Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Kathryn vs. Lyon, Round Two: Chapter 4

Chapter Four: Please help me kill two hours

One of my schools grouped all my classes on one day, which I think is just excellent of them, but this second one has me spread out over Monday and Tuesday. Each day I have two classes and a club, which is me hanging out with whatever eager-beaver kids decide to give up their lunch hour to talk about Anglo pop culture, but that won't start until after the Toussaint holiday, which is next week. That gives me a very long stretch of sitting around between today's two classes, and what can I say: there's free internet in the staff room. You're getting an update.

Guess who made it to Lyon? Franck! He actually exists! (I know you all thought I was off my rocker and just didn't want to say anything, but I will take a picture and send it to you and you will see.)

He got here on Friday and had to hang around the train station for hours because his phone card wouldn't work and he couldn't let me know he was there, but let's not forget how much waiting I've done, and let's not shed any tears for ol' Franckster. When I found him, after hunting through the entire [and very large] train station because he was definitely not where he told me he would be, a little group sitting on the next bench broke into applause; apparently they'd been chatting him up and were anxious that he would never get through to my phone, and so they were very pleased to see a real live reunion. I think they really liked my skirt, too, which is swirly and nice. They were right to.

He's gotten lost a few times -- on Sunday he went out at 11:00 for a before-bed walk and wandered around for three hours before he accidentally stumbled onto our building's graffittied door -- and is having trouble adjusting to certain urban concepts, namely traffic lights and our need to respect them, lest we should be run over by any number of speedy Smart cars. He keeps thinking people will wait if he starts across the street, since the four or five cars in Guadeloupe always did... I've asked him to write out a will so that everything's in order, because the last thing I want to deal with is a pile of morbid paperwork. Let's be fair here.

We've been doing music theory lessons as well, to bring him up to speed on the not-by-ear chapter of studying piano, and I'm looking for a French equivalent of Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle. Anyone? It has to work backwards as well, like Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles' Father. (How brilliant we are in the English-speaking world!) If anything suddenly comes to you, please jot it down. Thank you.

That same train station Friday, I went to an assistants' meeting as a guest speaker. Nobody seemed to care that my experience was in primary, which has NOTHING to do with the junior high and high school system, or that nothing in Guadeloupe functions even slightly like it does in Lyon. Mostly I told anecdotes and sighed in a world-weary manner, offering vagueries like "you just have to take these things in stride" and "six of one, half a dozen of the other" when asked a specific question for which I had no answer. I had lots of bad news about health cards (you aren't getting them any time soon) and safety deposits on apartments (write everything down; they'll try to screw you over!) which I guess is practical for people to know ahead of time. Otherwise, I cracked jokes and made little pointy-gun hands without shame,
apparently interpreting my role at the meeting as that of the stand-up comic, and -- I'm sorry to say -- I can't say that I've found my calling.

They appreciated my words of wisdom, though, and at the break for lunch (which I stayed for, in case you're wondering if I'm the kind of person who passes up a free lunch) I was suddenly surrounded by people and their questions about financial aid, dealing with teachers and so on. I do enjoy being deemed important, even if wrongly, so it was a bit of a bust when I told a girl where the washroom was and she said "no, that's for boys." No, I assured her, with the confidence of someone who's been around the block a few times, washrooms are co-ed; you can go ahead and use this one. So she pulled the door back a little and showed me that there was not only the little boy stick figure, but also, in very clear letters, the word "garçons." Which accounted for the strange looks I got from the 15-year-old boys who saw me come out of the stall, and which completely undermined my position as the local expert. I'm working on a come-back.

BUT. Some of the assistants seemed really into my plan to use the large field two minutes from my apartment for soccer/frisbee/whatever games, so I'm feeling really good about that.

More importantly, there were a couple of funny Australian boys who told us about the Hutt River Province in Western Australia. Are you familiar with this? It would seem that some Australian farmers in the late '60s were not feeling successful enough with their crop production under the Commonwealth laws, and so they legally ceded from Australia and created their own country. Hutt River Province, which the Australian goverment refuses to acknowledge, has a population of about 25? 30? but claims to have fifteen thousand passport holders around the world. And there's a king, and a queen (Tom called her Queen Shirley, which made me fall off my chair laughing), and their two princes -- so do they pay taxes? Can they go to university in Australia, or do they pay the foreign student rate? Are they still farmers? Can you be a king and still do your own planting and hoeing? Are the princes going to marry princesses from other countries to create political ties? Is this the CRAZIEST THING YOU'VE EVER HEARD?

There's a web site and I suggest you have yourself a little browse, because I think the whole story is amazing. If I get enough money, can I just cede from Canada and make Kathrynland? I think I'd make an excellent queen, and I have some very good ideas about politics. I think you should give me a chance.

I was pleased to discover that even junior high kids are generally excited about my presence in their classroom, though I have nowhere near the celebrity status I found in Guadeloupe. Nobody has mobbed me or frantically petted my clothing, but I am taking into account the more blazé nature of a) older, and b) French kids, and I'm refusing to be disappointed. The fun part is that they actually speak English, at least well enough to ask me questions and understand the answers, and they are very curious and cute. They prepared possible questions to ask me and they have to write up an essay (I have requested that it be called "Ode to Kathryn," but it isn't looking like a go), so I was expecting to answer questions about Canada,
about favourite sports and music, about my family and pets and committment to crêpes, and those questions were all in there.

However, I think there's a line somewhere between the acceptable "are you married?" or "do you have a boyfriend?" and the altogether questionable "are you happy with your boyfriend?" and "will you have children together?" I don't know if it's just what comes out of their trying to get a question across and not being sure how to phrase it, but it blew me away. I was also a bit stressed out to answer "what are your qualities? what are your defects?" - I said I was nice and a people-person, and I'm sorry to say I went so far as to say "passionate," but can I tell you? I couldn't find any defects! There is nothing to be improved, kids; what you're looking at is a finished product. I guess defects are personal, because you're starting to talk about your real self, and I felt highly uncomfortable. I ended up saying that I talk too much, and I get really competitive for things that really aren't, by any stretch of any imagination, important. In the grand scheme of things. Then I felt I had to explain myself, and started off in some rambling direction -- however many minutes later, somewhere in the middle of my outlining the rules of team charades, the teacher said "any more questions for Kathryn?" and we all agreed that competitiveness aside, I was right about the big talking.

I have an interview tomorrow for a job teaching adult English classes -- maybe I shouldn't tell you about it because then I have to admit very publicly if I'm not hired. The guy seems very enthused, though, and was disappointed that I have days already taken up with the assistant job, so unless he's one of these "getting your hopes up in order to let you come crashing down" kind of interviewers, I think I have a good chance. I'll try not to end my sentences with prepositions and to cut the excessive use of "like" out of my speech; I will also bring some baclava from the little store downstairs because it's the best thing I've ever tasted, and if nothing else, he'll have to hire me to keep the supply coming.

I don't think I actually say "like" that much, but you know who does? The American lady (from Los Angeles) who's my supposed co-ordinator at this school. She has a big California smile that seems decidedly fake, she's really mean to my favourite little lady, and she's not co-ordinating me at all. She was supposed to call me to come in and see the school but she never did, and last Thursday since I was in the neighbourhood -- visiting the other school, who did call me -- I thought I'd just pop in and see where things were at. Hey, you're here! Great! You're starting on Monday! said the principal. What if I hadn't come in? What kind of system is this? So we're keeping an eye on this "Deborah" character. They're having an English department dinner tonight (one lady made it sound like it was in my honour, but I think it might not be; I'm not sure how I'm supposed to proceed) (namely, I'm not sure if I have to pay...) and she's coming, but she makes them all really nervous. Doesn't sound like a lot of fun. I thought it would be nice to have someone to chat with in English, but it isn't always worth it, is it? Luckily, I'll always have myself; great talks to be had there.

And so, it looks like I'm settled. I'm kicking ass this round.


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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Kathryn vs. Lyon, Round Two: Chapter 3

Chapter 3: I'm Mister Lonely

I don’t know about this update thing anymore: these days, coming up with sharing-worthy stories is like squeezing water from a stone. Mostly because I’m not doing anything, ever. Ever. Anything. Maybe I’ll just invent something…

I have been hired to teach junior high, starting either next week or in November (it depends on how they work it around the All Saints’ holiday), so at least there’s something of a reason for my being here now. Wait, you’re thinking, you’re there to be with Franck; that’s your reason. Well yes, that was the idea, but it turns out that Mister Franck’s stand-by ticket requires more standing by than he had realized. (I wasn’t entirely aware that it was a stand-by ticket in the first place, but then I rarely know what’s going on in Franckland; nothing new there.) That would make him: still in Guadeloupe. Which makes me: still alone in Lyon. So maybe he’ll get here Thursday? Friday? Early November? Or maybe not. It’s all part of the adventure, and let me tell you, I’m really enjoying it. It’s the best, this not knowing what to expect or how to plan – it suits my personality to a tee.

I did have some company a couple of weeks ago when my mom came down from Annecy for the week-end. As it happens, the glorious sunshine that had brightened my arrival in Lyon disappeared a few hours before she got here, to be replaced by the howling Mistral wind. I guess it’s legitimate to experience the city the way it will be on grey rainy days as well, but a little bit of warmth would have been nice. Our Sunday sightseeing jaunt to the cathedral on the hill was cut short because the wind was blowing so strongly and I’m kind of a wimp, so what Mom really got to know what the inside of my apartment and what it feels like to drink tea there. (Frankly, that’s a fair representation of my life in Lyon, so maybe it was for the best.)

Even through the misty cold, though, our Honey agreed with me that Lyon is the place to be. (After Annecy.) Not least because of all the amazing food, of which we chose crêpes for lunch. Because we’re such delicate ladies, we got two crêpes to share, each featuring some extravagant combination of cheese, lard, ham, eggs and crème fraîche. I think you can imagine the bloated-and-achy outcome of such face-stuffing; suffice it to say, Never Again. (Until next time.)

After Mom left and the weather turned nice again (what can you do), I went back to my sad search for human contact. I had dinner at Sarah’s one night (the assistant from Guadeloupe who is also in Lyon) and then went to a party with her on the week-end, which I knew was a bad choice but I’ve already explained: human contact. After walking through Lyon and hunting around the pokey student quarters for her friend’s apartment building, we crossed a suspended courtyard – like the one in The Aristocats that all the drunk cats dance over, carrying their instruments and singing “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” - a reference that was lost on my British-and-evidently-not-raised-on-Disney comrades – and opened a door, and there it was: my past. Like so many frosh parties of yore, cramped apartments, crappy music, self-importantly obnoxious people dancing and smoking like it’s going out of style (hey! it IS out of style, losers!) – oh, how I wanted to be home and quiet. Through endless boring conversations, I just kept thinking of the stack of short stories from the New Yorker sitting on my table – why do you look so sad? they asked, obviously impressed, and planning such effective moodiness of their own for the next party. I must have seemed very poignant indeed.

All things considered, I’m not the party type and it must be irritating to hang around with a wet blanket, so I guess Sarah, who is much more social than I, will be a museum-visiting and errands-running friend. Our afternoon at Ikea, for example, was a party and a half, not least because Sarah’s Swedish and so I felt like a real insider. What does that word mean? “Point.” And that one? “Closet.” And so on and so forth, until the check-out guy heard us speaking English and asked where we were from and I said “Sweden” without even thinking. One can dream. She bought all sorts of special Swedish things from the boutique on the way out, mint chocolate and crackly bread and blood sausage and other such tasty treats, and she was really happy to taste things from home. It kind of made me wish there were a Canadian Tire somewhere with a little boutique in it, so I could buy – um, I could buy – Kraft cheese slices. Yes. That is what I would buy. Mmm, Canadian food.

My previous trip to Ikea was a solo trek and ended with me lugging home two lamps, a bedspread and kitchen stuff on my back, and carrying a computer table (which I cleverly transformed into a kitchen table, but for half the price – zing!) in my blistered hands. A very nice man heard me muttering to myself (“I really don’t think this is going to happen”), took pity on me and carried it up the street for me, but that was after I had gotten it that far in the first place. You don’t know how far it is, but trust me: far. So my I’m-so-tough pride notwithstanding, it was nice to have someone to shop with. I got a picture frame for the infamous print (which crashed down beside my head at 4:00 in the morning, but I attached it properly and I
think all is well) and some paint to make it the right colour. I also got a teapot, which I was sorely missing, and a mirror which turns out to be very flattering and I am quite pleased with it. Everything is now in order; you are all invited to come and visit. And bring a hat rack, please, because that’s the only thing I couldn’t find.

A funny side-effect of having almost no friends here (the bank lady doesn’t count; she only calls when she has to discuss my chequing account) is that I’m desperately seeing familiar faces everywhere. I’ve seen about half my high school so far, as well as people I’ve worked with, people I’ve lived with and people who once sold me juice at the QuickMart on the corner. I’ve seen my dad so many times I’m starting to believe he’s actually here and following me around to keep an eye on me. Sometimes I see people I don’t actually know, like Joan Cusack, and then I get all excited, which is obviously ridiculous; I have no claim to Joan Cusack, in Lyon or anywhere. Joan! Hey! What are YOU doing here?! I’ve seen Hugh Jackman (which was nice), Annie Lennox, Kate Moss (a kajillion times; everyone here looks like Kate Moss) and Richard Gere, to name a few, and every time it’s that same excitement, followed by crushing disappointment. And embarrassment, if I waved or called out.

I think I specifically don't have a new friend in the cute neighbour I just met, since we shared the elevator and then realized that we also share a wall. And he said “oh, you’re the one who – um, you’re new here, right?” and I’ve been wracking my brain ever since to figure out what he was about to say. Maybe it’s something harmless, like “oh, you’re the one who dropped all those pots on the floor the other day,” or maybe it’s something god-awful like “oh, you’re the one who’s always moaning in your sleep.” Hard to say.

I guess I can’t ask you to think any more good Franck thoughts for me, because whatever you’ve already come with clearly isn’t working. (Thanks for NOTHING.) If you have a sudden moment of inspiration, though, and feel that you are in contact with the movers and shakers in the universe, maybe you could send some positive travel thoughts via Guadeloupe. Get that guy on a plane, is all I’m asking.

Happy [belated] Thanksgiving to the Canadians out there, and keep on truckin’.


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