‘Where the Hell Have You Been?’: A Retrospective

How do you say ‘my bad’ in French?

It’s not that I didn’t have anything to write about for the last few months, quite the opposite.  And now I’m up against it.  Eight weeks later and it’s time for another vacation.

So, to whet your palate, a Christmas newsletter of sorts.

Part 1

Thanksgiving in Gap (yeah, I’m takin’ it way back) was a family affair.  Teaching assistants all over town pushed their hotplates to the limit before crowding into the one private apartment between us, that of the very game Maddy and Sarah.  Wrangling chairs from desks and outdoor furniture sets, the Europeans waited as we Americans looked dumbly at a beautifully cooked, but frustratingly intact turkey.  With German assistant Ha Nam’s help, I stepped up, doing my best Dick Bohlander impression.

And then WE ATE!

In December, I visited my friend Alizée for a 30-hour stay in Paris.  No, seriously.  Alizée spent two semesters at Pitt on exchange from Sciences-Po and happened to sit next to me on the first day of a political science course.  After seeing her scribble something in French in her notebook, I decided I was not going to let my first French friend slip away.  Good thing I didn’t learn to keep my eyes on my own paper.

Arriving at her apartment on the Left Bank at 9am on a Saturday, it was really nice to see Alizée two years after she left Pittsburgh.  Her apartment is adorable, plus she is a great hostess. (This is my third stay in France, I really shouldn’t be surprised by this anymore.)

A good friend takes your picture in front of a beautiful tea salon. A great friend waits til you're off the phone.

Alizée wanted to know which parts of Paris I had yet to see.  And then she took me to see them!  We were unstoppable: the Eiffel Tower, the Marais (the Jewish quarter); Sciences-Po for the judging of a literary contest; Le Bon Marché, one of the fanciest and oldest department stores in Paris; and the Christmas displays in the Parisian equivalent of Macy’s Herald Square.  Then, Alizée invited me out to dinner with a few of her friends, all of whom were lovely and would have been perfect for a ‘fashion on the street’ feature in a magazine.  Oh, and I learned about Miss France, which is exactly what it sounds like and has secured a permanent spot on my radar.  Finally, we met up with a couple of Alizée’s friends for a drink.  What a classy place.  They could have handed me some PBR, and I still would’ve paid 5 euros for it.

Quick as it was, the trip to Paris was so worth it, and I had no idea just how serious Alizée was about showing me the Paris I’d never seen before.  Someday I hope I can return the favor…I wonder if she’s interested in seeing a side of the Philly suburbs/Central Jersey she’s never seen before?

Head-to-head: Gap vs. Grenoble

Here are a few pictures of Gap, though I need to get some more of the old city itself (I get a little uncomfortable giving myself up as, for now, a tourist).

My favorite thing about Gap, so far, is how unexpectedly the mountains emerge from behind the buildings

Gap is not really known for its charm, but it is a very active city.  We’ve been told over and over how ‘sportif’ its residents are, especially in the winter.  And, walking around, it’s very clear why this area attracts this kind of person.  I’m still not quite used to seeing an Alp appear, as if out of nowhere.  Sorry, Appalachians, but height-wise, you’ve got nothing on these big honkin’ things.

I’m not teaching yet, but my roommate Emily and I have been very warmly welcomed by all of the teachers and school staff we’ve been introduced to so far.  Actually, two nights ago, we had both of our burners going full blast when our electricity cut out.  After leaning an inadvisable distance out of our windows, we concluded it was not a building-wide issue, so we took to wandering around school grounds hoping that someone had stayed beyond the normal 8pm dismissal.  When we saw a woman who looked like she knew what she was doing escorting a student into our building, we approached her.  We demurely said the standard niceties, but the poor woman still looked a little taken aback.  As soon as we uttered the words “We’re the language assistants living in the boarding school” she immediately relaxed and directed us to a ‘Monsieur Pic,’ who came to our apartment, pushed a green button, and made us feel like fools for being so nervous about getting our electricity back.

Yesterday, some of the teachers at our school were faire-ing la grève (they were on strike).  Apparently the French government is hard up for cash (ring any bells?) and has gotten rid of a lot of teaching positions since last year.  The teachers we’ll be assisting have warned us that they’re overworked this year, some classes have as many as 35 kids.

Since they weren’t around, Emily and I took an early morning bus to Grenoble, the closest large city.  Grenoble seemed nice, though admittedly we went with no preparation and still don’t know if we really ‘saw the sights.’  Nevertheless, we walked around the centre ville (usually the oldest part of any city), had a decent lunch at a restaurant couscous (a restaurant that serves Moroccan or North African fare that’s probably been adjusted for French taste), and took a cable car to the top of a bluff overlooking the old city.  Sometimes Grenoble reminded me of the prettier parts of Paris and other times it seemed like a standard European city.  Regardless, we had beautiful weather and it could be good to go back for a festival or special event.

  

Bon ben, à plus!  MB