Gazing at Giverny

Still half-asleep, I boarded the 7:12 train to Giverny, arriving 41 minutes later at the small town of Vernon. Then, with nothing but the occasional cow, horse, car, and bike for company, I began my 1 hour 9 minute, 3.3 mile trek across the Seine, through the peaceful countryside, to Monet’s gardens. I admit I screamed a little–albeit very quietly–at the sight of the sun gleaming over looming, rolling hills lining the horizon beyond the river.

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The reason I forced myself out of bed at 6:10am was in the hopes of avoiding the tourists–and while I can say I was one of the first people in line for tickets, I was sadly not one of the first people to enter the gardens.

Squeezing past an unnecessary amount of tourist groups, I made the fortunate choice of entering Monet’s house first. Inside, every room was a vivid combination of functional and brightly photogenic, and security guards notwithstanding, part of me was tempted to become a squatter there.

Outside, as a horde of tourist groups queued to enter the house, I drank in a rainbow of flowers set up against a backdrop of green. At some point, while strolling past a series of pastel tulips, I may or may not have cried over the gardens/the reality of taking my final trip in France. Move along now, nothing to see here except an emotional French major crying over flowers for her wives Iszi and Madeline.

Trying to take the paths less traveled by tourists, I finally reached the famed water lily pond with the green bridges, and the sight took my breath away. The entire garden–house, lake, and flowers–is actually a lot larger than you’d expect it to be, and I spent a good three hours marveling over the beautiful riot of colors, various hues that should have clashed but somehow managed to blend seamlessly together.

Mercifully, the rain stayed away until I finished lunch and boarded the Navette bus back to Vernon, which I suppose I could have explored, but instead I returned to Rouen, where I’m going to sleep for 10 million years. Why do I choose 7am trains to save money, again?

 

Rambling through Rouen

One delayed train, one cancelled bus, one re-delayed train, one 4-hour bus ride, one short nap, and one train later, I finally arrived in Rouen, the capital of Normandy. Although my legs nearly gave out during the steep climb to my Airbnb, the descent was much easier, and getting to see the typical Rouen-style architecture–the maisons à colombage (timbering)–was well worth it.

Before I fangirled over the ridiculously picturesque houses, I popped into the Abbatiale Saint-Ouen, fawned over the Église Saint-Maclou (but couldn’t go in because of a wedding), and gazed at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen.

Since SNCF had doomed me to arrive 2 hours late, I then wandered aimlessly through the city, drinking in all the colorful, timbered houses. (Am I the only one who thinks Beauty and the Beast modeled its houses after this city?)

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On Rue du Gros Horloge, I climbed the bell tower for a history lesson on clocks and a panoramic view of the city, nearly having a heart attack when the bells rung in the room above my head.

Back on one of Rouen’s most famous pedestrian streets, a colorful display of macarons lured me into a pâtisserie, and I ended up purchasing two tiny ones, lemon and lychee-raspberry. The second one, though. Oh my god. I’ve been ruined.

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I savored my macarons outside the Église Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc, at what I thought was a peaceful little park, but as it turns out, some dad explained to his kid that it was where they burned Joan of Arc. Whoops?

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After I wandered along the banks of the Seine and consumed the most delicious Pad Thai for dinner, Pepito, the cat who rules over my Airbnb, started complaining because he was hungry, but I couldn’t for the life of me find his food. I felt so awful, I texted M, who came back and then immediately left to buy him croquettes…and he started screaming the instant the door closed behind her. Poor guy. Hopefully M comes back soon with his food.

 

What Happens in Class, Doesn’t Stay in Class X

  • While playing Mafia with a group of students, one of the Mafia looked at his partner and asked, “T’es Mafia?” (Are you Mafia?) I felt so bad for laughing because he’d given himself away, but the rest of the class lost it too, so at least my laughter was kind of justified.
  • I can confirm that French teenagers are exactly like American ones: the Hangman word was “B _ _ _,” and one student muttered, “bite” (pronounced like “beet,” French slang for a certain male body part), and the entire class started giggling.
  • While I was grading oral presentations, numerous kids said that the solution to Trump’s wall would be to build a virtual wall, complete with lasers, fingerprinting, and drones. Who the hell is teaching these French students such dirty lies? I’ll find you. And then I’ll fight you. (This question is rhetorical, I’m about 99% sure that it’s Ml.)
  • Highlight of my assistant career: while playing Mafia, the students were voting for someone to kill, and one kid shouted, “Trump!” My job here is done. There’s nothing more to teach them.
  • Right before my lesson on Hitchcock with Jn, he gave the students a brief vocab quiz, which consisted of English-French translations and vice versa for words related to crime. One kid sitting at the front of the room, where I was standing, tried whispering to me in French, “What’s English for ‘mugshot’?” Hon, even if I knew the word, there’s no way I’d help you cheat on a ten-word vocab quiz.
  • I asked a class to guess how much I paid to go to college for one year, and they started at $1000. These poor, innocent children, so blissfully unaware of American student debt. (Their faces when I told them that R-MC tuition is $38,000/year were priceless.)
  • My favorite part about teaching fluent terminales is that you can be as salty as you want about a certain bigoted Cheeto, and they’ll all laugh because they too share your burning hatred of him.
  • There’s nothing more amusing than teaching French kids about American foods and witnessing their expressions of pure horror when they see pictures of chicken and waffles, or PB&Js.
  • Me: “What’s the capital city of Virginia?”
    • Student: “New York!”
  • Jt: “Would you like to go to the Richmond Folk Festival in Virginia?”
    • Student: “Yes, to discover the culture of England.”
  • Since a class was excitedly chanting, “Let us sing!” Jt found a version of “Let It Go” with the lyrics, and one boy buried his face in his hands and started moaning like it was the worst moment of his life.
  • Six months after I started working, students still ask teachers, “Will her presentation be in French?”
  • S: “You’ve discovered how to get absolute silence in the classroom! Ask a question, and no one talks.”
  • It’s kind of heartwarming when a student brags to his friends in the hallway, “On a l’assistante!” (We get the assistant!)
  • During my last day at Méchain, one student told me, “Good luck with living in Trump’s America.” Thanks, kid, we’re all going to need it.
  • That moment of amused sadness when you’re reviewing Scattergories answers, and for the “celebrities” category, one kid announces, “Marine Le Pen!”
  • Probably one of my favorite parts of this year was watching a group of secondes who’d never had a Reese’s exclaim with wonder, “C’est trop bon!”
  • Jt invented a fantastic system for discouraging students from speaking French during her class: having them act out the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene. And I know this is mostly due to fragile masculinity, but it’s pure beauty watching two guys uncomfortably and awkwardly act it out.

P.S. The end of TAPIF went out with a whimper: I was supposed to have my last-ever class today, but not a single student showed up. Walking out of the classroom, even if it was an empty one, was bittersweet. Well, I’m free now and don’t have to work again until late July, so… I’m taking one last trip this weekend, and then attending a farewell party organized by the Claudel teachers on Wednesday evening. For the moment, I’m celebrating the end of TAPIF by eating the Reese’s that I was going to give to my students this afternoon.

Miscellaneous Moments, Part XII

  • While walking back from Méchain, I stopped outside the front of a closed-down building, unable to resist the temptation of two cardboard boxes filled with books and labeled “Servez-vous” (Help yourselves). After combing through all the books, I left with one—okay, who am I kidding—two books: a battered, much-loved copy of Meïpe ou la délivrance by André Malraux (that’s so old, the price is in francs), and a copy of the play Saint Joan by Bernard Shaw. The next day, the boxes vanished, and now a week later, I still haven’t been able to find the building or the boxes. If it weren’t for the two new books in my room, I’d be convinced that I made the entire thing up in my tired-from-climbing-up-the-mountain, lunch-deprived state.
  • Ml was very rudely gossiping about a teacher in the staffroom, and when she asked N what he thought, he just kind of blankly replied, “Je ne sens rien” (I feel nothing/I have no opinion), which shut her down immediately. Meanwhile, I sat there in front of my computer and tried desperately not to snicker.
  • While FaceTiming my mom, she started casually writing down everything I want to eat when I get back. The list, with the exception of peanut butter, consists entirely of Asian foods, and she mocked me when I told her that tofu doesn’t exist here: “You chose to live there.” Thanks, mother.
  • After Al and I shared total confusion about my work at Méchain, i.e. giving out grades and being left with half a class for 30 minutes without direction, she explained the grading rubric to me in about 10 minutes. Thanks, Méchain, you couldn’t have told me this yourself instead of dumping me with terminales and the extremely unhelpful instruction of “tell them how to improve,” making a Claudel teacher explain my job at another school to me?
  • There’s nothing more bizarre and more satisfying than having a conversation with a teacher in two different languages—M-L was using French and I was defaulting to English, but we understood each other without a hitch.
  • Please stop forcing heteronormativity on me. I may have died of laughter when a BTS student (they’re usually around 18-24) asked my age and then the teacher said he might ask me out for a drink, but only because I’d never accept going anywhere with a guy unless I know them.
  • Jt told one of her classes, “Sarena is very good at PowerPoints. She never says exactly what is on the slide,” and I was like, aw, that’s the nicest teaching praise I’ve gotten.
  • You know this job leaves you with way too much free time on your hands when you try learning German on your phone and wander outside for half an hour to watch the sun set. Likewise, I absolutely did not stand on a sidewalk for ten minutes, talking to a cat because I was trying to get a good picture of it and its shy calico companion.
  • I nearly snorted with laughter because La called Ml an idiot, and you know it’s bad when someone who doesn’t even work with her doesn’t like her.
  • This wee French baby started arguing with his dad that he could cross the street without looking because there were no cars, and it’s one of the cutest things I’ve ever witnessed.
  • You know you’re a nerd when M-L asks you for help translating and you happily finish a 223-word French to English translation in about 30 minutes.
  • Saying goodbyes is my least favorite part of endings. Maybe it’s for the best that N was on a school trip during my last day at Méchain—I stashed his and M’s letter and present in his pigeonhole and ran, thereby avoiding any potential possibility of tears.
  • I tried so, so hard not to laugh when the tour guide in Dublin said, “Boy, did we get behind Catholicism.”
  • That moment when you don’t have your glasses on and you think “Witness history” says “Whiteness history” and you go, “History is already white, who needs more of that?”
  • In Dublin, we got some lovely hostel roommates, though I felt really bad because one of them was Scottish and sometimes I couldn’t understand her accent.
  • Few sunrises are more stunning than one seen from an airplane window.

Experiencing French Theater

Remember that time I got so excited about writing a French paper that I promptly turned in a 6-page draft instead of the 4-page minimum? And then made all my friends yell at me when I, unsurprisingly, muttered that I constantly go over page limits? (Problem? Me? Nah. In case you don’t believe me, I have Snapchat proof.)

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Anyways, my explication de texte allowed me to delve into proto-feminism for the first time, something that (along with my professor) has been nudging me towards grad school. So when I saw that there would be a performance of Marivaux’s play Le jeu de l’amour et du hasard, how was I supposed to pass that opportunity up?

At the Maison des Arts et des Loisirs, I certainly was not expecting a line, but somehow the largest number of people I’d ever seen in Laon, outside of school, was crammed into the lobby. Honestly, I didn’t even know the city had a theater. At the counter, I’m sure could’ve lied and said that I was a student to get a cheaper ticket price, but seeing as there were a few teachers from Claudel nearby, I decided not to take advantage of my baby face for once.

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When the 1-hour 15-minute long play started, I’ll admit I was a bit confused. Not because I couldn’t understand the French, but because the first five minutes were completely silent and I could not for the life of me fathom the presence of the radio, laptop, or phone–the comedy’s supposed to take place in the 18th century. I quickly realized the company had given the play a modern twist, which worked out in their favor, allowing them to add little comedic touches here and there in order to enhance the original script.

(Quick summary of the play: Silvia, a noblewoman, decides to disguise herself as her maid Lisette in order to observe and interact with her fiancé Dorante. Unbeknownst to her, Dorante has the same idea, disguising himself as his valet Arlequin. Shenanigans ensue.)

Some internal screaming may or may not have been involved when I recognized the scene that I chose to analyze in FREN 437. I mean, it’s not at all nerdy to look at a French text from a feminist perspective by examining the radical concept of choice within the socio-economic context of the 18th century.

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Highlight of the play: watching Dorante fail miserably in his valet role. At one point, he was supposed to make bread, but had clearly never cracked an egg in his life. It resulted in him scooping one egg off the table and then placing the second in a bowl, smashing it with the whisk, and scooping out the fragments of shell.

Watching one of my favorite plays come to life–in a different language, no less–was a well-spent 12 euros, and I finally understand why teachers constantly say that plays need to be watched or read aloud.

Hiking through Howth

Going full nerd, I walked down the street to visit the James Joyce Centre–how was I supposed to pass it up when it was practically right next to our hostel? As I relived my ENGL 381 final, I also flashbacked to the good old weeks when we read and discussed A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man spring semester of senior year.

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Following a professor’s recommendation, I then hopped aboard the DART to Howth, a little coastal village where I may or may not have taken way too many pictures. (Un?)Wisely, I followed the longest hiking path, Bog of the Frogs, along the peninsula. But those 12 km/7.5 miles along the coast and through the mountains were absolutely worth it: the scenery was strikingly beautiful, and practically every five minutes, it changed and became even more stunning.

Though my photos will never do the blues or greens of the water justice, at times it felt like I was walking through a fairy tale–I kid you not, at one point, I even crossed a babbling brook and walked past a wall embedded with purple seashells.

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The Internet claims the hike should have taken three hours, but I was so distracted by absorbing the view and attempting to capture it on camera that I took five hours to complete it. Okay, the fact that I stole unhealthy amounts of sea glass from the beach probably didn’t help. (Look, they were so easy to find and I couldn’t resist the different colors. I’m basically a kid attracted to shiny things.)

It began to rain as I cut through the mountainside, and I grumbled at the humidity until, at long last, I came full circle and reached the train station. Once tired, sweaty, and starving, and now clean and fed and ready to curl up in bed for our 6am flight, I write this apologetic note to France: sorry, I promise I still love you, but Howth has officially stolen my heart.

The City, the Country, and the Sea

I fed my inner literary nerd at the National Library, where there was a nifty exhibition on Yeats. As the soothing sound of poetry echoed throughout the room, I peered at various poem drafts, though sadly couldn’t decipher any of the cursive. I also gazed in awe at the reading room, which I’d happily turn into my new home. (I wasn’t brave enough to disobey the “no photography” signs due to all the warnings of CCTVs, so I stole a pic from Google.)

I then trekked over to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, (ab)using my R-MC student ID to see an exhibition for free before meeting up with A in the café.

We braved the Irish bus system over to Bray, a little coastal town, where J, one of the teachers that A works with, and her son picked us up from the bus stop. At her mother-in-law’s house, we talked a bit with J and her husband, who’s Irish and has an entire collection of beer pint glasses he’s stolen from bars, before climbing into J’s car. She took us on an incredibly scenic drive, all rolling hills and pops of yellow flowers, to Glendalough.

The main attraction there, a Monastic City built in the 6th century, is a now set of ruins, thanks to the Normans. (Really? Did they have to ruin everything?) Nestled among the mountains and a nearby lake, the entire site radiates a lovely calm, disturbed only by a little dog named Rosie who wanted a duck so badly, she waded straight into the water.

Back in the car, we drove along a winding road so narrow, two cars could barely fit side-by-side. Pausing briefly at a stunning, rocky waterfall, we proceeded to drive deep into the countryside, so far from civilization that at points there was no cell service.

J explained that landscape resembled Scotland’s, and that during the summer, it turns pink and purple because it becomes awash with heather. Though the moors were currently gold and brown, they remained nonetheless stunning. There in the middle of Irish nowheresville, nature stretching as far as the eye could see, I got to experience the kind of beauty that makes you want to shake your fist at humanity for accelerating global warming.

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Eventually, we made it out of Glendalough and back into Bray, where J drove us to the seafront. She handed A and me half a bagel to feed some disturbingly fearless swans and ducks, and then brought us to the beach, full of pebbles reminiscent of Nice’s beaches, even if the water wasn’t quite as blue.

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I may or may not have pocketed a few pebbles before J dropped us off at the station to take the DART, a sort of aboveground metro, back to Dublin.

Experiencing Irish Culture

Now jaywalking with the best of the locals, we fell prey to The Rolling Donut again before dropping by the National Photographic Archive. (Hey, how are we supposed to resist flavors like pistachio salted caramel?)

Anyways, the National Archive houses a fascinating exhibition on the history of the magazine Hot Press, along with some exceedingly salty commentary such as “to keep them (ho, ho) straight” and “Built them up like the wall that Donald Trump has been promising.”

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The rest of the national (free) museums are closed on Mondays, but luckily we had a backup plan: the Cruinniú na Cásca, or the Creative Ireland initiative. A free festival to celebrate contemporary Irish culture and creativity, in Dublin, the event was split into four parts and scattered throughout the city center.

In St. Stephen’s Green, the tents were mostly geared towards children, as we should have guessed by the massive playground, but we did get to see a tinsmith at work. Strolling through the park, pink flower petals strewn across the grass like spring snow, we also stumbled across a giant community drum where children were having the time of their lives.

On our way to Smithfield Square, we happened upon the Georges Street Arcade, a gorgeous indoor street market.

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A weirdly fancy Spar grocery store allowed me to do some people-watching as we consumed lunch, and then our journey  to our next destination helped us realize that Dublin is pleasantly walkable because all the main points are so close to each other. At Smithfield, we listened to the music for a bit before poking around the tents, which featured hands-on science, slap poetry, and graffiti.

Confusion greeted us at Dublin Castle, where we wondered why three separate lines were gathered outside one tent. It turns out that you could printmake one of three designs onto a free tote bag, so A and I promptly joined a line for a free Irish souvenir, waiting about half an hour to discover the struggle of making art. Printmaking session complete, we joined the new fashion trend of the draping the tote bags around our necks to dry like sad aprons.

Finally, we watched some incredibly enthusiastic people dancing to Irish music at Custom House Quay, including a girl casually Irish dancing her way down the street. Inside the dance tent, others attempted the tango, though the highlight occurred outside the tent, where a security guard happily danced away with an imaginary partner. Guess they have to do something to relieve the boredom?

Old Books and New Chips

Since Easter had emptied half the streets and closed half the shops, the native Dubliners off doing whatever they do to celebrate the holiday, A and I happily slept in and had a late start to our day.

It was about time to cross off #1 on our things to do list, so we returned to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells and the library. Except we took one look at the line of dedicated tourists, went NOPE, and shelled out an extra 2.5€ to purchase our tickets online and skip the queue.

To pass the time, we dropped by the Chester Beatty Library, a museum with a misleading misnomer. I delighted in the Arts of the Book exhibition, because books are always lovely, and got to see some of the most incredible illuminated books and intricate Qu’rans. (For once, like a good tourist, I obeyed the “no photography” sign, so you all will just have to make do with creating your own books in your imagination. To make up for it, have a picture of the Dubh Linn Gardens as viewed from the museum terrace.)

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We returned to Trinity College, bypassing a line that had shrunken considerably due to the rain, and joined the flood of tourists  in the museum exhibition. Trying to get to the glass case housing the Book of Kells was like being a salmon swimming upstream against the current, so I only glanced at the book briefly; I was more interested in the library, anyways. (Again, I behaved myself, so unfortunately you don’t get any illegal photos of the manuscript.)

Ah, the Long Room of the Old Library. I’ve found my new home. Welcome to a book lover’s paradise, where you inhale the scent of old books with every breath and gaze at more books than you could ever read.

Reluctantly, I kicked myself out of the library, and then we took advantage of the National Gallery’s free admission. Most of the place was being renovated, but we did get to see student imaginings of future Ireland that ranged from adorable to impressive, and numerous European paintings influenced by French artists.

Grumbling at the winds that stopped us in our tracks, we popped into a restaurant to grab dinner, where I had an introvert moment that ultimately turned out to be successful: I wanted chips but didn’t want to stand there reading the flavors, so I grabbed a bag at random. “Mature Irish cheese and red onion flavor” sounds odd, but it actually ended up being surprisingly tasty.

PS. Madeline agrees that we should move to the library. I’m a terrible influence.

(Me: Let’s move there illegally. Our new home.”

Madeline: oh fuck yes.)

Dear Dirty Dublin

Dodging a multitude of people attempting to hand hapless tourists bus tour flyers, we began our day with a proper power breakfast: donuts.

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We then joined a free 3-hour walking tour, which covered the highlights of the northern Dublin: the Spire, O’Connell Bridge, Trinity College, College Green, the Bank of Ireland, Temple Bar, Dublin Castle, Dubb Linn Gardens, Christ Church Cathedral, and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Fun facts from the guide:

  • Ireland is a neutral country, which sounds like a good thing, except for when the soldiers were clearing out the remains of a statue to make way for The Spire. They grossly overestimated the amount of munitions they’d need, and blew out every window along O’Connell Street
  • Ireland’s most famous feminist is Constance Markievicz
  • Trinity College’s first dean said that women would only study there over his dead body, and a year after he died, the first woman enrolled. Rumor has it that women then proceeded to fulfill the dean’s wishes by marching right over his grave whenever they entered or exited the college. You go, ladies!
  • Vikings introduced the Irish to toilets; Vikings did not actually have horns on their helmets–credit for that goes to Christianity, who attempted to portray them as devils; and Dublin was actually a Viking settlement
  • the Irish word for whiskey, uisce beatha, does not help stereotypes because it translates directly into “the water of life”
  • Tom and Jerry gave Christ Church Cathedral its fame, aka a guy found a  mummified cat and rat in an organ pipe
  • Though it was illegal to be gay in Ireland until 1990, at least the country was the first in the world to legalize gay marriage through popular vote

Previously, my knowledge of Ireland came from spring-semester English lit class, where we sadly only got to cover the Easter Uprising, Joyce, and Bowen. But, I ended up loving Irish literature so much that I turned in a 12-page final when the max page limit was 10…no, I don’t have a problem.

Our noses helped us retrace our steps to the Temple Bar food market, where we were tempted to consume everything in sight. I ended up getting chicken dumplings to revive the Asian in me, remembering my manners enough to tell the guy “thank you” in Chinese.

Since the sun was gracing us with its presence, we strolled along the River Liffey for a bit and poked around the Ha’penny Market and a bookstore, and I fed myself bubble tea.

I then spent a solid two hours exploring the city, getting to know “dear dirty Dublin,” as Joyce called it. The city’s architecture is honestly fascinating, a seemingly bizarre mixture of brightly brick and brightly colored facades that somehow manage to merge seamlessly together.

Finally, thanks to a recommendation from one of my professors, A and I met up again and enjoyed dinner at Cornucopia, a vegan restaurant with salads that I seriously need to learn how to make.