Thursday, November 12, 2009

You know what they say about first impressions...

It has been awhile since my last post because I have had a plethora of technological difficulties since arriving in Toucy including waiting EIGHT MONTHS for activation, but my WiFi is up and running so here we go:

Even though the train ride is only about two hours from Paris to Toucy, upon arrival I was still a little sweaty from lugging my suitcases through what seemed like miles of the Parisian metro. My correspondent from the high school, Séréna, was waiting at the train station for me and promptly gathered me and my belongings into her car. In the car I realized I was having the hardest time understanding Séréna, which I attributed to my fatigue and only having been in France for less than a week. As it turns out, however, Séréna is from the Netherlands; a Dutch woman living in France and teaching English. How much more international could that get? As I will come to find out, Séréna, David (her husband) and their two children will become my pseudo-host family for this first week of my stay, but more on that later.

We arrive at Lycée Pierre Larousse (“lee-say pea-air la-ruce”) around 4:30pm, my home and workplace for the next seven months. The people here are nuts. To add to the confusion of getting my keys and setting up my room, 4:40 is when all classes end. Keep in mind too that this is a Friday so these kids are out for the weekend. Also, the address for my school is 6, rue des Montagnes (montagne = mountain in French) and they were not kidding. So imagine this: me with two giant suitcases struggling uphill through a torrent of 500 teenagers with me being the only obstacle between them and the weekend. The image that comes to mind is that of the Spanish run from the bulls, except I’m heading straight towards these angry beasts on an incline. Once I get to my room it turns out I have not one key to get in my room, or not even two… There are five locked doors between my bed and the outside world! God forbid I lose even one. After many introductions to the people whom Séréna deems important she lets me get situated in my room and tells me she will be back in a couple hours to pick me up for dinner at their house. I will say one thing, having my own bathroom is AWESOME.

Now I have to talk about dinner with my pseudo-host family as it gave me my first impression of Toucy. David comes to pick me up from the high school and we have a nice chat on the way to their house. He is also an English teacher but not at the high school I work at, but rather another school in the neighboring town of Joigny. David and Séréna do not live in Toucy, but sort of out in the land. Outside of the immediate city limits of Toucy it turns into something I am all too familiar with: farmland. It’s like if Banks was a millennium older and everyone spoke French. David and Séréna live in a slightly renovated farmhouse, which, when I saw it, is one of those I-have-dreamed-about-a-house-like-this-all-my-life houses. The house was built in 1789 in the style of French farmhouses at the time. So there are two buildings, the house and the barn with a perfect garden between the two overlooked by an aged willow tree. The entrance to the garden (and house) goes through a gate, and I mean a real, 20 ft tall, massive, wooden gate. To add to just how cool this house was, Séréna told me that there is a record of Napoléon staying in this house on a trip to the South of France. As the story goes, it was late and the farmer who owned it at the time begged to have the honor of housing the Little General, which was granted. Beautiful and full of history, how could it get better? Well, there was the family. Séréna and David have two kids, 6 year-old Niels and 3-year-old Heidi (nicknamed Dee-Dee). These children are absolutely precious. They both fluently speak French and Dutch and Niels can read German. Heidi loves to draw and color and so before the night was over she drew, colored, and autographed a picture for me, which is currently hanging up above my nightstand. As if the company wasn’t enough, the food was even better. Séréna eats only organic food, so we had a salad with tomatoes, cheese, and olives to start, followed by fresh (and organic) meats from local markets in Toucy, finished off with custard and puddings from an organic sweets shop. There are not enough words in any language to describe the contentment I felt after that meal. I just sat back digesting this heavenly banquet and watched the kids wrestle with their 8 year-old German shepherd, Lous (or “loo-loose”), thinking that this whole integrating into French life thing might not be so bad after all.

It is in a big way thanks to Séréna, David, and family that my first impression of Toucy was overwhelmingly approving. I don’t think that my many “merci!”s could even convey to them the service that had done me. I hope to pay it back to them somehow through these coming seven months.

I’ll try to put up some pictures of Toucy soon, as well as my high school and bedroom!

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