Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Team English

I figure in order to make some semblance of a picture of my life at Lycée Pierre Larousse it is necessary to talk about “mon équipe” (“my team,” as my group of teachers call themselves in French). I like the name "Team English" because it really justifies the description of this group as a whole; each teacher has their own specialty, like the A Team, the Ninja Turtles, or Power Rangers (and teaching pubescent teenagers oddly feels like physical confrontation at points… but I digress). There is Linda, who is the technology buff, Emanuelle (or Manu), the humorist, Marie, the historian, and Séréna, who is somewhat difficult to classify but if I continue with the Ninja Turtles reference then let’s call her Splinter, the one pulling the strings to make everyone work as a team. Then there’s me of course, the newbie everyone is always going out of their way to save from a merciless clan of French teens.

While I haven’t spent any time outside of school with Linda or Manu, a good deal is spent with Marie or Séréna. The dinner mentioned in my previous post has been one of many that I have been so lucky to be invited to. I also often went to David and Séréna’s house to check my email and Skype in the Dark Ages before I had internet in my room. Needless to say their hospitality has been a huge blessing.

Marie has also been extremely kind in introducing me to this wonderful new region I inhabit. But before I continue, first we must have a little history lesson: Burgundy is a region in France, much like a county in any US state. It’s about 12,000 square miles in size (roughly the geographic size of the Willamette Valley) but has a history that pre-dates Rome. Burgundy has been inhabited by Celts, Romans, Germans, Swiss, Italians, and of course, the French. It was ruled by a once powerful duchy, called the Dukes of Burgundy, who held power over the land from Dijon (current day capital of the region) all the way to the Amsterdam and the North Sea. Mustard aside, the region is also famous for wine, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to be specific. Also, having been inhabited by so many ethnic groups, the gastronomy here is also world renowned. You may have heard of “coq au vin” or “beef bourguignon”? You betcha, invented right here in good ole Burgundy.

It has been from Marie that I have learned so much about this quaint corner of France. Many a weekend has she taken me and Kathi (the German assistant here at the school) for a ride in her car with Sam, a small, yappy dog that I don’t think has ever known the word “no,” to experience the many historical sites easily within a day’s drive. I have already put up pictures of Noyers, Vezelay, and Bazoches, three places Marie has been so kind to show me. Others are sadly unrepresented due to my uncanny ability to forget my camera in the pocket of the coat I decided not to wear that day. Mind you, I only have two coats. So places like St. Fargeau and Geudelon will have to suffice in being described with words until I (hopefully) revisit them before I leave.

Just a quick note, then, on Vezelay and Bazoches to help give the pictures some meaning and attempt to express the rich history belonging to each. Vezelay is a city built on a small mountain that previous popes have declared “the Eternal Hill.” The Second and Third Crusades to recover the Holy Land were launched from this very hill (the Third Crusade being the coalition between King Philip II of France and Richard I of England, or Richard the Lion-Hearted). It is also on the way of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. The church at the top of the hill, the Basilica of St. Magdalene, is named so while it is rumored to contain relics of Mary Magdalene. While I find that a bit of a stretch it’s still an amazing place. I like to refer to this basilica as the “mullet church,” or as I titled one of the photos, “business in front, party in back.” The reason being that construction on this church started in the 9th century, when Romanesque buildings were all the rage. In case it’s been a while since your last architecture class, Romanesque is characterized by round arches and thick walls that have little room for frilly things like stained glass windows; very dreary and businesslike, if I may. After centuries of neglect the transept of the basilica collapsed, leaving room for Violet-le-Duc, infamous renovator of the 19th century, to step in and fix things up. Rather than restore what once was, Violet-le-Duc added his own personal taste to this restoration (it was, after all, his money). Thus the transept is in the Gothic style, very gaudy with pointed arches and thinner walls thanks to the invention of flying buttresses, leaving room for colorful stained glass windows. Stoic in front, flamboyant in back, hence the mullet idea. Did you follow all that? Good. The test will be tomorrow.

Bazoches, on the other hand, is a fascinating piece of living history. Why living? Because the direct descendants of the original owners of the castle are still alive, inhabiting the very space as did their ancestors. Formerly, this chateau belonged to Vauban, Louis XIV’s go-to guy. He was a philosopher, strategist, and, most importantly to Louis XIV, the best defensive military engineer of the 17th century. While he spent most of his life traveling from one end of France to the other building city defenses for the vulnerable towns on the borders, his wife and children lived here. What I find most interesting is that families still live there! You walk into a room and see an original painting of Louis XIV from the 17th century hanging above a cherry wood royal desk with gold inlay in the Louis XVI style, upon which is a framed photo from 1990 of a boy learning to ride a bike. It just makes you wonder how that small fraction of royalty still lives today.

Phew! I need to go do some arm stretches or something now from all this typing, but I already have in mind other things to write about and not the least of them being my experience with the local food and *ehem* drink.

Go Team English!

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