t got a better one yet.
On the way back, I found the perfect idea for a Christmas present for me! I know you always complain that I don’t start my list soon enough, so here’s one idea:
How cute is she? And isn’t she a lovely color? She was almost small enough to stuff into my handbag, but that back wheel just wouldn’t fit in.
The Rest of the D.R.
7 years ago