Monday, December 24, 2007

Let's get this clear

It never ceases to amaze my family (certain members of whom are Kingsmen) just how many people misunderstand the nature of the King's Christmas Eve carol service, partly through misinformation (or lack of information) from the media. The most common misconception is that the Television Service entitled "Carols from King's" is the same as the service one can hear if one tunes into Radio 4 at 3pm on Xmas Eve, which it is NOT.

Today, I met an alternative misconception, when someone referred me to this article, saying that it was telling lies because it implied that the service was broadcast live. Well, I had a look, and this article tells no lies because it refers only to the Nine Lessons and Carols, NOT to the TV version. So let's explain:

There are TWO carol services that take place in King's Chapel and are available over the Christmas Weekend via various media. The two services are NOT re-runs of each other, they are *different*.

1. The original service, begun in 1918 (the history of which can be read on the King's College Website), is known as the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. It is, every year, sung at 3pm on December 24th, to a congregation made up partly of members of King's College, and partly residents of Cambridge City, who queue up for the privilege of attending this service. It is broadcast LIVE by the BBC (on radio 4 and the world service) and is then re-broadcast on Christmas Day by radio 3. It consists of the traditional NINE Christmas bible readings, interspersed by a selection of Choral carols (different every year) and the congregational favourites (which remain much the same from year to year, though not always identical). It is also for this service that the soloist for the first carol is chosen only a few seconds before the chapel goes live to the world.

2. The "other" service is known under the label "Carols from King's" or other pseudonyms. It is recorded in advance (usually around the beginning of December) and is broadcast on television over the Christmas weekend. This is not the same as the radio service at all: not only is it recorded on a different day with a different, invited congregation (and never broadcast live), but it is also a different structure of service, and the selection of choral carols at this service is often (if not always) somewhat different to the Christmas Eve selection.

So, if you watch the TV one as well as listening to radio 4, you will get double the dose of King's. How lovely! But if you are to choose only one, then do make it the live one (on the radio). Ever so much more exciting. Ever so much more REAL.

Merry Christmas…everyone

If you haven't had a Christmas card from me this year it is (probably ;-) ) not because I didn't want to send you one…rather that the sending didn't quite happen. So instead I shall assume that you are all reading my blog, and will take this opportunity to wish you ALL a very happy Christmas!

I come from hevin heich to tell
The best nowells that e'er befell.
To you thir thythings trew I bring
And I will of them say and sing.

This day to you is born ane child
Of Marie meik and Virgin mild.
That blissit bairn bening and kind
Sall you rejoyce baith hart and mind.

Lat us rejoyis and be blyth
And with the Hyrdis go full swyth
And see what God of his grace hes done
Throu Christ to bring us to his throne.

My saull and life stand up and see
What lyis in ane cribbe of tree.
What Babe is that, sa gude and fair?
It is Christ, God's Son and Air.

O my deir hart, yung Jesus sweit,
Prepair thy creddill in my spreit!
And I sall rock thee in my hart
And never mair fra thee depart.

Bot I sall praise thee evermoir
With sangis sweit unto thy gloir.
The kneis of my hart sall I bow
And sing that rycht Balulalow.

16th century Scottish

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Medieval jews and queer theory

The reason why I am somewhat incommunicado and busy this vacation is that I am busy working on a rather bizarre and quite wacky dissertation. I shall tell you more when it is finished!

Chez moi

Finally…I returned to Lyon. And it felt like going home! As the plane (yes, sorry, when I have a salary I will take the train…) came in to land, it was like I'd not been home for months and finally this was it. Funny, really, since it is a foreign country and my friends and flatmates from last year (not to mention the flat itself) have largely moved on. That aside, Claire and I had a wonderful few days enjoying this year's Fête des Lumières, wonderfully hosted by Alexia and Iole, and with a scrumptious dinner care of mathieu keegan and greg…we also saw Alexia's latest play, and met up with several other friends. It was lovely. That is the main point. There came a moment, sometime, when Claire said to me, Where is your home, really? (we were talking, predictably, about Oxford at the time) and I had to admit, I don't really know any more. Oxford is–and isn't; Cambridge is–but which Cambridge more? –and now Lyon? How many homes can one have? I remember once having a conversation with Pipsi, well a "discussion" because she was holding out the view that unless one had really "lived" in Oxford (by which she really meant grown up there) then Oxford could never by your home; I disagreed and said that once you'd been there three or four years as a student it would probably be just as much your home. But maybe there's only ever one home that can make you homesick, and is that a house-home, a town-home or a people-home, I wonder?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

An ode to the river Cam

If you had seen me on saturday of 8th week you would have observed me wearing a t-shirt that read:
Selwyn 1st ladies' novice VIII 2007
"Like a first boat, but in miniature"

Yes, it's true…I finally "succumbed," as they say, and rose to the challenge that had been tempting me since second year, of combining being a linguist and being a choral scholar with being a 'boatie', so this term I noviced, while seeing how long it took people to notice (quite a while, for those I didn't tell!). Yes, it made life rather more hectic than I'd have liked at times, but I fit it in, and it was LOTS of fun. NW1 were an excellent crew and we did really well, coming 8th in clare sprints and 9th overall in Fairbairns at the end of term.
I have finally understood why so many people give up their sleep time in order to freeze in a small contraption on the Cam…of course, non-rowers still think I am insane and have just caught the rowing bug…well, if that's what it is, I think I'll hold onto the bug for a bit longer thanks :)

On being a fourth year…

Rather unsurprisingly, it has been a whole Cambridge term since I last wrote here (only two more to go!). It's been a long, busy one–but also one of the most fun. Where to begin? My grown-up fourth yearness might have to spill over into more than one post I think!
Work wise, term has been relentless, starting with the panic that accompanied the part II oral exam followed reasonably closely by the project deadline, all muddled up with a good dose of the start of new courses. It settled into that lovely 2 or 3 essays a week rhythm, where it sat for the rest of term fully ensuring I feel less ready than I might to write my dissertation over this vacation (which must be done). That said, all papers and suchlike are proving interesting and I seem to understand most of the complex psychoanalytical theory that now accompanies them so all well so far. Choir has been going well…if a little dull at times (particularly the last couple of days learning a whole load of new music for a recording after xmas…).We're losing our dean of chapel now and getting a retired bishop to replace him for the next two terms, which will be superb. Meanwhile this last term I've been serving in Trinity chapel on Sunday mornings a few times, it's been nice to get back into serving a bit and getting out of the Selwyn bubble a bit more than usual (plus, they do sing quite well there…;-) ).
Of course the most remarkable thing about this term has been going back to university life after so long "outside the bubble". At first it seemed very strange indeed, we linguists were keen to get back into doing something a little more intellectual, after quite a decent break from the pressures of tripos…but we weren't quite so sure about the whole collegiate bubble. Coming back early to face exams wasn't a great way of breaking us into it, and it was daunting seeing the number of unfamiliar faces around college-really did feel like we shouldn't be there any more! Yet once we'd got into the fourth year mould, things got off to a really much better start. I went and pretended to be a fresher (rather successfully!)for the usual first night in the bar…and managed to meet quite a lot of second and third years, which was great! Also met lots of linguists in that first week, and one of them very aptly observed much later in term that the fourth year linguists (or the "F" crew as we are sometimes known now) have this wonderful laid back "je ne sais quoi" aura about us, and it really is quite true: despite having a lot of work, we seem to manage to care an awful lot less about it–no, that's not fair– to *stress* an awful lot less about it, than we did in second year. It's work we have to do, and we do it…and then we get on with life as best we can. We've had some lovely girly friday evenings with a bottle of wine, and although we've also been working hard, we've had time to get to know this year's college community a bit, in our new role as great-grandmothers. It's been tiring, it's been hard work, it's felt very very strange at times–but it's been a very good term, and culminated in what I think was the best snowball of my selwyn career, so I am enjoying fourth year. Let's see what the rest of it brings along…
I'm off to Lyon on Saturday morning to experience this year's fete des lumieres, and see some friends and colleagues from last year. I can't wait! More updates will follow I'm sure…

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Diaries of an Ecumenical Steward #3

One day in Sibiu, Alex and I had ten minutes spare (a rare thing) and we were in Piata Mare, so we decided to go to the the catholic church. Inside, some kind of modern band/choir were singing. Alex remarked on how it didn't feel like a church; he was right, it really didn't. It would have been easy to think we'd come to some kind of teenagers' party, if only there hadn't been so much marble and gold paint around. So we ended up having a discussion about what is and isn't appropriate in church, what kinds of music our different traditions used in worship, and so forth…as I say, we only had ten minutes so that's as far as it went for the time being.

A week or two on, I was amidst preparing for my oral exam (on Secularism in France/EU) and had just come across an article entitled "Redonner du peps à l'Eglise Catholique" about rejuvenating the catholic church in Brazil, when I was chatting to Razvan online and we happened to get onto a discussion of a similar topic. Razvan is studying orthodox theology and was very much in agreement with me on most of this modernization stuff (which, incidentally, wasn't ALL negative, only in part). At some point in the conversation came "after all, church is not a party" and then Razvan came up with this gem:

"Church is a big party for your soul, because your soul are meeting with God and they have an ecumenical party."

In my ignatian cell group years back we used to like playing with plurals ("where were God?"), but it's not the creative use of plural in this that makes it utter genius: it's simply the most original way of describing what it's all about that I've heard in a long while. And it still doesn't make church a party in the way that the teenage rock band might want it to be.

I've put it on my wall, so that I read it every day…I think it's worth at least a week's worth of 1-minute reflections.
As it happens, the dean of my college is having an "ecumenical party" for the freshers this week. I am intrigued as to what exactly this will mean, and so may go along for a while. Somehow, I suspect that although it may be fun it won't be half as rewarding as the ecumenical party our souls will be having next time we're in church.
I also suspect it won't be half as actively ecumenical as its name might imply. Let's see.

Maybe sometimes we are tempted to forget how much fun church can be just because it is church. And while we're remembering, we might also want to pray for Razvan's vocation to spread that message.
"Church is a big party for your soul, because your soul are meeting with God and they have an ecumenical party."

Diaries of an Ecumenical Steward #2

Diaries #1 is now updated with the full version of the report I wrote for my parish magazine, and it's more than three weeks since we returned from Sibiu, even though it still feels like yesterday and I'm sure I'm not the only one who wonders from time to time why we can't just drop all this termtime faff and get back to stewarding! Certainly to judge by the messages coming through from my fellow steward friends, there is a strong feeling that we don't want to let go of what we learned and built up in Sibiu. So I think it's about time for some more 'everyday' memories from EEA3. Cut with the churchy speak, it's time for the postcard chat!
My journey began with meeting Yee and Gordon at Heathrow–and proceeding to waste an hour or so on the other side of security, during which we contemplated the various things on offer (Harrod's Caviar or some Swarovski, anyone?) before boarding our BA flight to Bucharest. We'd chosen seats (online) with extra legroom, so we had a very comfy flight indeed and I was excited to discover that Romania was really quite a lot further away than I'd imagined. A few hours later, we were in Bucharest airport contemplating finding a decent, non rip-off taxi, in strange currency and with a significant language barrier. We succeeded, thanks to a little help from Gordon's travelguide, and ended up at the hostel which had changed its name and lost our booking but (thankfully) had a room for us. Bucharest didn't top my "fab cities" list. We didn't have time to see it all, by any means, but what we did see was still very much something that could be, or maybe had been, lovely–but wasn't. That said, it was great to take a guided tour of the parliament building (second largest in the world)–incredible. And the transport was very cheap and worked. At 3.30, thanks to Gordon's superb organization via a travel agent, we boarded a train bound for Sibiu. Five hours later (having used almost all my pocket tissues–the first of many loos without paper!) we alighted to find a very smiley bunch of people clad in yellow "volunteer" scarves and waving a colourful "EEA3" flag–a great relief! They were our first Romanian buddies, and we were very grateful indeed for their help in getting us to our hostel. Once there, we installed ourselves in our rooms and started to get to know people–unfortunately we'd missed the first 'get to know each other' session by arriving just too late, but soon people began to arrive back from that. Apart from Stefano, who had arrived on the train with us, the first friends we made that first night were three Romanian students, Alex, Alex and Razvan, who were living at the end of the corridor and who immediately introduced themselves and even began to teach me a bit of Romanian!
Days 1-3 of the Stewards' programme were largely spent at the Orthodox Theological Faculty, which was our base. 20 minutes walk to breakfast from the hostel became much more enjoyable once we arranged little meetings at the front door. The faculty was, as it happens (certainly did in much of Sibiu this year), a building site–they got it just about presentable by the time the main delegations arrived, but not for us!–and we were all desperate to know what our tasks would be for the main assembly, but all of this was put aside while we enjoyed getting to know one another, shared 'hopes and fears' about the week, prayed together, sang together, drank coffee together, ate ice cream together, laughed about never properly having appreciated toilet paper before, and admired a market of traditional pottery in Sibiu's main square. Our evenings were spent "culturally" telling each other about food, drink and customs from our various countries. Before long we'd bonded as one big family and could hardly imagine that this routine was going to get shaken up by the arrival of the "others".
Yet shaken up it was indeed, as Wednesday saw us all divided into different teams posted around the town to register delegates arriving for the assembly. In my role as Head Steward for the VIP team, I was coordinating a team of six other stewards working to register the most "important" delegates at their hotel. Sound simple? Sadly not quite so–the hotel was still being decorated on wednesday morning, the "office" from which the VIP section was being run was still without phone or working printer, and the databases available to us never had the right lists with the right names in the right place at the right time. Despite these hurdles, we got through the day and even made friends with a few of the arriving VIPs. That was the toughest day but the next was to bring us plenty of fresh challenges as the conference got underway. We needed to be in three places at once, registering those not yet kitted out with badges, seating the others in the tent, and manning the office and vVIP lounge. Part of the stress of that day was simply not knowing where we'd be most needed at any given moment, so needing to run back and forth from tent to hotel–and not being allowed through the quick entrance because the president of Romania was there. Sigh. Part was just having to force the press away from the main stage. Sigh. Still, amongst all of this was a sense of really helping–no joke, the thing could never have happened without our team–far better that way than being bored! The remaining days of the conference were somewhat less stressful and we had more time to listen to the speakers and discussions, to chat to each other, even to laugh at our job ("list" was enough to give the secretary and I the giggles). It was still cold and wet at times, and very tiring, but not as daunting as it had been. Meals, when we had time for them, were a chance to exchange experiences with stewards from other teams, and to have intellectual discussions. Breaktimes sometimes meant wandering through the streets with another steward discovering all sorts of things we'd never have imagined about each other. In the evenings, after our "home groups" we relaxed together at the Youth Café or back at our hostel, had a little 'stewards' party' and attended a Taizé service. The end came far too quickly: after celebration of the birth of the virgin and two final Assembly Plenaries, the conference cumulated in a lovely celebration of light in the main square, that was televised live around Europe and in which many of us were able to participate (I read some bible verses in English, for example). No sooner was that over, than it was the big Goodbye for those of us who were (for some reason known only to…no one) leaving at crack of dawn the next day. And thus the assembly was over and we would take home with us all of these memories and far, far more…a wonderful feeling of having made great friends across the continent, our special songs in our heads and a warm feeling in our hearts like a sunny ray of the light of Christ. We were sad to leave Sibiu, our friends, our jobs, but determined already that we would indeed meet again.

Friday, September 21, 2007

After a week in bonnie Loch Lomond…

Bog bog rock bog stream stream bog bog…eek!

Next time I go walking I shall take a dictophone to record the soundtrack of the day. In its absence, I'm afraid you will miss out on the eccentric bursts of song, stupid jokes and other jollities that filled our days on the munros. But the above gives a rough idea of how those days panned out. In four days we climbed six munros, got cold, got wet, almost got sunburnt, fell over, went up gradients as steep as 1:1, mended our tent with a bin liner, and discovered that tesco caramel wafers aren't nearly as good as Tunnock's. We also played a lot of racing demon. But most of all, we will remember the bog :)

Diaries of an Ecumenical Steward #1

Some of you may have noticed that a week or so ago, a new section of links appeared on my blog. They direct you to various sites (appropriately, not only in English) about the third European Ecumenical Assembly, or EEA3, in Sibiu, Romania. I myself was privileged enough to attend this assembly as a steward, one of over 100 like-minded individuals from over 30 nationalities: we had at least 26 native languages between us and yet over the ten days that we were there, both prior to and during the conference itself, became one family. This was, and I think I can safely speak for most of the stewards here, the time of our lives. It wasn't all easy: more of that to come, but it was a wonderful experience and we are bursting to tell all about it to anyone who cares to listen.
This will happen in instalments as I am amidst packing to return to university and can't possibly write all about it in one go…but to begin with, I leave you with the report I've prepared so far, and with a link to my own photos of the event.

What can 2500 Christians from over 30 nations of Europe do about ecumenism in just four days?

This is what the stewards were wondering as they gathered in Sibiu, Romania on August 31st. 120 young people sent by Christian youth organisations across Europe, we had come to prepare for the arrival of the delegates to the third European Ecumenical Assembly on Sept 4th, and to ensure that the assembly ran smoothly. Five of us had come from the UK; two of us were Anglicans.

Of course, the problem with ecumenical events is that only those interested in ecumenism go, and not those who would rather not make friends with the other churches, or those who are too tied up in the worries or divisions of their own church. So if it seems like you’re achieving something while you are there, that soon seems a very small something. The problem with ecumenism itself, on the other hand, is that no-one dares say anything that might offend the others, and so no one says what they need to say and you can have as much dialogue, dialogue, dialogue as you like, without achieving anything in a real sense.

That is why, once every ten years, 2500 Christians gather to make progress on Ecumenism in Europe. Aided by the stewards, they spend four days discussing the “Big Topics”. This time, the title was “The Light of Christ Shines upon All”, and discussions were on Unity, Spirituality, Witness, Europe, Religions, Migration, Creation, Justice and Peace. Many people, amongst them politicians, patriarchs and bishops contributed to these, seeking to build on the outcomes of the previous assemblies in Basel (89) and Graz (97). Many others were there simply to witness this discussion and take something new and progressive home with them. The final message, together with the separate youth delegates’ statement, can be read online at, and from that it might look like EEA3 didn’t achieve an awful lot. But what it did achieve was to re-open the door to ecumenical action around Europe, and to make us all aware of just how much we have ignored ecumenism recently, and just how much we need to wake up and do something.

At the end of the Assembly, the stewards who had come together from all denominations, nationalities and backgrounds, who had worked in offices, in the main tent where plenary sessions were held, in the Press office, the IT team, or the VIPs’ hotel, were one big tired family. Amidst renovation work, in the middle of the beautiful Sibiu, this year’s Capital of Culture, we had made friendships we will never lose, served God through one another and reflected for ourselves on the Assembly’s goals.
We reported back, in song, image and words, telling of our experience prior to and during the EEA3, and our message to the delegates ended like this:

We didn’t come here to say what has been said before.
The light of Christ shines upon all…but are WE willing to share it?

The Venerable Colin Williams told us all on our first day together that the important stuff of EEA3 would not happen in the plenaries; it would happen in those moments when we would talk to each other on a more informal level. This could not have been more true: wonderful as it was to attend a joint Anglican and Old Catholic mass in a Lutheran cathedral on the feast of the birth of the Virgin, the experiences that made EEA3 particularly special and memorable included having coffee with S.B. Gregorius III of Antioch, eating lunch with a Romanian bishop, discussing Apostolic succession with another steward from Romania, and getting to know an orthodox priest from Bosnia as I accompanied him to the main office on registration day. For some people I spoke to, I was the first Anglican, or even the first English person they had ever really talked to.
Inspired by this and by the example of H.E. Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, who started as a steward himself, we have each set out on our own ecumenical pathways. This is what being a steward is about: it is not just about working hard and going unnoticed, but about building bridges between ordinary Christians. We’ve each returned to our own churches and communities now, and the future will send us in many directions, but we know that amongst us many will go on to further work in Christian communities around Europe, and we hope that the friendships we have made will continue to be examples of those bridges.
Our facilitators made a series of t-shirts over the week. Amongst them, one read “St. Benedict was a steward. Later, a whole order followed him.” another, “H.E. Metropolitan Gennadios started as a steward” and a third advertised Mary and Martha’s own roles as stewards. I leave you with a copy of the assembly’s official recommendations in the hope that you too might become stewards in helping to build on these within your own communities.
May the light of Christ shine within us all, and until we meet again may God hold us in the palm of his hand.


We recommend renewing our mission as individual believers and as Churches to proclaim Christ as the Light and the Saviour of the world;

We recommend continuing the discussion on mutual recognition of baptism, being aware that the question is deeply linked to an understanding of Eucharist, ministry and ecclesiology in general;

We recommend finding ways of experiencing the activities which can unite us: prayer for each other and for unity, ecumenical pilgrimages, theological formation ….

We recommend the full participation of the whole people of God and, at this Assembly in particular, note the appeal of young people, the elderly, ethnic minorities, and disabled people.

We recommend that our Churches should recognise that Christian immigrants are not just the recipients of religious care but that they can play a full and active role in the life of the Church and of society; offer better pastoral care for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees; and promote the rights of ethnic minorities in Europe, particularly the Roma people.

We recommend developing the "Charta Oecumenica" as a stimulating guideline for our ecumenical journey in Europe.

We urge all European Christians to give strong support to the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations as an urgent practical step toward the alleviation of poverty.

We recommend that a consultative process, addressing European responsibility for ecological justice, facing the threat of climate change; European responsibility for the just shaping of globalisation; the rights of Roma people and other European ethnic minorities, be initiated by CCEE and CEC.

We recommend backing initiatives for debt cancellation and the promotion of fair trade.

We recommend that the period from the 1st September to the 4th October be dedicated to prayer for the protection of Creation and the promotion of sustainable lifestyles that reverse our contribution to climate change.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

On becoming a sister-in-law

So my sister is now Mrs Elizabeth Carr, which is most exciting indeed and (I think) very chic. And I have inherited a brother. Well, a brother-in-law, to be precise. He didn't look too impressed when I reminded him of this…but I think he was joking, seeing as apparently he is in fact no longer scared of me!
I am also now the only Miss Osborne left in my family, which makes me feel very grown up but rather babyish at the same time. And I'm told I could now become an aunty, even though I don't know how to knit booties. All these weird and wonderful things that happen when one becomes a sister-in-law. I think it will be an exciting new era in which I go to dinner at my sister's, or indeed invite them to mine (supposing such a place existed). Excellent, says I.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Big Weekend

One reason why I've not been writing a lot here recently is that I've mostly been working, which isn't very exciting, and away in Edinburgh for a weekend, which was somewhat more exciting. Another is that I've been getting ready for the Big Weekend of my sister Elizabeth's wedding, which is now over. We'd been gearing up to it for two years, and everything was planned out carefully so that it would be the perfect day. My job was to run around doing all the little jobs that no one else had time to do, and then to be an usher, followed by singing in the choir, moving flowers from place to place, and generally being on hand to do whatever needed doing. It was hard work, but definitely worth it for the great day that we all had, not least the happy couple of course, but everyone else involved as well: excellent sunny weather, scrumptious food and some lively ceilidh dancing, as well as the most beautiful cake I have ever seen. Really. And lots of lovely people many of whom I hadn't seen for far too long. What more could anyone want! A photo link will appear in due course…

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Snail Slalom (or, is this really summer?)

I came back from Germany expecting the heat wave that had found us in Heidelberg (35 degrees) to have found England too…but alas, a very large bucket of water appeared to have been thrown at the UK and it wasn't what we'd usually expect of "summer" at all. I was cycling to tesco one day and there were so many snails on the cycle path that it was nearly impossible not to run them over! Definitely not July. It's been a little better recently but I'm still crossing my fingers for the wedding on Saturday…!

Beer, Schnitzel and many German churches

No sooner had I returned from France than I plunged myself back into the Cambridge bubble with a week of rehearsals and concerts with selwyn choir, and then off we flew to Germany for ten days. With new people and new places (I had never been to Germany before) this was an altogether original experience, and turned out, as well as being fun, mostly nice weather, pretty, etc, to be the most easy-going choir tour yet! Not better than new zealand, mind you, which was on another plane entirely…but certainly a thoroughly enjoyable tour!
We visited Erfurt first, regional capital of Thuringia, dominated by the Dom (haha) and a second large church, both on a (mostly man-made I think) hill above the marketplace, and full of bridges, one of which is built up like a road such that you could walk across without realising it was a bridge at all! A nice town, but not particularly exciting, though they did have Eraclea hot chocolate, and Bratwürst in abundance.
While based there also sang in Weimar (in a church Bach himself had played in!!), very pretty town that felt just a little bit fake…like a theme park…probably because we bombed it beyond recognition (oops). Next up was Jena, Caroline's Year Abroad Haven. Unfortunately I wasn't feeling well enough that day to go on the Caroline Tour (I had a few hours of Helen's bug), but what I saw seemed nice and the church was big and lovely and full of people, most of whom seemed to be there for Caroline and some of the kids even sat in the front row with "Caroline, you are the best!" banners. Very, very cute. Highlights of the day were the Kartoffelhaus for dinner (every sort of potato you can imagine…and more!) and a lovely pub garden after the concert (mmm Weißbier!). Last in the little thuringian quartet was Gera, exciting church but otherwise unremarkable town.
After Erfurt, we moved on to Würtzburg where for the first time we had a day without a concert. This beautiful Bavarian town provided plenty of cultural sightseeing opportunities, and almost some bike hire (Millie and I were puzzled that the hire place appeared never to be open!). We took a guided tour of the Residenz, ate plenty of ice cream, walked up to the Schloss, and drank plenty of beer in a little courtyard tucked away at the back of the Bierkeller, before ceilidh-dancing on the bridge in the dark. A charming little town that was the first German location to put on my "liveable" list. Maybe Kirsti can find me a job there…
Next up was another wonderful town called Bamberg. The youth hostel turned out to be a couple of miles out of town, in a place called Bug. As we drove up to it, we passed a good three places offering mini-golf, and lots of people out in pedalos. Both activities were later indulged in, tremendous fun (and a hilarious argument between Ben and the Evil Pedalo Man). Bamberg itself, which we had several days to explore, was definitely the highlight of the tour, a stunningly beautiful town with some nice eating places and a town festival going on in the streets. Another one to add to my list…
On Sunday, we went to Bayreuth to sing a service in the Stadtkirche in the morning. This is Wagner's birthplace but, being a Sunday, most things were fairly shut. It was like an "ideal village" when we arrived: no litter, no cars, no people…the church was lovely, but undergoing repairs throughout, so the congregation were squished into the back corner and we were above in the organ loft! Some excellent preludes from the organist and computerised church bells (the real things would have made the scaffolding fall down…) were the order of the day. Afterwards we explored the town a bit, and drove past Wagner's opera house before heading back to Bamberg.
Last, but not least of course, came Heidelberg. Here we sang two concerts, the second of which was our last of tour, and unfortunately had the smallest audience (ironic given it was in the University church of our twin town!). That aside, it was the best concert of the tour by far, and so our holiday (and for several, their choir career with Selwyn) ended on a very good note. Heidelberg was nice, if a bit touristy, and very one-street-town. Laura was an excellent guide and took us up to the castle, down to the bridge and so forth. Again, ice cream was consumed and best of all, I bumped into Lena in the street! Wow. Talk about coincidences…
So, beer, schnitzel, churches, castles, bridges, bakeries, cafés, hostels, multi-lingual games of 21, Finzi, Bach, so on and so forth…it was all very nice and I even learnt some German!

…what's next?

One of my favourite quotable moments from children's literature is in The owl who was afraid of the dark. Plop, the baby barn owl, can't fly yet, so his parents bring him food. Each time he says "mmm, what was that?"and his parents reply, for example "a worm" and he says "I like worms, what's next?" Plop then transfers this to other things he meets in life, for example, fireworks: "ooh, what was that?" "A catherine wheel" "ooh, I like catherine wheels. What's next?"

I feel a bit like Plop, only perhaps a little more grown up. I feel like saying "oooh, I like year in France. What's next?"

Of course, the answer to what's next is Finals. If only a boy scout could explain what those involved like he explained fireworks to the baby barn owl. But in the meantime there are plenty of distractions in store. First of all, the summer holidays. A post about our recent choir tour to Germany will follow…then came a bit of work on the dissertation, mingled with the release of the last harry potter book (a few chapters left now…) and a 21st party for two friends on saturday, which involved a combination of bouncy castle and pouring rain…
More dissertation work to come, hopefully combined with some punting tour work here and there. I'll be off up to Edinburgh for a weekend, and then helping put the finishing touch to Elizabeth's wedding preparations: the big day is August 11th! Then at the end of August I'm off to Romania, but I shall write more about that nearer the time.
Persons in Cambridge and/or within reach of Cambridge, let me know and we shall meet up!

The End of an Era

No sooner was I back from England than Laura and Cristina, two of my best Italian friends, arrived on the train from Parma for the weekend, bearing much cheese and salami and enjoying a swift but fun tour of Lyon's best delights before dashing back again to face exams.
The last week of June then promptly disappeared in a muddle of flatmates coming and going, negociations with the next people to occupy our wonderful flat, worries about what to do with most of the furniture, packing, and a sense that we ought to be making the most of the last few days together and not faffing around with rental agencies, cleaning or furniture removal. We managed a couple of relaxed nights in during which most of my friends who were still in Lyon popped round to say goodbye, not that it felt permanent at that point! It didn't really sink in that we weren't coming back to live in that lovely flat until Gareth and I were walking along the road with our suitcases, and even then it felt rather as if we were going on holiday (well, Gareth pretty much was as he has now returned to Lyon, albeit to a different flat)! We met Louise, a girl I'd met at church and who was on an engineering erasmus year, at the airport, and travelling together distracted us a bit from the reality of leaving it all behind.
It did feel like the end of an era that week, and it was the end of this blog's first era too: I shall no longer be reporting much on the whims and wonders of the French lifestyle, although I shall attempt to carry on reporting the odd thing or two of interest from life back in the UK now that I am a grown up linguist (or something like that).

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

May Week Culture Shock

Last week was (for those who aren't in the know…) "May Week" in Cambridge, a week set aside after exams during which everyone spends their days lazing around in the gardens, punting in the sunshine, drinking pimms or champagne and eating strawberries at multiple garden parties, playing in under-rehearsed but very lively may week concerts, and, most importantly, going to May Balls. Given that this is rather a lot of fun, and, especially, that most of my friends had just finished their finals and so were celebrating the very end of their degrees and their last may week, I decided to return to Cambridge for a few days.
Of course, this also meant I could take half of my stuff (perhaps slightly more than half in reality) back home from France. So on Saturday morning I left the flat in Lyon, with an enormous suitcase weighing a good 30kg and my violin over my shoulder and caught the TGV to Lille. For the two hours from Lyon to Paris Charles de Gaulle I was sat next to a (French) soldier who was on his way to Iraq for three months, and who was looking forward (if somewhat apprehensively) to his 'retirement' in six months' time and wondering what life was going to be like for him back in the real world. He also told me about his weight allowance (35kg) that meant that after his gun (25kg) he could live from 10kg plus his hand luggage. That's a lot less than my 30 (ish) I was taking home!
After that the journey got slightly more boring. I had an hour and a half to waste in Lille Europe waiting for my eurostar, and then sat next to a german lady who was reading her newspaper (in german). Crossing London was hard work, though people were very helpful in giving me a hand getting my case back up the steps out of the underground. All went to plan and at 4pm I was back home just in time to have a brief breather before heading out to the week's first party, which was a bbq (under a makeshift gazebo) for Alastair's birthday. It felt bizarre to be back but lovely to see everyone, in particular Caroline who I hadn't seen for a whole 11 months!
Next morning, church, of course, followed by drinks at the Vicarage where I met Clare, a lovely girl who happens to have sung with Greg (the world is small), and to whom I was able to explain the mystery of the green and red shoes… In the afternoon, Cripps Court garden party, before collecting Mylene from the bus station and eating a quick dinner. We then ventured out again to the Selwyn May Week Concert: typically underrehearsed but sounding excellent for it!
The rest of the week flew by, as expected, in a haze of garden parties, fireworks, choir vegetarian feast, and so forth. On Tuesday evening I went to work at St John's may ball, in the rain, which proved great fun, the highlight undoubtedly being eating chocolate cake at a "birthday party" for Isobel and me in the middle of the night. Thursday came round remarkably soon and I left Mylène to find her friend Katie, and ran off to Stansted with hand luggage only, to arrive in Lyon just in time to go to one of my schools and attend their 'reporting back' evening on our trip to England: the children had clearly missed me so it was a nice welcome 'home'.
The funny thing was, it really did feel like returning home. May week, although endless fun and a great moment to see friends, was the most bizarre culture shock experience I'd had in a long time. I'm sure getting back in the "bubble" long-term will be less strange, but getting back into it, sort of, for a few days, was definitely an odd experience.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Une soirée franco-anglaise

Yesterday I was very kindly invited to dinner with Danielle and Denise, two of the lovely teachers with whom I survived a week of school trip to England, and Denise's family. It's something they'd been hoping to do ever since I finished teaching, and finally we found a good day. The meal included sausage à la Lyonnaise, and a very impressive trifle that Denise had had fun creating , but perhaps the most exciting part was the starter: snails! Despite the slimy reports I'd heard about them…they were actually okay! Just like mussels, without the fishy taste and with lots of garlic and parsley and butter. Mmm. Delicious…as long as you don't think about where they came from!
Here's a pic of me eating them:

Sunday, June 10, 2007

It's already June 10th?

Today Claire flew to Mauritius, accompanied (amongst others) by her big new rucksack, and by a friend with a broken rib. Meanwhile, Rebecca, Antonia and I went to Grenoble. Neither so exotic nor so risqué…but very very hot (it felt like we were inside a fan oven in the middle of the afternoon) and thundery. And France-on-a-Sunday-ish. After a wild goose chase to find the tourist office, coffee in a nice café, and a discussion as to how fast the trams went and whether or not a town like Grenoble might have a metro (this was the Parisian point of view…), we went to have a picnic lunch by the museum. After some tasty nibbling, we visited said museum, which was full of fascinating (if poorly explained) art, especially of the C20th variety, and which itself was incredibly well-built with a good layout and excellent natural lighting.
From here, we proceeded a short way back along the Isère as far as the "telephérique": it was at this point that we realised that within the next half hour it would be thundering and chucking it down…so we ascended the hill in our little bubble and had a quick look (and joke) at the 'little' alps we could see around the town (almost all of them higher than snowdon…). We then sheltered in a rather nice café/restaurant for a drink while the rain fell…looked around a rather disappointing astronomical exhibition, and then walked down the hill while the thunder continued to growl menacingly, mid a discussion involving astronauts and priests (!). At the bottom of the hill, after a little looking, we found what we were looking for: the "musée dauphinoise" which is a sociological museum about the area…the first exhibition we looked at (entitled "Les êtres fantastiques") was not particularly spectacular, but the second ("les gens des Alpes") was rather interesting and nicely set out.
Antonia left at this point as she needed to get back to Lyon, while Rebecca and I began our search for somewhere not too crummy, nor too expensive, open and serving food on a Sunday evening. This proved harder than we had initially imagined, but we did in the end find one which served us some nice crêpes.
Our verdict on Grenoble was…nice, but not very special.
Perhaps the most bizarre part of the day came after this though, as on the train home Rebecca was writing some notes ready for a piece she's writing about Lyon (it's to do with a job application, but I won't say more for now…). At this point she was looking for 5 words that sum up Lyon (in English). This was tricky, and so we were thinking out loud about it. The guy who was sitting next to us in the train decided to join in: he lived in Grenoble, but had studied in Lyon so knew it reasonably well. It turned out, during the course of our 1 1/2 hour conversation with him (not *all* about 5 words for Lyon!) that he is a "secouriste en montagne", in other words a mountain rescuer, super-skier, first aider, helicopter dude. We thought for a moment we might be on the way to an invitation to Chamonix…alas, it didn't quite materialise, but it was lots of fun hearing about his job and entertaining him with my crazy theories and rebecca's travel writing. And, as she said afterwards, at least we now know for sure that we'd be in safe hands on the mountains now!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A 7th flatmate…

I forgot to mention that we have a 7th flatmate…that's the kind of thing that happens here!
Rhiannon came to stay last week, it was lovely to see her and to help her discover a bit of Lyon (although what with her french course and the rain we didn't see everything…). Just at the moment she left, we gained a scottish girl. She's a qualified lawyer and teacher in the UK but has dropped everything to come to France, with the intention of learning French and probably staying here permanently. She was working on a boat but that went a bit badly so we're putting her up while she does the job-search and flat-search. Crazy things happen at number 6!

Les Chansons d'Amour

Yesterday we went to see a film. A French film. Entitled Les Chansons d'Amour. It had good reviews and someone (although I can't remember who) was telling me it was good the other day. The verdict was mixed: Mylène liked it, but was a little put off by the "bobo" parisian setting and thought the storyline lacked oomph and the music was too samey. Jeremie seemed a little more enthusiastic although maintained that he'd enjoyed Spiderman more…and I thought it was really Very Good. Perhaps because the fact that it was "very french" didn't put me off!
The film is set in Paris, in the 10eme arrondissement. It follows a young man named Ismael in his relationships, before, and largely after, a very tragic event (telling you more would spoil the effect). It's organised into 3 sections: Le départ, L'absence, Le retour. It is described, in official terms as a "comédie musicale" (a musical) but this is utterly misleading.
The only resemblance it bears to "musical" is the fact that the characters sing at various moments during the film. But there's none of the cheesy clichéd breaking into song that we automatically associate with "musical". The music is, as Mylène pointed out, very samey, but I thought this was part of the beauty of the film.
Enough waffle, I think. Suffice it to say that I thought this an excellent film. Poignant, sad, but very well made. The bad point? Very poor dubbing at the beginning (possibly intentional but it annoyed me anyway).
Watch it! Then tell me what you think…

A wave goodbye

The end of May brought with it the second wave of goodbyes here in Lyon, as Victoria, Claire and Chiara packed their suitcases and headed off back home. It's the end of an era, in many ways, but I know that they'll all be having fun and it won't be long before I see two of them…hopefully all three!
Meanwhile, I have just under a month left here in Lyon, which seems incredibly short! It's hard to believe the year has flown by so quickly, and these last months seem to be by far the quickest. Lots of people keep asking me what I'm up to now that I've finished my teaching job…well, to be honest, it's hard to say! A few cultural things: recent highlights have included the Fabric Museum, the Rake's Progress (Stravinsky) at the Opéra, and a few trips to the cinema. A fair bit of work: my translation project is plodding along, and I need to think about next year as well as prepare my oral exam topic…and a paid translation got in the way of all that last week! A fair bit of time also spent with my friends and flatmates to make the most of our last month in Lyon…and finally, all the faff that is involved with actually being able to leave this country at the end of the month: clearing the flat, changing addresses, etc.
Plenty of my friends back home have been sitting finals–good luck those of you who've not yet finished! It might still seem like I've been doing nothing in comparison…but then at least you don't have to do them next year :p

Friday, May 25, 2007

May: the lucky month

Antonia believes that this month is this year's lucky month. This is largely because she's had her first two articles published, her exhibition opened and visited by lots of people, and her dissertation is making good progress. Pretty good going, it's true!
Until Tuesday I was a little sceptical about this lucky business. For a start, it only seemed to affect Antonia, and secondly it appeared more like the successful end of several big projects than 'luck'.
However, on Tuesday morning I sat down with my dissertation and just as I began to work, my phone rang. I didn't recognise the number, but when I picked up it turned out to be Isabelle, a lovely girl who I happened to meet at a party earlier in the year, who did an Art History degree at the Courthauld, has a boyfriend as English as they come, and is currently working on a master's here in Lyon. When I met her she was looking for a viola player (what a surprise) because she wanted to form a quartet…and it so happened that I knew Rebecca, so I put them in touch with each other and they've been quartetting every week since!
In whatever time she has spare, it turns out that Isabelle also works for a company that make audio- and video-guides for museums. On Tuesday she desperately needed to find someone with the time to translate 70 minutes (14000 words) of French audio-commentary into English…by next Friday! The place in question is a Roman archaeological site in the North of France.
Now, as most of you know, at the end of April and beginning of May I 'deposited' (as the French like to say) 8 or 9 copies of my CV, carefully translated into French, together with wonderfully phrased covering letters (thanks to my flatmates) in various shops and cafés that were advertising job vacancies. Apart from a letter from the tourist office several weeks later simply informing me that they had no job available, I heard not a squeak from anywhere. This is not very surprising, as the French are very insistent on one having a) very specific vocational qualifications b) experience (i.e. 101 internships) and c) lots and lots and lots of motivation that will make you want to go back and nag the place every day for a week until they give you the job, oh and d) perfect 'presentation' which is their way of saying you must be beautiful.
I had pretty much given up, then, on the idea of making my rent money for June and July, or of working in a real French job…but then this came along, out of the blue, from somewhere I'd not even waved my CV past (because I didn't realise it existed…) and it is far more interesting, far better paid, and far more useful to me than any of those other jobs would have been. Hooray!
No sooner had I accepted the job, than I told Antonia. First of all she says, see: May is the lucky month. Then she says, hang on a sec, what's the company's name? And yes, it turns out that the world really is tiny, because the company is run by her Godfather.

In France, as elsewhere, it's not what you know that counts, it's who you know!
(I may disappear for a few days now: 14000 is a lot of words!)

A second 22nd

On Monday I was treated to an official birthday, as if (says she), I were the queen. Well, perhaps not quite that extravagant…but almost! Because my birthday fell in the week when Mymy and Jéjé had their exams, my flatmates decided that we would simply move my birthday to a suitable date later in the year: and that day happened to be last Monday. Unfortunately Max couldn't be there as he was on a 24hr stint at the hospital, but as he made my cake on my real birthday I forgave him ;-). The rest of us went to the Theatre des Celestins to a concert entitled "musique et poésie francaises" given by two Solistes de Lyon (the same singers I had worked with on and off during the year) and musicians from the Orchestre National de Lyon. The programme was very daddy-friendly, and included some wonderful Ravel and Poulenc. It was a lovely concert, although they didn't make as much of the "poésie" side as they could have: it was mentioned in the programme notes, which one can of course read in one's own time, but we weren't even given the printed text of the poems and no-one explained at the time what was interesting about the way they had been chosen/set to music.
After this little cultural morsel we went to get a totally different kind of cultural morsel which came as a total surprise for me. The place? Les Chats Siamois, a little Thai restaurant hidden behind place de la Comédie. Very calm atmosphere without intrusive music, excellent service and most of all absolutely exquisite cuisine. It's expensive as french restaurants go, but it is definitely worth it. We were very impressed. Strongly recommended! Oh and I didn't mention the dessert, hot chocolate and ginger cake…mmm.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Les Berges du Rhône

When I arrived in Lyon at the beginning of the year, the area on the other side of the Pont de la Guillotière, on the East side of the Rhône, was an enormous building site. What I didn't quite grasp when my flatmates were explaining that this was in aid of smartening the area up, was that previously, the banks of the Rhône had just been one big car park, and that now they were making a big effort to transform them into something nice (which, incidentally, Lyon badly needed as it lacks recreational green space in the centre). Ten days ago the work all finished and the Berges officially re-opened to the public, with two weekends of entertainment to get the people enjoying themselves along the river. And they're great. Each section of the river bank is named after an important woman (the nearest to my house is Marie Curie), and there are pretty boats, lawns, flowers, a stream-cum-paddling-area, climbing frames for children, roller-blading/bike paths, pretty lights in the evening, sitting space and so forth. Yesterday we went and sat on an area of decking and had a picnic. Very pleasant indeed. Well done Lyon.

Les Nuits Sonores et La Nuit des Musées

The last few days have been full of the crazy kind of event that I have only encountered in Lyon. The first of these (which is also the reason for a mass bike exodus late last night), is called the "nuits sonores", and involved about four nights of electro music all over the town. And not in particular venues: just in the street, dotted around the place all over Lyon, there were little temporary stages, and the whole place was taken over by a hoard of festival-groupies. Crazy, but fun!
The second is called "La nuit des Musées". It happens once a year. All (or rather, several) of the bigger museums in Lyon stay open all evening and, furthermore, are free (for a change). We went for a wander round the Musée des Beaux Arts, it was full of people and a lovely atmosphere, and there were students wandering round explaining various of the paintings, and I think also a few pieces of student artwork dotted around here and there. A very good idea!
While we're on the topic of "les nuits…", there will be "Les nuits de Fourvière" starting in June and going through til August I believe, which is a music festival taking place up on the hill. We'll see what that brings in the way of fun…

Les Velo'v

At the beginning of the month my bicycle plans were proving difficult because of the rain. Now everyone is using the bikes, which is proving almost equally difficult. This morning I went to seven stations on the way to church all of which were empty (so I walked all the way), and I went to five empty stations (different ones) on the way home, so ended up walking back too. ALL the bikes had gone from the centre of Lyon. Now I know why that is (post thereupon to follow…) but that doesn't make it any less annoying!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Commerce Equitable

For the uninitiated, that's the French for fair trade. This week I went for the first time to volunteer as a waitress at a café in the 7eme, that is a tiny fair trade place. Great fun: will be doing more of that. Meanwhile I learnt that although France has lots of (ex-) colonies in Africa from which it ought to be sourcing lots of lovely fair trade things, all of these are under the monopoly of fat French companies who don't allow fair trade a look-in and so all that is fair trade comes only from the english half of Africa. As a result, fair trade is not nearly as big or as popular here as chez nous, and these kinds of places have to fight really hard to exist.
How silly.

Didon et Enee

I've mentioned to some of you that I was helping out with my lycée's production of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas this year, at first by singing (and attempting to correct the choir's awful English), and later by playing the violin (and attempting to introduce some concept of 'baroque' to their playing). The performance, with dancers, costumes, 'thunder' sound effects and all, was on Wednesday. It was okay. The soloists, especially Dido, the sailor and the two witches, were fantastic. The dancing was good. The choir was decent if a little lacking in oomph at times, the orchestra got the right notes in the right places and the continuo put on a good show, so all in all, everything was very good standard for what was, after all, a school production. Comments were flowing in very favourably at the end. *Phew*.

Further than beyond…

Yesterday I went on a choir jolly. Well, not quite just a jolly because it did involve a concert. Anyway, it was at Banne, which is a little village lost in what is apparently actually the middle of nowhere (if what we saw on the way was anything to go by). In the last village we went through before arriving, the three old men sitting in the village square looked like they hadn't seen a coach for at least 25 years.
Although Banne is in Ardeche, which is a region that begins not far south of here, it is in the south of Ardeche and there are no good roads, in fact, there is nothing in Ardeche except vineyards and campsites, so it took us 4 hours to get there in our coach. This was rather dull, especially as Keegan, whom I was sitting next to, has a strong dislike for being cooped up in a bus, and as a result commentates the passing of the minutes…aaah, it was joyous. That said, the countryside was very pretty and the place where we arrived, that being the Château de Bannes, or at least its stables, which are most of what's left of it (it was destroyed apres the revolution on the grounds that it was a kind of royalist idea), was magnificent. The stable block had been temporarily re-fitted into concert venue, although no-one had de-cobwebbed, de-stalactited, or even made an effort to even out the floor. After a very delicious buffet supper (someone in the organising team for that choir gets a good deal for us every time!) we gave our concert, which was a collection of spanish polyphony including the 14th century Livre Vermeil de Monserrat, a Victoria magnificat, some silly spanish songs from the 15th cent, and various other bits and bobs. It was a lovely collection of music, and we were accompanied rather spectacularly by an early music ensemble who also gave a wee explanation of their instruments–fascinating :-) That said, we sang most of the programme far too loud (perennial problem of almost all choirs I've been in, but also this was not the right music for a 50-strong choir…), and it's a good job my sister wasn't there, as there were bats in the stables.
Some snapshots of the pretty countryside, along with the obligatory choir-on-the-bus photos can be found at The back end of nowhere
And with that, the end of my year singing with the Choeurs de Lyon Bernard Tetu/Choeur d'Oratorio de Lyon, as I'm missing out on their last concert, Poulenc Stabat Mater, in order to be back in Cambridge for May Week. It's been a good year. I've sung lots of lovely music, visited some places I certainly wouldn't have otherwise, sung in the Lyon Auditorium, learnt lots of things about France, music in France, etc, eaten lots of good French food, met lots of interesting people and made some lovely friends. It's gone very quickly, but it certainly made a good interlude in my Selwyn career.


Here's a story I forgot to write up here. It was very movingly told by a young father who goes to lyon anglican church, when i was there with Mymy on Easter Sunday. His name is David and he works in a village outside Lyon (there are a few details that I don't know–like what he does there–but they are not important for the story).
In this village lives a family with a young daughter (age 4 if I remember rightly) named Amandine. One day in March, Amandine was hit by a car (more details missing) and suffered head injuries. She was taken into intensive care, where she remained in a coma. Two weeks later, the doctors at the hospital took her parents aside and explained that it was time to consider switching off the machine: Amandine was brain-dead, she wasn't going to wake up. And yet her parents kept hoping, and everyone kept praying for little Amandine.
In week 3, in her coma, Amandine shed a tear.
The doctors said this was impossible: the part of the brain that controls the tear glands was long since utterly inactive. But Amandine proved them wrong. She woke up, she can now walk and talk a little and is on the way to making as full a recovery as one could hope.

Is that a miracle, or does it just demonstrate the limitations of modern medical science?

After three weeks, where did that tear come from? Why a single tear? What made Amandine capable of 'resurrection'?
These are questions I want to ask–we all do– but I think (those who were in the Ignatian group with me a few years back will understand the formulation I use!) that the question we should ask first and foremost is Where were God in this?
Some, including many of the people who were following Amandine's condition and praying for her recovery, explain it as entirely God's healing. They can't all explain all the why and the how– but they know that this time, their prayer was answered, and they trust that God has a why and a wherefore, that's part of their faith in Him.
Others believe God has no part in Amandine's recovery, and that we can't put scientific anomalies or dilemmas down to faith or miracle. Perhaps you believe that in a number of years medicine will be advanced enough to explain Amandine's case, and perhaps even to repeat it?
Some, of course, aren't quite sure what to think.

Fair enough–but put yourself in Amandine's shoes in a few years' time, and give it some thought. None of us have all the answers, but I'd be interested to hear what you think.

The hazards of Lyon

Today I encountered the worst case this year of one of Lyon's speciality hazards: pollen. It's a very windy day and the horse chestnut trees that grow all over the city, especially along the banks of the Rhone, are just at the right moment to be losing ALL their fluff. This fluff is not at all soft and fluffy when it is flying into your face, and quite apart from ensuring that you arrive at your destination utterly streaming with hayfever, it also prevents you from being able to see where you're going on a bike, which is sort of dangerous. If only I hadn't already sent my ski goggles back home…

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

and continue?

Tonight all is calm in Bellecour, but Jeremie and I just went to the kitchen to get a drink and happened to look out of the window. There were six minibuses of CRS and one unmarked police car, the men themselves were mostly just standing around doing nothing. At a certain moment, the boss gave the thumbs up and they all jumped into their buses and raced off with sirens blaring and lights flashing. My judgement is that they were lurking here for a reason: problems in Place des Terreaux methinks.

And continue…

I haven't yet got the pics Jérémie took this evening but will post one or two when I do. Second day, he's not even officially the president yet…but this lunchtime I went to school for a rehearsal and a bunch of students were making enough fuss in the road outside that it had been closed off. And this evening about 150 people were causing a certain amount of havoc (less than yesterday, however) in the form of a protest up our road, and the riot police arrive and chuck their bombs at the crowd who all run away very fast, like lemmings (hilarious to watch and very effective: we understood why when it came in through our windows…). Road closed for about an hour afterwards but nothing very dramatic. That said, we're sat here with the windows open now to get some fresh air in as our flat is still full of tear gas (we had the windows open to watch what was going on at the moment they let the bombs off…)!
This France is exciting, but what kind of chaos will ensue when something actually changes?!

Monday, May 07, 2007

And the riots begin…

Here are the photos I took from our flat window last night: unfortunately you can only see police and not much of the actual action. For that, you'll get a better idea at video of bellecour manif

According to the papers 367 cars were set alight and over 150 people arrested in France (as a whole) last night. And Sarkozy doesn't even become president until May 16th…

Sunday, May 06, 2007


My road is closed, and occupied by numerous police vans and an army of riot police. The riots to which they refer are in Bellecour. It is exciting and involves tear gas and gunshots. Jeremy is home safely and we are celebrating his birthday!
Photographic reportage to follow…

The Sark Ages are born

Today the French people went to the vote for a new president. They chose between chalk and cheese, right and left, man and woman.
Today 53% of the French people elected chalk/right/man, who goes by the name of Nicholas Sarkozy.
This was, if disappointing for many, not particularly surprising. That said, the vast proportion of the French people I know, including all of the students I've met here in Lyon and many of the people I sing with, were all voting Segolene and were all despairing of those 53%. Although it's irrelevant, all the other English students who are in France this year also seemed to be crossing their fingers for Mme Royal.
Preferences aside, if one thing is sure, it's that over these next five years France will change. The change will be dramatic. The reaction will be dramatic. There will be strikes. There will be riots. There will be good things, and bad.
"Welcome" to what I have named the Sark Ages. It'll be interesting to see what happens next–let's explore them together!
(and thank goodness we don't have to vote for the Queen)

Friday, May 04, 2007

A velo'v month

Now that it is May and I am no longer working (yes, I finished my job at the schools on Monday!), I no longer need to be at the top of a big hill every day, so I no longer need my metro/bus/tram subscription. So this month I have decided to try going everywhere by bike. Unfortunately, so far this has not been a very pleasant experience as it keeps raining. But I am being persistent on the grounds that the rain will, I hope, eventually go away.

What else is new this May? Well, may is full of bank holidays so even those who are working this month have a four-day week every week…and the presidential elections are on Sunday so things are all very heated and exciting out here at the moment. Essentially we're choosing between him (right wing, big ego, rather scary man but who has some very specific ideas of what he will change and how) and her (left wing, more human, sensible ideas but less clear about how she will make it happen). On Wednesday they were face to face in a two hour televised interview-cum-battle, which was fascinating and scary. It is still looking, despite all our best efforts, like he (Sarkozy) will win, which could even mean we get some strikes and riots quite soon. OOOH. Of course, it also means all sorts of other important things that we won't go into right now. Keeping our fingers crossed at the moment for a Royal revolution!

There are a couple of things I may have failed to mention in previous posts. Before going to England for the week I did two fairly successful big Beethoven concerts at Vaise with my choir, and claire, hattie, rebecca, max, mylene and antonia all came, so that was great! And this week, amongst sorting my life out post-teaching and getting ready for another mammoth choir weekend, I was contacted by a TV company who want to make a documentary about some lyon schools…more on that perhaps later, if it starts going places! Enough is enough for today, and tomorrow is Spanish Polyphony from 2pm to 8pm. :-)

The day the French don't work

Oh, oops, that's every day…

On May 1st, like most countries (but unlike our own), the French celebrate what the Americans like to call Labour Day and the French like to call La fête du travail (The work party). It is, possibly ironically, a holiday to celebrate working. As a result, it is one of only a few days in the year (Christmas day comes to mind) when nobody works. And by nobody, I really mean nobody. On tuesday, there were no metros or buses in Lyon–not even the automatic metro line that runs during strikes was on. In fact, as far as I could tell the only things working on tuesday were main-line trains, the hospital and the cinema!

The last I know because we went to see a film called "Ensemble, c'est tout". I recommend it!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Broadening my teacher rôle

On Thursday of the first week back after the Easter holidays, after quite some deliberation and discussion, the Lycée finally decided to let me go on a school trip with the class I take at the collège down the road. Unfortunately, this meant that my teacher-in-charge was in a rather grumpy mood all week as she didn't want to let me go…but the go-ahead was given anyway and so it was that I had a rather out of the ordinary week that looked something like this:

Sunday: 5am –left 'home' and took the usual two metros up to the school, where were gathered 47 13-year-olds with their parents. Ticked pupils on list, reminded that they mustn't have forgotten their ID cards (one or two had). Waited. Waited some more. Bus "delayed by an accident". Eventually left just after 7.30am. Caught the shuttle anyway. Arrived at supermarket car park, Walderslade, only a quarter of an hour later than scheduled. Met Ana, our host-family coordinator was waiting. Matched children with host families. Went home with host (and other three teachers). Marvelled at tacky decor of house. Laughed at twee water feature in garden. Ate spaghetti bolognese. Wrote emails to relevant persons saying had arrived, and in Denise's case that she'd left the alarm clock on 04:30.

Monday: 07:00 got up, had breakfast (the tea, when a pot requested, came in a cafetiere), took packed lunches, filled water bottles (at tap, to disgust of french teachers).
08.15 ticked students off list. All happy with families. Onto bus. To Brighton. Misty. Cold.
10.30 Brighton Pavilion
12.15 Picnic in the drizzle
13.00 Discover museum shut, is Monday. Go straight to Sea Life centre.
15.00 Leave Sea Life centre for The Lanes. "Free time" shopping, in my case with Olivia, who didn't want to be with the other boys and girls.
16.00 Rendez-vous and walk to the Pier. Three girls fail to report in, but later return having taken no notice of the meeting time.
17.00 Bus. Takes us round the houses. Gets lost down a country road. Takes the wrong exit off the motorway. Fails to identify "Dover" as the appropriate direction. Eventually return to car park half an hour late. Begin to wonder whether to take bus drivers seriously, given incapability with map.
21.00 Teachers and bus drivers go out to pub in Walderslade (not the world's best, but not as bad a place as hosts gave us to believe). Discover bus driver who can't read a map is actually a Boulanger-Patissier and knows all about custard…

Tuesday to London. First problems with families: two boys not only sharing a bed but also left at car park (alone) at 7.30 am. Otherwise, all fine and we're straight up the A2 so we can't get lost (also have borrowed decent, if out of date, road atlas from Steve). Hit traffic (no surprises there). 11am arrive at Natural History Museum. Fab! Not enough time to explore it properly though, picnic and out again by 13.15.
14.00 Visit Cabinet War rooms. Second girl declares she has lost her camera. One boy (a wonderful little genius nicknamed "king Arthur") is on the verge of tears because, once again, we don't have time to see everything.
15.30 Walk (via Whitehall, where they find a mouse and we almost manage to lose several students. Lots of "keep moving!" "Don't go in the road!") to Covent Garden. Free time (=tea and Ben's cookies) until 16.45
16.55 All 51 of us ready and waiting on the Strand. Coach has been parked on parallel embankment road for past two and a half hours and is due to come past here at 17.00 to collect us.
17.10 ring coach. Are at Charing Cross (c. 300 yards)
17.20 still no sign of coach. Ring again. "Can see Nelson's Column." "Lots of traffic". Begin to smell a rat.
17.30 Exasperated, ring again. "Can't get out of Trafalgar Square." Cannot believe it. Begin to wonder whether we should give up and take the train!
17.40 Coach finally turns up. No sooner have we sat down than it takes a left turn. I open the map, find where we are and am dismayed to discover they have this time chosen to head North. Twenty minutes later, we are back on the right road. *Phew*. Phone to say we will be late, again.

Wednesday to Cambridge. Bus driver tries to convince me he wants to take "the bridge not the tunnel". Explain patiently that we will be taking one in each direction. Eventually understands. Good journey. Arrive at 10.30 am, do my bit of guiding up Silver Street to market, free time until 12.15 (stop by Pa's office to dump a few bits and bobs I no longer need in France). Picnic on Launderess Green where we admire the black swan and put up with a little rain.
14.00 Guided tour with blue badge guides begins. I am with Danielle and the european class, who are having their tour in English. Mélanie forgot to take her medicine that morning and is about to be sick. By Trinity she can't go on, so we go to the warm cosiness of King's coffee shop where she recovers.
15.30 Free time again, until 16.45. Back to coach. Only then do I think I should have been pro-active and organised to take them inside a college. Never mind, they liked the place so they are bound to come back. And at least I made sure they understood what a college is, which is more than can be said for most tourists.
19.00 arrive, half an hour early. Last families don't turn up until nearly 8pm, *then* teachers want to go to supermarket to purchase English goodies. End up arriving at house rather late. Dinner has been waiting. Naughty us. (Not that the family ate with us, so no real problem).

Thursday to Greenwich. A good day, but pity about the weather and shortness of time.
10.45 Free time to explore Greenwich 'village'. Hand out punishment of 50 lines "I must not spit" to silly little boy who has already written 100 such for Danielle.
11.15 Boat from Greenwich to the Tower. Picnic in St Katharine's Dock.
12.45 Visit Tower of London.
14.00 Leave Tower, half the group is bored the other half upset that they have not nearly seen everything yet.
14.20 Boat back to Greenwich. Punishment by now has reached 150 lines.
15.00 Greenwich Maritime Museum (=teachers' tea time). An exciting museum well worth a visit another time!
16.00 Walk to the Observatory, examine the Meridian. Explain concept of meridian countless times.
17.00 Coach. Don't think about timing. Should have had extra time in Greenwich Park! Arrive back at Walderslade an hour early. Take half the group to play football in local park with local chavs.
19.45 Last families turn up to collect kids. Home for dinner
21.00 Pub with Ana (a different pub this time).

Friday journey home. A few students express particular sadness at having to leave. Onto coach at 8.30 am, supposedly with two picnics but we, and some of the kids, only have one. Boat at 11am. Bad boy steals other boy's wallet just as we get onto ferry. Waste whole trip trying to sort out this mess, and eat lunch. Very unimpressed teachers. Mark competition I had set on the journey out and hand out prizes. Is hot in France. Bus drivers are stressed, especially once they manage to go the wrong way even on a French motorway! Wallet thankfully is returned. Return exhausted students to their teachers at 23.30. End of fun but shattering week! Sad to leave students and great bunch of teachers–but will see them again before I leave– the teachers have promised they are going to introduce me to snails…

The beginnings of summer

The weather in Lyon has not ceased to amaze for the last three weeks: an almost constant mid-summer feeling, with temperatures between 20 and 30C, and plenty of sunshine. And it's only April!
The day after my last post, Claire, Hattie, Chiara and I wandered around the Monts d'Or again: we had a beautifully sunny day, didn't get lost at all, and found a wonderful orchard full of blossom in which to eat our picnics, as well as meeting two lovely horses and a totally crazy donkey along the way. Much fun!
The weekend brought lots of choir rehearsals for me, but also a couple of hours in the park as it was too nice not to be outdoors. Monday was my birthday: a whole day of teaching at school, not too exciting…but then a lovely evening on the banks of the Rhône at a boat-pub with my Lyon friends (two or three of whom have now already left Lyon!). The rest of my news is all to follow in the next post…

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Holiday time

Despite the fact that two of my flatmates are, only next week, about to undergo what is possibly the hardest academic ordeal in France, the Agrégation, involving 7 hour written literature exams and tests that demand them to be walking dictionaries in the etymology of the French language, these last couple of weeks have seemed very nice and relaxed. Partly this is because at no point have all six of us been in the flat (until tonight), but also it has felt rather like holiday time because they are revising (and I am, in fact, on holiday). So we have been watching several episodes of Friends together, going out roller-blading in the sunshine, and so forth.
Yesterday, Claire and I went to Annecy. The train in the morning turned out to be a bus (the French think they can trick you by painting the bus the same colour as the train and writing ter on the side but no, it was definitely a bus. However, it didn't go round the houses as I originally feared, but took us straight to Annecy so was really quite efficient. Once we got there we found the Office de Tourisme (NB this is the correct term and not syndicat d'initiative as, for some reason, the textbooks always told us!), where a lovely lady gave us maps and little booklets with "itineraires pedestres" for seeing the town. We wandered around, found lots of weird sculptures, admired the quaint old town, walked up the hill to a not very exciting château, then had a picnic in the park and (oh yes) took a pedalo out on the lake! It was beautifully sunny and warm, the water was sparkling and the scenery was magnificent. I was also very excited because the pedalo stations reminded me of punt companies, and the people running them were just like punters, and the girl at the place we got ours from was even in the middle of writing the rota that looked remarkably like a CCP rota…aaah. Pedalos are cool, but I think punts are better. The train went a weird route on the way back and ended up 40 minutes late because of "actes de malveillance" on the line, but this was not a problem really, as we'd had a very nice day.
This afternoon we have been for a Velo'v ride, up almost to Miribel (a heowge park north-west of Lyon). We didn't go all the way today, but maybe one day we will. In the meantime, cycling up by the river was lovely and even reminded us of Cambridge (and Oxford in fact) at times. Tomorrow we are once more heading to the Monts d'Or for a walking adventure: indeed, I should go and consult the map!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A long awaited expostulation

Talking, as I was in my "Easter" post a few minutes ago, of "decent" music. One element of "decent" music in church is properly sung plainsong (=gregorian chant).

Those of you who know me, know that. You know that I am a stickler for things to be done properly the "traditional" way. You know that I think it funny that my choir director believes I learned my plainsong skills at LSM, whereas in fact I was learning them from the day I was born (not alone, of course), and at the age of 13 was giving a presentation to my school class on how plainsong works.

Between about this age and my A level year, I spent moments of "spare" time helping my mother who was (and is?) setting all of the Common Worship modern psalm words to their traditional plainsong chants, in an attempt to restore plainsong to churches using the (oh dear) responsorial settings. And therefore, I know a little bit (if not as much as the monks of mirfield) about how such things work.

Those of you who have sung with me will also know that if there's one thing I particularly detest, it's plainsong melodies written out in modern notation. It makes me seethe.

A recent discussion relating to this topic can be found in this post and its comments: Come faithful people

Now I thought I would need to write reams and reams in this post, explaining exactly what is so awful about the fact that we, in general, don't bother learning to read plainsong notation these days, and instead do this heinous thing of writing the nice melodies out in "equivalent" modern notation (which is not, and could not ever be, equivalent). Ages explaining the nuances of the little black blobs. And why, in fact, it would be better not to translate the words either.
I thought I would need to add to my list of projects the writing of a website that would explain all this AND teach you the basics of plainsong. It only takes the time it took me for a year 8 class presentation, seriously!
Perhaps I still will, one day, so as to have said it my own way.

However, thanks to some unknown Catholics, I need not set about that right now, as I have found a wonderful article that does exactly that, and in my opinion does it rather nicely.
It is here: Musica Sacra then click on the document entitled "An idiot's guide to square notes" in the right hand column ("teaching aids"). Facebook users can find it attached to my profile.

Enough said for now, methinks! I'll let you read…


My flatmates' destinations for next year are currently:
Jé: Oxford (or Paris)
My: Oxford or Dublin (advice on this choice currently very welcome!)
Anto: Beijing or Shanghai
Gareth: Lyon
Max: Heidelberg
Annie: Cambridge

As a result, and because Gareth doesn't want to find five new flatmates and would like a more stable place to live as of next year, this wonderful flat is going back to the agency. Shout now if you want it!!


Somewhere in the midst of all that and more, I seem to have failed to write anything about my five day jaunt to Paris. Where, incidentally, the weather was also very beautiful.
After a substantial panic on Friday night owing to having too many tickets and needing to cancel some very fast, Antonia and I set off on our TGV from Perrache on Saturday morning, arriving early afternoon in Paris where the very fast metro number 14 took us straight to chez elle (very convenient, I must say). There, I met her elder sister Agathe, and we did some shopping but nothing very exciting as it was raining a lot (okay, the weather was *mostly* beautiful). On saturday evening we had a "soirée" for Antonia's paris friends, some of whom I'd already met in Lyon and others not: very nice. On Sunday morning her parents arrived back from a week in the Maldives (lucky them!) so we had a family breakfast together and in the afternoon went for a wander into the centre of Paris with Antonia and her best friend Constance. Delicious ice cream was also consumed. Mmm. This became the pattern of my few days: Antonia had various meetings to do with her conference and the fact that she is now going to China next year to learn Chinese (another of those wacky last-minute schemes that seem to spring up in this flat) and so I discovered Paris variously with and without her company, and managed to meet up with almost everyone who is currently spending their year there: lots of them (Emily and Jérome in particular) I hadn't seen for years, and it was really lovely to see them all and discover their various Parisian lives. I also ate in a Crêperie with Sacha and another lawyer friend of his, and we calculated that if one ate a different crêpe every day, it would take two years (which is what he's got) to try all the crêpes on offer on that street. Wow. And on tuesday evening, we went to a soirée with Laura, a spanish friend of Anto's who is now working in Paris. Finally, on Wednesday afternoon I thought I really couldn't leave Paris without seeing one of the big museums, and as I'd already once upon a time been to the Louvre, it was the Centre Pompidou that won this time, where there was an interesting exhibition about Samuel Beckett (particularly relevant for Anto, who is fascinated by exhibitions about authors) although it would have been more interesting with a little explanation here and there! All round fun, and my feet took me toddling round many different 'quartiers'-the quaint, chic, impressive, etc, and even the Peripherie (we got there by accident when going for a walk on a "sentier planté" with Jérome and Anto). I felt like I knew Paris much better by the end, and I was very grateful for the comfy and very central hospitality chez the Dubrulle family!


It's nearly 8pm on Easter Sunday, and I am sitting in the kitchen drinking tea with Hattie, who is reading Glamour in both French and English (observing the different content of each is a very intriguing occupation!)
I, on the other hand am writing my blog. It has been a lovely day–but we must, of course, start where we left off which was, I believe, after Good Friday.
Holy Saturday was much like any other Saturday during the holidays. I got up, taught my private student Marine, went to the market where I bought lots and lots of fruit and veg, came back, went for a walk with Mylène along the banks of the Rhône, made the apple sauce for today's lunch (of which more later…) and then got ready to go out. Yes, I have to admit there will be no insight into just how boringly or excitingly St Nizier might have done their Easter Vigil service, because I was invited to dinner chez Mathieu, a friend from the choir (19, gay, training to be a midwife), and this was a more interesting prospect. The reason for it being last night was that the bar just below his house was celebrating a year since its opening with free drinks for regulars, and so we were to go along to that, along with Keegan (second gay friend from choir; Texan, aspiring to be singer and/or restaurant manager) and his boyfriend Greg. Mathieu made a very nice turkey and pine nut salad, and updated me on all the latest gossip from Mathieu land, and then we joined the others downstairs and it was a lot of fun!!
So that was Saturday. This morning, having got up in time to peel the potatoes and get them (and the roast) into the oven, Mylène and I did Easter the Anglican way. It was a big contrast to the rulebook version of Good Friday we'd had, and Mylène enjoyed it more (while I maintained that the two were good but both had lacked decent music!). She was also surprised to discover real bread at communion (okay, that is quite rare) and that everyone got wine (unlike in Catholic establishments where this is unheard of…can anyone explain this to me? I've always thought it illogical).
We walked back from church, it being another beautiful day, and finished preparing roast dinner (Pork, apple sauce, roast potatoes, broccoli, leeks; plum crumble; Chateauneuf du Pape) for which 'we' were Mymy, Jéjé, Gareth, Mathieu, Hattie and I. (I even got away with putting on some proper Easter music as sung by Kings, in the background). It was all a success and after dinner Hattie Mathieu and I went for a wander in the parc de la Tête d'Or, where we made some daisy chains and observed how many toddlers there are in Lyon, before returning to eat the last hot cross bun (and a couple of kinder eggs) with our tea.
Not quite like the Dawn+champagne+family affair I've been used to these past few years, nor especially French, but a jolly Easter nonetheless. Alleluia!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

What do you get if you pour boiling water down a rabbit hole?

…yes, you got it. Hot cross bunnies.

Yesterday I made hot cross buns. I know the rest of you will be bored of them by now as they've been in the shops since Christmas, in rather inappropriate cohabitation with the creme eggs, but here they are no-where to be seen. I used a Delia recipe which appears to be the only one available online. However, my google search having thrown up a few iffy comments on said recipe and in particular its idea of how to make paste for the crosses, I invented my own version. It was rather a success. Hooray. I also used fresh yeast (I don't believe in the dried sort), which I procured at the rate of 1 cent per gram at a local (as far as they come local in the middle of town) boulangerie.

Tomorrow I am cooking roast lunch for my flatmates and Hattie. This could be an interesting task in our miniscule electric box that believes itself to be an oven, especially as I shall be out at church at certain crucial moments…but we shall try our best.

On the subject of church, Mylène and I went to St Nizier's once more yesterday evening for their "Office de Vendredi Saint". It was "the proper thing" in as far as there was veneration of the cross and pre-consecrated communion and so forth (Mylène noted afterwards that despite having been brought up a good French catholic, she had never done so much genuflecting in her life), but there was NO nice music, just some unaccompanied waffling (pah, what happened to Tallis lamentations and the Victoria Passion?), and it was generally rather dull and not very moving. We'll see what they do at their Vigil this evening.

Those of you going to vigil and first mass at dawn tomorrow morning, enjoy! I've not found anywhere here doing such, although I think there's some sort of ecumenical affair up on the hill at 7am…

Thursday, April 05, 2007

And they forsook him and fled

This evening, being Jeudi Saint (or Maundy Thursday to us lot), I decided (in the apparent absence of any observance thereof at Lyon Anglican Church) to go to St Nizier down the road, where they do things "properly". The church was utterly packed out, which was fun. And the service was generally good and much as expected, with not a bad sermon from their young priest.
At the end, they processed the sacrament to the chapel of repose, where there was to be a watch until midnight. All very proper.
But. (Yes, you knew there'd be a but!) There was no "AND THEY FORSOOK HIM AND FLED". This was not a great surprise but I always find it a bit of a disappointment these days. I should probably take to going to Mirfield or Canterbury for holy week.
More surprising (shocking, perhaps even) was that there was no Psalm 22, and no stripping of the altars. I like psalm 22. I'm not sure it quite feels like holy week without it. And I'm sure they will have stripped the altars after most of us left, but I think doing it during the service is somewhat more poignant.

Meanwhile, I have a new student who I've been helping this week with her prépa work, and I've been in Paris for five days. Lots of fun, of which more to come soon!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Only the French…(part 3)

…would send you two forms to fill in in separate email attachments, which subsequently turn out to be word for word IDENTICAL except for the header that tells you where to send it. They could have just left the header off and told us in the email to send it to both places. Sigh.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


From time to time we all get strange new urges. Mylène's cabaret urge being an extreme example. And years out/abroad are prime urge time, as they get us out of our bubble, broaden our horizons, introduce us to new people, places and ideas, and make us rethink who we are, who we want to be, where, why and how. None of that is new, but sometimes those urges take us rather by surprise. Just like my craving for chicken nuggets did when I was in Italy.
This year has been no exception, I've had plenty of new urges this year. Like wanting to work in a flower shop, or suddenly feeling the need to make scones. Here are two of the urges I've had this last week:
•An urge to cook stuffed courgettes. I had never made such things before, but I saw round courgettes on the market and decided to experiment. It was good! Definitely repeatable.
•Today I saw a small ad for short courses in professional make-up. Surprisingly, for some unknown reason this seriously appealed! Perhaps I am almost as crazy as Mylène after all.

…more to come soon I'm sure!

The countdown

I have four weeks of teaching left. Two pre-holiday, two post-holiday. This means several things.

1. The Good
•I will no longer have to worry about what to talk about with my next class of unimaginative students. Already, I have vague plans for all my remaining lessons, which means more free time and less panic.
•I will no longer have to take the metro at 7.30 am to get to school by 8, in fact I only need to do this eight more times.
•I will have completed my obligatory time abroad and will therefore be "free" to go home/elsewhere as and when I wish, although in reality I shall be staying in Lyon another two months or so.
•I can do more new things (including, perhaps, some travelling around France), and actually get on with my dissertation (this will be a Very Good Thing).
•In only two months I will return to the land of friends, family, short skirts and common sense.

2. The Bad
•Several of my friends will disappear off home/to other exciting places.
•I will no longer be paid a salary
•I will no longer have any excuse not to be working on aforementioned dissertation
•My year abroad is nearly over. But it only just began!
•Because of the aforementioned lack of salary, I need to finish writing my CV and lettres de motivation in order to make some attempt at getting job of some description for some/all of May and June.
•I will shortly be 22––and 21 already seemed grown up!
•I need to think about The. Dreaded. Oral. Exam. (and other similar academic nasties)

3. The Indifferent
All in all, not a lot will change vis à vis normal life (except the removal of teaching)–unless, that is, I do something totally wacky à la Mylène, on the topic of which…more soon!

What this "end is nigh" feeling, coupled with the arrival of some pretty spring weather, also means is that we are beginning to make more of an effort to go and see all the places we intended to see this year and haven't yet got round to. With Saturdays no longer dedicated to lesson planning, last week a bunch of us English, German and Italian assistants, went on a very windy daytrip to Avignon, and just today I went (despite missing two trains this morning, oops. What a spectacular achievement!) to a tiny place between St Etienne and Puy en Velay…it's called Monistrol sur Loire, and it's where Lucy is an assistante. Very cute, very French–the rugby club were celebrating St Patrick's day in one of the town (village?) squares in a somewhat continental fashion (french folk music, waffles and crêpes and dancey people in regional dress). We had lunch in a crêperie (yum) with her friend Maggie who is a primary assistant from Georgia, and then went on a wander into the countryside where we met some very friendly, rather beautiful horses whose legs were puzzlingly short. All in all, it was a lovely day.
Next on the list for visiting are Paris (during the Easter Vac), Annecy, potentially Annemasse and Geneva, and Le Puy en Velay itself, which I am told is a lovely place. Oh and Montpellier once Lucy has moved there in May. Oh and Dijon. Think that's enough to be going on with!