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For Now

I’m currently standing in the guest room at my mother’s house, looking at my one lone blue backpack leaning against the dresser, and staring at 3 piles of clothing.  I’m trying to decide which articles make the cut and which ones don’t get to join me tomorrow.

I move back to the city in the morning.

The past two and a half weeks have been a whirlwind of stuff, stuff, and more stuff.  To say that I have “hit the ground running” upon my return to the United States would be a gross understatement.  Indeed, I don’t think I’ve stopped moving once since my plane touched down at JFK 18 days ago almost to this very hour.

I’ve been blessed ten – no, a millionfold – since my arrival back on US soil, and it is something that I do not take for granted in the slightest.  In the nearly three weeks I’ve been back, I’ve returned to Trader Joe’s, the best company I have ever worked for, as a crew member at the ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL Chelsea store in downtown Manhattan.  The crew seems to rock, the captain seems like a super nice guy, and the energy is rocking.  I’m thrilled to be back.  I start on Friday.

I’ve also spent a HUGE amount of time compiling my master list for Longtime Sun Yoga, which includes all the yoga centers, gyms and sports clubs within a 5 mile radius of Astoria, Queens, where I’m looking to land permanently by September of this year.  I’ve hired JJ to design the website I began over a year ago before leaving for Provence, and she’s hard at work to get it to me ASAP.  Next up, business cards, pamphlets, and then cover letters, resumes and e-mail and snailmail marketing to everyone I can get my hands on.  Hopefully, through this technique, I should be able to line up a few yoga gigs to supplement my salary.  Once all that is sorted out, I’ll do my best to start finding some tutoring clients (providing it fits into my schedule).  Hopefully somewhere in there, I can continue to work on my business plan and start looking into loans and grants.

Because my friends are incredibly awesome and generous people, Jen and JJ have offered to put me up – free of charge – throughout the summer to allow me time to get back on my feet.  This will give me some time to find a good groove with yoga scheduling and save up some serious cash.  I’m both daunted yet excited and super motivated for this new challenge and look forward to seeing what falls into my life over the next three months.

I’ve been spending the little spare time I have catching up with friends, setting up an awesome work/study position at one of my favorite yoga studios in the city, eating aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall the food I missed terribly while I was away (today my former coworker and I went to a Chinese buffet by White Plains, which was nothing short of deliriously wonderful), and generally just preparing for the summer ahead.  Chika and I had a chance to touch base a few days ago; she returned to Vancouver last week and has jumped RIGHT back into school.  Our schedules not being at ALL complimentary and there now being a 3-hour time difference between us, the difference of presence in each other’s lives has been jarring.  How do you go from spending almost every day with someone to hardly ever speaking to them except for posts on Facebook walls when one of you can steal a moment?

Then again, for a while, everything about this return was jarring.  I had a moment two days after returning home – the Monday afternoon after, when I hadn’t even been back 48 hours and was starting to feel the lingering effects of jetlag, I found myself sitting on the 1 train heading downtown.  I looked around at everyone riding the train, deadpan, continuing on with their lives and the realization of how much had changed – how much I had changed, rather – really was striking.  We passed the 110th Street subway stop on the west side, the stop that had been the home to 3 truly awful years, and I found myself just blinking with this strange sort of out-of-body presence.  If I squinted, I could almost see myself 2 years ago, leaning against that very pole waiting to get on this very train at this very stop, dressed in a suit, with a nice pocketbook, eyes dead and hollow, angry, bitter, drained, unsatisfied with everything that had to do with my professional life and watching that dissatisfaction bleed over to my personal life as well.  There was no anger, no resentment, no grudge, nothing but a rather humbling sense of grace and gratitude.  Here I was, doing something that I’d done every single day for years in another lifetime, as another person, and then just like Ulysses, I’d “gone on a beautiful journey.”  And now I had returned, and while nothing had really changed here, I found myself feeling VERY much like Frodo from the end of Lord of the Rings (my favorite film of all time):

How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand…there is no going back.

There truly is no going back.  Not really.  But this is a positive thing – I don’t want to go back, I want to keep moving forward.  I feel my absence so much more than I was expecting to.  I truly believed that when I got off that plane at JFK on the 12th, it would be as though I had never left.  I was completely and utterly – and I realized, fortunately – off base.  I think part of it has to do with age, but the rest has to do with roots – I am rooted here, truly and absolutely, and I felt every single one of those months I spent Elsewhere.

And so tomorrow begins, once again, The Next Chapter.  I have one backpack and couches to crash on for the next three months.  I am not afraid.  I am not stressed.  Whatever will happen, will happen and whatever is meant to be will be.  I will make it.  I don’t know how and I can’t tell you all the details, but I gave up looking into and stressing out over the far future a long, long time ago.  I take it one day at a time.  Let’s just make it to the Fall and see where I am.  Nothing lasts, life goes on, full of surprises.  More than anything, that’s the lesson I needed to learn here.  Everything – absolutely everything – everything in life is only for now. I have goals, motivation, and most of all, confidence in myself that I’ve spent nearly two years building back up after losing almost all of it at one point.  I am open to whatever gets thrown in my direction for now, and I know I will face it with strength and grace, for now.  Because if I can quit my job without anything lined up, become a certified yoga teacher, make a career change, move to Europe for a year, and come back all in one piece with things looking pretty good, I think it’s rather safe to say there’s very little I can’t handle.

Everyone’s a little bit unsatisfied

Everyone goes ’round a little empty inside

Take a breath, look around

Swallow your pride for now

Nothing lasts, life goes on

Full of surprises

You’ll be faced with problems

Of all shapes and sizes

You’re going to have to make

A few compromises for now

For now

But only for now

Only for now

Only for now

Only for now

For now we’re healthy

For now we’re employed

For now we’re happy

If not overjoyed

And we’ll accept the things

We cannot avoid, for now, for now

For now, for now

But only for now

Only for now

Only for now

Only for now

 For now there’s life

 For now there’s love

 For now there’s work

For now there’s happiness

But only for now

For now discomfort

But now there’s friendship

Only for now

Only for now, sex

Is only for now, your hair

Is only for now, George Bush

Is only for now

Don’t stress, relax

Let life roll off your backs

Except for death and paying taxes

Everything in life is only for now

Each time you smile

It’ll only last a while

Life may be scary

But it’s only temporary

 

Everything in life is only for now.

Thank you (Merci).

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“Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of Icelandair, we would like to welcome you to New York City, John F. Kennedy International Airport.  The local time is 7 o’clock p.m. and the temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit.  Please remember to remain seated until the captain has turned off the fasten seatbelt sign, and…”

She continued to give instructions in Icelandic-accented English as we rolled along the tarmac.  I looked to my left, out the window.  This is what greeted me:

The sun setting over New York City. I wasn’t able to get a photo from my window but it more or less looked like this.

Right where I’d left it.

My heart swelled.  The sun was setting over the city, streaks of orange and yellow and red, the bridges and water glittering in the light.  It was an absolutely beautiful sight to come back to.

At long last…I was home.

I placed my passport and immigration form down on the desk.  The customs worker, a friendly black man with warm eyes and a nice smile, picked them both up.  We greeted each other hello as he looked through my passport.

“Nice cover you have here,” he remarked, looking over the stamp-themed cover Cait had given me before leaving as he searched for my scanning page.

“Thanks, it was a going away gift,” I answered.  He smiled as he scanned my barcode.

“So…Rachel.  How was your trip?”

“It was great, thanks.  I had a year abroad.”

“Nice!  What were you doing over there?”  His tone was as warm and friendly as his smile.  I love this about US Customs workers.  They already KNOW all this information, it appears right there on the screen and in front of them and the only reason they’re asking you is to make sure your answers match up, but they have always seemed to do it in a very friendly way, at least at JFK.

“I was an English teacher.”

“Sweet.  What’s the plan now that you’re home?”

“Well, I’m a yoga teacher, but I also have two other part time jobs I’ll be doing as well.”

His eyes widened.  “Three part time jobs?  Jesus Christ, I can barely keep up with my one job.”  He laughed and stamped my passport, sliding it back across the counter to me.  “Well, in any case, welcome home.”

I grinned.  “Thanks.”

Off to baggage claim I went.  I had to wait a solid half hour for my suitcases to show up, but finally they did.  I handed over my immigration form and finally, at long last, exited out into the meetup point, scanning the crowd for my mother.

It took a second or two, but at last I found her, off to the right.  She waved, a big grin on her face.  I smiled back and started over to her, but stopped short when I saw her look over towards her left, still grinning in a rather odd manner.  I furrowed my brow.  What was she looking at?

I followed her gaze and literally dropped all my bags when I saw what her point of focus was.

Alex and Risa.

I don’t remember too much what happened.  All I can recall is that one second, my mouth was hanging open and I was screaming “OH MY GOD!” and the next, it was a 4-person pile-up in the middle of the pickup hall at JFK.  Two of my closest friends, here, waiting for me as I arrived home.  I could not tell you how touched and moved I was, and I’m pretty sure I squeezed them so hard I borderline throttled them (but they more than returned the gesture, so it’s an even score.)

Apparently it had been a grand conspiracy for this past week.  Mom, in all of her tricky glory, had seen several wall posts by Alex and Risa about how they were (adorably) counting down the days until I was back stateside, so sent them an email on Monday saying that she would be picking me up at the airport on Saturday night, and if they were free, would they like to come and then stay over after?  As it just so happened, by a stroke of luck BOTH of them were free as birds on Saturday, and absolutely wanted to be there – but they were only allowed to come on the sole condition that they not say a word.

They held true to this promise.  I had spoken to Alex not even 24 hours prior to leaving, and he did everything humanly possible to throw me off – asking me what time my flight was getting in because he didn’t know, what airline was I taking, saying how much she was looking forward to seeing me on Monday for burgers, how he was making a cake Saturday evening for Mother’s Day, and generally making small talk chit chat that gave every impression he was otherwise engaged that night.  As we drove back to Mom’s place, laughing and excited, I brought all this up to him.  He grinned in response.

“Yeah, I was lying.”

Risa laughed.  “You’re better at that than me.  I purposely didn’t speak to you all this week because I am HORRIBLE at keeping secrets and I KNEW I’d accidentally give it away.”

We got back to my mom’s house and ordered in REAL, GOOD, AWESOME, FUR SHURE American Chinese food, and wolfed it down as we watched the newest episode of Legend of Korra and otherwise just hung out catching up, talking, and laughing into the night.  We fell asleep around midnight and we all had to get out with an early start this morning because of it being Mother’s Day, but I’ll be seeing Alex and Jay tomorrow for CORNER BISTRO BURGERS OH MY GOD and Risa on Saturday for our Avatar: The Last Airbender Marathon Weekend and her graduation.  I have a lot of things I need to take care of in the city tomorrow as well, and some exciting projects that are coming up.  In there, there will also be Korea Way Night with Jen and JJ on Tuesday, and a run in Central Park tomorrow afternoon.

It’s good to be home.

Reunited, and it feels so good.

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The sun is rising over Paris as I type this entry.  It is 6:30 a.m.

I have a taxi coming in 4 hours to take me to the airport.

I’ve been more or less awake all night – I managed to steal maybe three to four hours of sleep here and there during Cécile’s all-night birthday bash, and the last guests left about a half hour ago.  The chances of me being able to get any more sleep before it’s time to go aren’t very likely, so I’m up instead, typing this entry from the couch in Cécile’s living room.

I know it would make sense to write something deep and profound and poetic in this moment, but really the only thing that I can truly express is a sense of peace and total readiness.  People have been asking me pretty much nonstop for the past 96 hours how I’m feeling about returning home, whether or not it’s sunk in yet.  I answer them all the same way – I’m in such a mentally good place right now that I could be ANYWHERE, literally anywhere, and be doing well.  More and more I’m realizing that the more grounded and stable you feel emotionally, the less it matters and the less you feel the difference in where you are physically.

I could stay here, in Paris, and continue a life like the one I’ve been living the last 4 days – going for runs, errands, taking walks, hanging out with friends – and be perfectly content.  However, I could – and will – return to New York today and find my roots once again in my old life, just with an entirely different attitude.  That idea also leaves me content, and excited, because I know that that last part – the change in attitude – will open doors that were closed previously.  In a way, I think I’m realizing I needed to be here to find it, so that I can return to where I feel the safest and most loved and exercise my fullest potential.  Sort of like unblocking my chi paths or my chakras – now the energy can flow freely in a way it didn’t before.

Only time will tell.

And so, gentle readers.  You prepared along with me, you left along with me, you traveled through Provence and many other parts of France with me.  You met my friends and my students and learned about all my adventures.  So now, for lack of a better way of putting it, let’s blow this joint.

Attraversiamo. 

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An extraneous photo post!

Say hello to the star of today’s entry, Le Petit Suisse:

Meet Petit Suisse!

Le Petit Suisse (The Little Swissman) is a true French staple.  While many of my favorite things from France eventually were able to be found in America (Bonne Maman jam, Speculos and Nutella come to mind), I have yet to find Le Petit Suisse, a form of fromage blanc (white cheese) anywhere outside of France.

It’s hard to describe fromage blanc if youv’e never seen it, but I’ll do my best.  It’s a mix between a yogurt and a thick custard, with a taste of plain yogurt mixed with creme fraiche.  It’s a VERY common dessert here in France – you can eat it plain, put sugar in it, mix it with jam or honey, or add it into apple/peach puree.  My personal favorite, which was taught to me by my landlady, is to add maple syrup.

It’s not as simple as just taking a spoon and digging in, however.  Eating the Petit Suisse is akin to eating an Oreo.  There’s a right way to do it.  Allow me to share.

You start by opening up the Petit Suisse.

Turn the Petit Suisse upside down and shake it gently, tapping on the bottom with your fingers to release the cheese.

The Petit Suisse falls out of its holder! You have a tower wrapped in a thin paper.

Gently unwrap the cheese.

You now have your tower of fromage blanc ready for preparation!

Squish! The first squish of the Petit Suisse with your spoon.

Mix up the cheese!

Now for the secret ingredient - maple syrup! NOM. (Or as the French say, miam.)

Stir it on in and enjoy! You can also add in fruit.

The result! Every last bit scooped up.

There you have it, readers!  How to eat a Petit Suisse.

…which I just now realized you probably won’t be able to try as it’s not sold in America.

But that’s okay!  Now if you ever find yourself Europe-side, you’ll know what to do.  🙂

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Le Mistral and The Mundane

Wow, a month since my last post.

It makes sense given that life has been incredibly normal/boring as of late.

This is the “winter block,” meaning those 8 weeks of straight on work in January and February before vacation arrives at the end of this month.  I am going to come straight out and admit to you all that this is probably going to be the most boring of all the entries thus far, as ever since we came back from Christmas, my life has consisted of three main things:

1)      Work

2)      Watching Avatar: The Last Airbender*, and

3)      Starting up training for the NYC Marathon once again.

Not to mention the last week has been positively insufferable in almost every way due to the arrival of le Mistral, the infamous wind of Southern France that can make a perfectly normal winter day go positively South Pole-ish in a matter of minutes.  You may have been hearing about Europe’s cold snap that has claimed so far around 200 lives, and let me tell you something folks, I have never seen anything like this EVER.

Yeah, that's pretty much it. Only no magical nanny appears to be coming along to bring joy to our lives.

It’s a wind that cannot be accurately described to anyone who has not experienced it.  Period.  Unless you’ve lived here, you cannot and will not be able to wrap your head around even the concept.  100kph (70mph) wind gusts literally blowing you off your feet out on the streets.  Over the past seven days, I have seen people literally gripping onto the walls of buildings to get their way down the sidewalks.  Every time I go out, I “Eskimo Up” – my huge fluffy down coat with furry (fake) hood, mittens, ear muffs, scarf, the works.  It’s the kind of cold that penetrates you to your very core, and stays with you for a good hour once you get back inside, feeling it emanate from your bones.

It’s not pretty.

As a result, you can’t do much but stay inside and listen to the absolute howling that blows your doors clear open and literally destroys everything on your deck/terrace.  Chairs blowing across the road, garbage pails ending up two blocks away, trees blown clear of needles and leaves.  It’s basically a hurricane, only in sunny weather.

According to Françoise, the last time the region saw something like this was the winter of 1956.  Take that for what you will.

In any case, however, we have a vacation coming up in 2 weeks (YAAAAAAAAY!) during which I will be realizing a long-had dream.  Yours truly is going Rome!  (And Florence, but that doesn’t rhyme as well).

I found a SUPER CHEAP plane ticket (70 euro round trip) leaving from Nice on the 4th.  I’m lining up a place to stay in Nice for a day or two beforehand so I can see more of the Riviera, then arrive in Rome around dinnertime on the 4th, where I will stay in a yoga ashram (word) in the city’s southern neighborhood before hopping a train to Florence a few days later to meet up with the awesome and totally cool Rebekah!  Woot holla.

Not only am I finally getting to see Rome, but I’m super stoked that I’ll be there BY MYSELF.  I have not traveled alone since I got here nearly 6 months ago.  I started in London with JJ, got to France and was with friends, then all of my smaller day trips have been with friends here in Avignon.  Finally going to another country all by myself and having a few days to just eat, play tourist and enjoy everything with a sense of solitude is VERY inviting.  Not to mention my camera has been sitting on my dresser collecting dust for like a month now.  Time to brush it off and put that baby back to work.

And what’s more…in one week exactly, I will be out in Marseille picking up one fabulous Miss Jennifer Kneeland, who is visiting me on her winter break (which, impractically for us, happens one week before mine.  Boo.)!  Granted I’ll have to work my 12 hours that week but since most of the time I’ll be free, it’s not a problem.  I plan to finally hit up Aix-en-Provence with her as well as introduce her to my friends here by doing a soirée Indienne with the one and only Sufia as master chef.  I was thinking of also taking another trip down to the sea to show her the Mediterranean – sure, we can’t go swimming, but we can take a walk and she can see the coast and enjoy some good food!

A fun couple of weeks coming up.  It’s hard to believe that after I get back from Nice and Italy, it’s my final 6-week “block” of work before my contract ends.  Christ.  La derniere ligne droite, as they like to say here (the home stretch).  My colleagues at work are starting to show that well-known and hated teacher fatigue – it’s obvious that they’re running out of steam and I don’t blame them.  Honestly, so are the kids.  Work has gone exceptionally well for me this year, but I’ll admit even I have been feeling short of patience lately and the students are CRAZY agitated in this moment.  I need a nice good jaunt around Rome to stuff myself with pasta, drink wine and relax.

How fast this has started to go is mind-blowing and while I’m not ready to go into more detail just yet, I will say that my perspective, about a LOT of things, has changed DRAMATICALLY over the last few months.  About what I want in general, what my immediate/long term goals are, etc.  Some things have shifted, for multiple reasons, but I’m just hanging in there and going with the flow.  Hasn’t led me astray yet.

In the meantime, I continue to remain dedicated to my yoga practice, run every other day (I’m back up to 5Ks – GO ME!), and hang in there.  Despite the fact that things are quite slow-moving quiet right now, I should enjoy it as much as I can.  Starting March, it’s gonna get kind of whirl-windy again, and I’ll probably be wishing for the days when I just sat around, watched my new favorite TV show over and over again, and listened to the wind howling outside.

*If you have not watched this show, run, do not walk, to your nearest streaming source and remedy this immediately.  You may thank me after.

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So.

2011.

For the love of all that is good and holy in this world, 2011.

I could go on and on about how 2011 was probably the single most life-changing year I had ever lived to date and give all the details on everything that’s happened, but I feel like it just would all come up short and still not do justice to what was, for all intents and purposes, a renaissance.  So instead, let’s just see where we were at this time last year, and compare where we are now.

(more…)

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When I lived in France 10 years ago, the world was a very different place.  By this I mean:

Facebook?  What’s that?

Skype?  Wait, like, seeing someone on your computer and talking to them via a web cam?  Huh?

GChat?  Is that like AIM?

You get the idea.

I have been in Avignon a little over two weeks now, and have finally started to find a place of rhythm and equilibrium.  I am fully ensconced in my new home and most of the démarches administratives have been taken care of – visit to the doctor: check.  Hand in my paperwork and validate my visa: check.  CAF: check (although unfortunately, it’s likely I won’t be getting the CAF.  Apparently they look at PREVIOUS years’ salaries to determine whether or not you’re eligible, rather than the salary you’re making now.  WTF).  Opened a bank account: check.  Sign up for the local hiking club: check (first hike, October 23 up in the Hautes Alpes!)  Watched the football game with my neighbors at the local bar: check.  Gotten my work schedule: check.

I work three days a week at my schools, starting this upcoming Monday morning.  I met all of the directeurs on Thursday, and I’ll be working at Louis Gros on Mondays all day long, Massillargues on Tuesdays most of the morning and a bit of the afternoon, and then Farfantello Thursday afternoons.  This means that I have Wednesdays and Fridays as a gentlewoman of leisure.  Not too shabby.  Not too shabby at all.  Couple this with amazing weather and really nice people, and I gotta say it’s pretty effing sweet.

So what’s the problem, you ask?

The “problem” (for lack of a better word, but it’s not really a PROBLEM, I’d say) is that Skype, GChat and Facebook are all wonderful things.

They also make it much, much more difficult to completely immerse yourself in a language.

MUCH.

The difference is jarring.   10 years ago, pre-social networking, our constant connection back to “the motherland” and its language was a simple non-issue.  I checked my emails once a week, and aside from that, spent all of my time speaking, hearing, living, eating, breathing and thinking in French.

That is not the case now.  I wake up every morning and check Facebook.  Then, I check my emails, and oh, look at that, GChat!  And then there are the weekly Skype dates with loved ones back home.

On top of that, a huge portion of the assistants here in Avignon and the surrounding areas are English speakers, so whenever we’re together, the conversation always (understandably so) reverts back to English.  When you couple that on top of the fact that we’re only speaking English with the kids in school, that’s an awful lot of the language that I came here to NOT speak.  As a result, as much as I really like the other assistants, I’m trying not to spend too much time in a group with them to avoid just being bombarded (and bombarding others) with my native tongue.

Instead, I take the time to read as many French newspapers as I can get my hands on, along with books, and listening to the news or other television programs in French.  Chika, who’s sort of become my buddy here, and I have amazing discipline when we hang out, even though she is also a native English speaker from Vancouver.  Her French, however, is superb, so we actually speak in French quite a bit of the time we’re together.

As a result, I have to make more of an effort to immerse myself than I ever did before.  Which is not what I would’ve liked, but it is what it is, and that’s all that it is, right?  As a result, I’ve packed my schedule pretty full of Francophone opportunities whenever I’m not at work:

  • Monday: At work all day – four 45-minute English classes with the kids, and in between, French with colleagues.
  • Tuesday: Same as Monday.
  • Wednesday: Free day.  Comparative Lit at 11 a.m. at the University of Avignon, then the rest of the day to work on translations, read, write, and study.
  • Thursday: Political Science at the University of Avignon from 8-11 a.m.  Work from 1:30 until 5.
  • Friday: French Literature in the morning, then free all afternoon to read, write, work on translations, and study.

The University of Avignon is a beautiful campus.  It’s small, but very modern, open and airy.  You walk into the walls and see the courtyard, teeming with 20 year olds smoking their cigarettes (but luckily NOT spitting all over the ground, as they did during my days at DeLattre) and discussing lecture.

The University of Avignon

My first class was History of Economics, last Friday at 2pm.  I walked in there fully expecting to be terrified by the subject, sure that the big fancy econ words and their political counterparts were going to leave me in the next closest thing to a drunken stupor.  I chose a seat in the back, wanting to be as inconspicuous as possible, and opened my laptop, waiting for the accablement (beating) to begin.

Except that it didn’t.

For the next three hours, I drank in every word the professor said, following along each and every one of his sentences and typing the notes into the open document of my laptop with complete ease and comfort.  The presentation was so seamless, it might as well have been in English.  His lecture was downright interesting and fun, using many new words and different phrases that I was sure to benefit from.  Or at least, that I would’ve benefited from it, had the class not felt the need to SCREAM AT THE TOP OF THEIR LUNGS THE ENTIRE TIME.

Seriously.  The entire time I spent as an undergrad at NYU, I don’t think I’d ever seen anything like this.  It wasn’t even the occasional student in the lecture hall who whispers to their neighbor.  This was full out, “I’m not even going to make an effort to keep my voice down” CONVERSATIONS.  One girl?  PICKED UP HER CELL PHONE AND STARTED TALKING TO HER GIRLFRIEND IN THE MIDDLE OF CLASS.  The constant loud murmur made it next to impossible to hear the professor, who, rather than tell the class to shut the hell up and leave if they didn’t want to be there, just kept on chatting away as if nothing was happening.

I thought that it might’ve been a fluke since the first class is always full of people who tend to drop out anyway after the first go, but no.  Today when I walked into class (this time sitting in the front row so that I could hopefully hear the guy better over the noise), I was disheartened to see that just as many people were there as last week, who had every bit as much of an intention of talking loudly through the class once again.  It was incredibly rude and distracting, and kept on derailing the topic at hand.  Slowly, with each passing minute, I began to feel like I was wasting my time.

I just don’t get it.  This is COLLEGE, people, not elementary school.  No one is forcing you to be there.  If you’d rather be talking to your friends, DON’T COME.  LEAVE, and talk to your friends.  But let the people who want to stay and actually learn something, STAY AND ACTUALLY LEARN SOMETHING.  Finally, at the end of my rope, I turned around and looked at the group.

“ON NE PEUT PAS SE TAIRE PENDANT 5 SECONDES?!” (Can’t you people shut the **** up for 5 freaking seconds?!) 

The girl behind me enthusiastically supported my statement, loudly telling everyone they were a bunch of slacker jerks who were making it hard for everyone else.  Meant absolutely nothing.  Finally, after about an hour, she couldn’t take it anymore.  She raised her hand.  The teacher looked at her.

“Yes?”

“Sir, look, not for nothing, but I can hardly hear a word you’re saying.  There is way too much noise in here, can you please tell them to shut up?”

The teacher sneered.  “If you have a problem with the noise level, you deal with it.  Go punch them in the face or something.”

The girl glared at him as the class exploded into laughter.

“Sorry, but there’s really nothing I can do for you,” he said.  “If it’s too loud that’s your problem.”

I’m sorry, nothing you can do for us?  Okay, sweetheart?  YOU’RE THE TEACHER.  It’s your classroom for the next however many hours.  We paid to be here and learn something.  SO TOSS THE LOSERS IN THE BACK OF THE ROOM WHO ARE HERE FOR NO REASON, OUT.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of French Academia.

Needless to say, I didn’t come back after break, and won’t be going back next week.  I went to the registration office with Carla (my outspoken counterpart) and we bonded over our mutual disgust of the class as I chose new courses to sign up for in place of this one.

I stand in front of the bulletin board, scribbling down classroom numbers, hours, and course names, as she vents.

“This is so typical.  I swear to God, this is SO like the French.”

I look at her, raising an eyebrow.  “Wait, you’re not French, either?”  This seems odd to me, as she was clearly a native speaker.

She grins, looking slightly horrified at the prospect.  “Are you kidding me?  No way.  I’m Moroccan.”

Well, that explained it.  She tells me her story.  She’s 19 years old, with a great head of awesome, curly black hair, and her hands weave through the air when she speaks.  It’s her dream to go to America one day, and she nearly faints from excitement (seriously, she even gave me a high-five) when she hears that I’m from New York.  She’d even been accepted to UCLA, but it was too expensive for her to go.  She’s immediately fabulous in my eyes, and we laugh loudly and fully as I jot down the two courses I’m going to take to make up for this one: Introduction to Political Science on Thursday mornings, and French Lit on Friday mornings.  We traded contact information before parting ways – I hope we get to hang out again sometime in the future!

My third and final class is Comparative Lit, which is on Wednesdays at 11:00.  I showed up and took a seat near the front this time, having learned my lesson from Econ.  I opened up my laptop, ready to take notes.

Ha.

No notes were to be taken during Comparative Lit.  Because Comparative Lit, when held in French, is really, really ridiculously hard.

Twenty minutes later, I was seated in my chair, hands limply at my side as I tried desperately to catch even a third of what this man was saying.  He flipped back and forth between sitting at his desk and explaining some vague point about how the book of Genesis relates to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, then flipping through the pages to read some other vague passage that I got only a few words of, then standing up and writing something on the board, then sitting back down again and talking in soft, murmuring tones that all seemed to blur together as one big word.  Il a mangé ses mots, as the French would say, and after a half hour I gave up trying to take notes at all, as it became exceedingly clear that trying to digest the information and form decent sentences about it was a step out of my reach for now.  Right now, I’d focus just on trying to follow what the dude was saying.  I was David Sedaris during his first few weeks in Paris.  No joke.

“Were you always this palicmkrexis?” she asked. “Even a fiuscrza ticiwelmum knows that a typewriter is feminine.” (Me Talk Pretty One Day, Page 380)

Needless to say, I left the room quite désesperée.  By the time I got down the hallway, my Literary French sucked.  By the time I got out of the gates of the University, my French sucked, period, and then of course, as is the logical progression, by the time I got to my front door, I would never succeed, I would never be a successful translator and interpreter, and what the hell was I doing here anyway?

This is what my mind does, you see.

I wrote my thoughts out to Hélène in an email:

What if I just never get better?  What if I’ve already hit the ceiling, and this is as good as I’m ever going to get at French, and I’ll never improve, and I’ll never be good enough to really do what I want to do?

Her answer was beautifully simple.

You’ve been back one month.

Well.

It did sound a bit stupid when you put it that way.

My impatient nature is not good with stuff like this, and even though realistically I’VE BEEN BACK ONE MONTH, I’m already wondering why I’m not exponentially better.  The magical three month rule (where it takes 3-4 months for that thing, whatever it is, to click in your head and you’re off to the races) has flown out the window.  For some reason, I must’ve thought that since I’ve already been here, it didn’t apply to me even after a seven year hiatus.  But it’s more than that; every day I remember what a risk I took coming over here.  I quit a miserable existence to go out on a limb and do something that I love.  The idea of failing at that is so awful and so scary I am sitting here cringing just thinking about it.  And while I know that, worst case scenario, I’ll figure something else out, I don’t WANT to figure something else out.  I want THIS.  The idea of it not happening after investing so much into it is too awful to entertain.  Which is why sitting in that classroom and not understanding the professor was more than just “oh, this is a new sector for you and you’re not comfortable with it yet.”  It was “this is really really really hard and if you don’t learn to master it, you can’t do what you love.  And you know what, you should get rid of Facebook and get rid of Skype and GChat and anything that connects you to the English language and your life back home and never ever hang out with the other English speaking assistants because unless you totally isolate yourself with only French 100% of the time you’ll never ever ever get better and and and…”

It sounds ridiculous.  It IS ridiculous.  But at the same time, it’s what’s real for me.  I’ve more or less always been someone who is exceptionally hard on herself, sometimes to an unkind level.  It’s rather dichotomous, because with most things, I’m okay with just doing my best and moving on whatever the result is, but if it’s something that I really, really, REALLY care about, if I don’t do it PERFECTLY, it REALLY gets me down.  We’ll just have to wait it out and see, and now that I have my work schedule and can spend more time in class, taking courses that I think I’ll find much more interesting, hopefully that will help.  I try to remind myself of what one of my yoga teachers, Jurian, told me during training, all the way back in February at Kripalu in Massachusetts: trust the process.  Trust it will all be well, and trust that this immersion, even if slightly different than last time, will work.  Trust that I am doing everything I know in my power to immerse myself as much as I can and give myself the best training possible.  At the end of the day, I can’t do any more than that (on that note, more on the yoga studio I’ve found here coming up soon, as well as my re-establishing a regular home practice.  Suffice it to say for now that I did a 75 minute flow on my bedroom floor yesterday for the first time in ages, and I am SORE AS HELL today).

We’re heading to Arles tomorrow, a beautiful town that’s often cited as one of the most breathtaking places in Provence.  But until then, I leave you with my own photos of Avignon, as well as my new friends in the assistant program!

Place de l'Horloge, the main drag in Avignon.

Stephen from Oakland, California, as we sat under the tree in the park next to Palais des Papes and serenaded the surrounding crowd with Beatles tunes and old hymns. Kind of amazing.

Sur le pont d'Avignon, on y...sit.

Provencal Lavender Fine. This stuff is everywhere. No, really. EVERYWHERE.

My fellow assistants! Katie, Stephen, yours truly, James and Nicole.

These are the ancient walls of the old city. Intramuros. They go all around the entire old part of town.

Panoramic of Avignon as seen from the highest point in the city.

Panorama again. "In fair Verona, where we lay our scene..."

The Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes)

The Rhone River, which runs through the town. It's still quite clear and greenish/blue from up close, and people are often seen kayaking and canoeing. The Hautes Alpes, where I signed up for the hiking club, are in the back.

Chika in red, Anna (my downstairs neighbor) in gray, and Françoise, my landlady.

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