The Past Week(s?)

Not a whole lot has been going on lately because I’ve had my butt on the couch most of the time since knee surgery.

J and I did get out to see Anaïs at our village hall last Sunday. No kidding, the local music association got Anaïs to come (well, they paid her obviously) to come to our little suburban village, in the hall where we got married. Anaïs’s last album didn’t take off, but she gave a great show and you could tell she is really talented.

Yesterday morning J left with the regional youth climbing team to this place and I am a bit jealous though okay with not having to take care of any teenagers 24/7 for the moment. That time will come for me, when I go to Slovenia (yay!) with my students in the spring.

We came across a French television series the other night that we actually liked: Dix pour cent. But I still don’t understand why French TV channels think it’s worth it showing two episodes per week on the same night.

Finally, that professor at my alma mater won the Booker Prize.

So, that’s all, I’ll just go back to sitting on the couch now.



I read books, every once in a while, when I find something I want to read. Actually, I really love reading. And recently I bought a book for my kindle called Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents, by Elisabeth Eaves. Highly recommend, at least, to anyone who is even slightly addicted to traveling. In the book, Elisabeth travels extensively, to put it mildly, going on lots of different types of trips—some like trips I’ve taken, some like trips friends of mine have taken, some trips that I would never take.

I’m not trying to write a book review here, but trying to understand why I liked this book so much, and why I read it right now. I think it would have been different had I read it four years ago. And different if I hadn’t started it right before J left for India.

I used to say on my couchsurfing profile that my current activity was “wanderlusting.” During my first year in France, I went to Belgium, Spain, English, Scotland, and Germany. My second year, I went to Ireland, Poland, and Morocco. My third year, I spent three days in Turkey and a weekend in Barcelona. Since then, I’ve been wandering mostly around France. In short, the traveling has seriously diminished. That’s okay, in part, I mean, it used to be sort of manic, and I never much planned for it financially. And then, my desire to travel has also always been mixed with my wish to live in France. I remember flying back from Morocco in the summer of 2008, and seeing Paris below me as the plane started to descend made me smile and take a deep breath of satisfaction. I always enjoyed the sense of adventure that living in France gave me, and yet longed for the stability of a permanent titre de séjour and a permanent job.

In Wanderlust, Eaves says at one point:

Travel is life-changing. That’s the promise made by a thousand websites and magazines, by philosophers and writers down the ages. Mark Twain said it was fatal to prejudice, and Thomas Jefferson said it made you wise. Anais Nin observed that “we travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” It’s all true. Self-transformation is what I sought and what I found.

I think moving to France and, maybe more importantly, living in French, did create a new personality for me, maybe a new soul, the way Anais Nin put it. When I went home to Texas for my masters in 2008 I was afraid of losing something in the move back, and I think that “something” was this new “state” I had discovered by forcing myself to move to France (and I did force myself). I did things I didn’t expect I’d ever do, like wandering around Poland alone and driving in Morocco, staying in strangers’ homes and letting them stay in mine.

What’s the point of this post? I miss discovering new states. I’m jealous of J for getting to go so far away and for having the means to do it. I want to go somewhere very far, like China, or Australia. Instead, I talked my American friend Dan into going to Spain for a week next February (not much convincing necessary, really), and am hoping I can find a travel partner to go back to Ireland with me next summer. Any takers?

The CAPES "2011" écrits

Well, what to say? I took the CAPES Tuesday and Wednesday and I feel so. much. better now. The whole thing felt so shrouded in mystery. I’ve taken so many American tests that I hardly blink at them anymore, but this one felt like diving into foreign territory. And in a way, it was. But the experience itself was totally chill. I had to take a taxi in on Tuesday morning because I didn’t want to deal with the strike, but once I actually got there it wasn’t too stressful. The surveillants were totally nice, and they checked my copies both days to make sure I’d filled everything in right (though I did finish early both days). The room was about half empty the first day—that is, half the spots marked with names were empty. It’s not too surprising because lots of people had to register for 2011 before they got their results for 2010, but on the concours forums people are reporting in with much lower numbers than usual. Of course this is all informal information-gathering but it’s still interesting.

We were in the same room with the German CAPES and there were only three of us anglicistes doing the CAFEP. The girl next to me turned out to be an American—one of those slightly strange situations where you THINK you hear an accent but can’t presume, so we spoke French the whole time until Wednesday when we left the room at the same time and finally it came out that we were both anglophones.

If anyone’s curious, the commentaire was about an excerpt from Thoreau’s Walden (boy did that bring me back to high school), the thème was from Houellebecq, La possibilité d’une île, and the version was from Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. I’m not sure whether it helped that I’m a fan of hers and read the book when it came out. I won’t go into detail on each of the épreuves because, well, that’s sort of boring. But I feel like I did as well as I reasonably hoped to do, and that there’s a good chance I’ll be admissible. But we won’t know until the end of January! I haven’t decided if I’ll start working on the orals before I know if I’m going, but I’m leaning toward not, since the orals are in June (in Lille) and I’d like a big break from the CAPES.

Back to normal life! (for the time being)

I haven't blogged in a while,

sorry about that. It’s mostly because I have nothing cohesive to say. So here are just a few thoughts:

1) Some of the things the CNED profs correct me on in theme (so, in English) are adorable and wrong. Not so much wrong as unnecessary. Adverb placement where someone who’s read more in English would realize you can play with it more in certain instances. Eliminated pronouns where, actually, yes that’s fine. Turns of phrase that they don’t like because I guess they just haven’t seen enough English to realize that they’re possible and not that uncommon. (I’d be happy to give examples if anyone’s interested.) It’s weird to me because I know these are professors who’ve read lots of literature and literary criticism and translation. Next time I send in a theme I’m sending in a note that I’m a native English speaker. Unfortunately I can’t do that the day of the concours—I have to hope the actual jury is just a little more with it.

Also, one funny thing about using American English: it’s perfectly acceptable, but often the comment is added (not just by the CNED profs), “Be careful to be consistent.” Am 100% sure that comment doesn’t come up in the opposite instance, which is dumb, because I’m always consistent! My attitude is to take no risks and thus use no Britishisms.

2) Casino Géant > Monoprix. Like, 10x. I don’t know what I’ve been doing shopping at Monoprix all this time. Géant is on the way back from work and I’ve started shopping there and there’s soooo much more space and soooo much shorter lines and soooo many better chances to get SNCF S’miles for buying a certain toilet paper (40 s’miles!!!) or yogurt (more like 10). I’d been living in this horrible Monoprix world with no idea of what a better Géant world there was to be had.

3) Speaking of worlds, I just read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which just came out as a movie (also written by Ishiguro). Highly, highly recommend. Understated and sad with a little tinge of horror hidden behind the scenes and underplayed. I picked it out on my Kindle because for the concours I’ve been trying to brush up on English-language authors that I know very little about but find interesting. I thought about getting Remains of the Day but then saw that this was available and am so happy I did. It’s a super fast read. I’m sure the movie won’t come here so I’ll have to rent it when I’m home for Christmas. Next I got Paul Auster’s Timbuktu which also looks pretty sad. (Yay for my Kindle.)

4) Am going to Paris tomorrow very, very quickly (like, 24 hours) to get fingerprints done from the woman at the American Aid Society for my FBI background check which might be required for the concours, might not, but I’m taking no chances. So I’m covoituring tomorrow afternoon up to Paris to see ex-students A and C, then have my rendez-vous Monday at noon, and afterwards see Sarah K. and Lauren newly in Paris for the year. Then I catch my train back at 7:45. I have work to get done Tuesday afternoon in preparation for my first second-year class of the year on Wednesday. It’s gonna be fun, we’re going to do the Texas project.

Alice Kaplan, French Lessons

The first book I bought for my Kindle was Alice Kaplan’s memoir, French Lessons. I’ve read a few books about anglophones trying to make their way in France, and I enjoy them, but this book was different. Kaplan is a teacher and an academic, so her interest in French promised to be different from Sarah Turnbull’s or Polly Platt’s. (Almost French is a favorite of mine though—I even used it in class this year.)

The book was pretty much all I hoped it would be, and more. Of course the parts that spoke to me most were about her love of France and French and her feelings about teaching and learning languages. But there are other interesting chapters about what might be “fetishism” of French in American French departments, the relationship there among Anglophone and French expatriate professors and their relationship with the French language. That’s a career path I’m never going to go down but even from my limited experience with French departments (I was a French minor in college and took three French classes in graduate school) I could see some of it ringing true, or at least lingering (the book was written in 1987). And the bits about studying literature—even the parts about deconstructionism—were interesting to me as an ex-literature student.

My favorite parts, though, were about

1) living in and getting attached to a second culture and language
“Why do people want to adopt another culture? Because there’s something in their own they don’t like, that doesn’t name them. … French still calls out to me in the most primitive way. If I’m in a crowded room and there are two people speaking French all the way on the other side of the room, I’ll hear, loud as day, as though a friend were calling my name.”

“I’ve been willing to overlook in French culture what I wouldn’t accept in my own, for the privilege of living in translation.”

2) teaching languages,
“Talking cures: like analysts, language teachers are always in search of the foolproof method that will work for any living language and will make people perfectly at home in their acquired tongue.”

“Language teaching methods make for a tale of enthusiasm and skepticism, hope and hope dashed.”

“Moments like this one make me think that speaking a foreign language is, for me and my students, a chance for growth, for freedom, a liberation from the ugliness of our received ideas and mentalities.”

3) our relationships with our students, ,
“PhD students write their dissertations, and I don’t want to fail them the way that de Man failed me. How do I tell them who I am, why I read the way I do? … What do students need to know about their teachers?”

4) and smaller, sillier things that I remember about learning French myself.
“To this day I hesitate when I write ‘bras,’ still tempted to spell it without an ‘s.'”

The next time someone asks me why I like living in France, I might just tell them to read this book.

A few exciting things happened yesterday.

1) I got my kindle in the mail! I told my mom that since I can’t buy books here (1–recent English books don’t necessarily come here and 2–I can’t be lugging tons of books around when I move) I’d like to have a kindle for my birthday. My birthday’s a month off but the kindle is here now! It’s soooo cool. For the moment there aren’t many books in French available in the kindle store (unless you want to read Georges Sand, Victor Hugo, Balzac, Zola, or Jules Verne, so, I dunno, I might get one of the Georges Sand books), probably because they released it so much later in France. Am crossing my fingers they’ll add a few more but there are three or four available that look like they might be good. For the moment I’ve bought Alice Kaplan’s French Lessons which is not in French but, clearly, related to France.

2) The CNED released their inscription fees and dossiers, so I can finally sign up. (Although, registration for the actual concours has been pushed back to who knows when.) I could start working on it in June.

3) My convocation for my interview with the Catholic education for the pre-accord collegial  (this is all really hard to translate accurately—sometimes I wonder why I don’t just blog in French) arrived. It’ll be at a high school in Poitiers at the beginning of June.

Other exciting things:  Josh Ritter, uber-literate singer-songwriter, who talks about things like how we’re all a little like Hamlet, and whose “Monster Ballads” I can’t stop listening to, will be playing at the Galway Arts Festival and in Killarney in July. I love Killarney and I want badly to go. I also haven’t been to Ireland since that trip in April 2008. Does anyone want to come with?

In Turkey

So far this trip has been fab. I went to Paris Wednesday evening after tutoring a family I started tutoring a few weeks ago. I stayed with A who was just flying in from Switzerland. We ate Subway and played Nintendo. It was nice. Then I got up and went to CDG, flew to Munich where I spent four hours, and eventually made my way to Izmir and down to this resort hotel near Selçuk. I had asked the travel agency for the conference to reserve a private transfer for me from the airport (since I was arriving after 11 pm) and when I walked out of the terminal there was a man holding a sign with my name on it. First time ever.

I’m sharing a room with a friend of a grad school friend and she is very cool. The conference has been sort of interesting, with some ups and some not so ups. But it’s been good to be back in this environment again. I gave my presentation today and then we went to Ephesus. I can’t post pictures now because I didn’t bring my camera cord with me.

One nice thing about this is that all of my meals were included in the registration fee. Need to keep self from stuffing self. Tomorrow I hope to see one presentation in the morning, go to the beach, eat lunch, see another presentation, and return to the beach. I’m working on my self-imposed extensive reading in French. I finished Les Années in the Munich airport and it is a beautiful book and also helped me learn a lot more about France since the war. Right now I’ve started Sylvie Germain’s L’Inaperçu which is also turning out well.

Here’s a link to the presentation I gave this afternoon about anglicisms and French EFL learners.