The past several weeks have been quite eventful. After six full weeks of school since Christmas break, we were due for another two weeklong break: “winter break.” The week before break though, we had a week of exams called the “bac blanc.” It was a week of tests where the students can practice for the real bac, which is much more stressful than the SAT because it determines whether or not a student can graduate. Even though I didn’t have to teach classes, I still had to work the same number of hours in the Lycée. This meant that I got to administer the written French exam to a bunch of juniors. Largely this consisted of telling them (in French of course!) to put their backpacks in the back of the room, take off their coats, show me their id, sign here, not to talk, etc. I think however, that I was more nervous about giving the exam then most of the students were in taking it. I was happy that I only had to give one test and the rest of the time I got to be either in the hallway in order to escort students to the restroom or part of the relief team to temporarily proctor an exam so the teacher administering it could leave the room for a bit. After this week of exams, only seven weeks after Christmas break, winter vacation began!
After spending all of my time here in the Île-de-France, as the greater Paris area is called, I was happy to have the opportunity to visit one of my childhood friends in London and my roommate and her family in Germany. Ever since I was little, I’ve read books that take place in England, many of my favorites take place in London. Even though my family visited England in 2008, we didn’t have the opportunity to do more than drive through London. I don’t think that I even got out of the car.
This time however, I spent 4.5 days in the city, visiting many of the places that I’ve only read about in books. At the top of my list was the Globe Theatre. It was phenomenal! I was so happy to be able to visit it! The British museum, the Tate Britain, the National Gallery, the British Library, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Palace, Keats’ house, and Dickens’ house, were also impressive. It’s amazing how much history is contained in one city. In a way, it felt surreal to see the Magna Carta, some of Guttenberg’s books, a First Folio, parts of the Parthenon, the throne from the 14th century that every British monarch sits in to be crowned, the tombs of many kings and Queens, paintings I’d studied in Art History, ancient Egyptian mummies, and artifacts from Bible times during the time of Ashurbanipal (600s BC) (he was only one of the many people we learned about in Old Testament whose name showed up in the British Museum!) and the inside of the building where Parliament meets. Incredible! Things I’d only imagined before appeared before me in real life, and the stories I’d read became more real, truer than they’d been before. I’m grateful that I spent four years at Hillsdale, because thanks to my time there, I felt like I really could appreciate the historical value of what I saw. Were it not for my studies of the Great Book and the Western Heritage, I would have had some nice postcard-worthy pictures, but no profound feelings of respect for what so many great people have done.
Not only did stories come to life before my eyes, but my friend Andrea played the perfect hostess, making me homemade banana crumble muffins, delicious enchiladas and white-chocolate chip cranberry cookies. She jokes about her apartment being notoriously freezing throughout the winter, but her warm welcome (in American English) was just what I needed for a good dose of Hoosier hospitality and it made me forget the cold and enjoy the comforts of home and friendship once more.
My visit to Germany was very brief but also historically and relationally profitable; While visiting on of the oldest cities in Germany, Trier (Treves), I got to see public baths built by the Romans, a cathedral built by the Emperor Constantine and the house of Karl Marx. For those of you taking the Heritage classes, yes, the people after whom you’re reading did indeed exist and they left buildings to prove it! While I loved the educational aspect of my time in Germany, I also enjoyed seeing the village where my roommate grew up, meeting her family, and spending the day with her in town. We had coffee together in a cute café (actually, I had tea, she had coffee) and I bought both A picture of Dorian Gray (O. Wilde) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (A. Brontë) for only €6 and she bought the complete works of Shakespeare in German for €5. Content with our inexpensive treasures, we returned to her house, ready to come back to resume teaching.
I ran the Paris half-Marathon on Sunday before starting classes Monday morning. Yes, that’s right, I, Mary Feeney, ran 13.1 miles (21.1 km) in 2h 24 min. and I’m still alive to tell the story. “Why”? you may ask. Well, as some of you may know, I was asked at Hillsdale to be the Head RA for my dorm for two years. During the Leadership training class I was required to take beforehand, I had to come up with 100 goals for my life. Ahem. This sounds easier than it actually is. After naming the obvious and important goals like graduating, reading classic books, and visiting all the countries that exist, I had to resort to finding a 97 more things I wanted to do before I die. This homework was going to be graded after all. In perhaps a moment of pure desperation and in order to reach 100 goals, (getting good grades has always preoccupied me too much) I think this was perhaps when I first wrote down running a half-marathon as a goal. I don’t know. But somehow, the idea entered my head, and my friends Kimbosha and Abby of late have both inspired me with their running feats. My regular three-mile course seemed puny compared to their achievements. So, sweaty and smiling, I pounded victoriously across the finish line Sunday, happy that I can cross this crazy goal off of my list.
Yesterday, while waiting for the bus, I was once again asked for my phone number by a young man in his 20s. I don’t know what the problem is, but for some reason, this never seems to happen among eligible young men of my acquaintance back in the States to whom I would be very happy to give it. Instead, it only happens when I am riding or waiting for the bus here in France, when very forward young men I don’t know inquire. I’ve now been approached by at least three men in their 20’s who have all tried to exchange phone numbers with me. Yesterday, the young man in question first asked me if I knew whether the bus was going to come, “yes, “ I said, “It usually comes very soon.” He was waiting for a different bus, but I’m familiar with this particular stop and knew that if all was well, his bus would arrive very soon. Remarking my accent, the man asked where I was from. My parents taught me that it’s wrong to lie, but they also taught me to be prudent. Reluctant to tell him exactly, I replied, “a little south of Chicago,” with a general wave of the hand. Giving very vague geographical answers suits me best in situations like these. “What are you doing in France,” was his next question. Thankfully, I’ve started taking French classes in addition to my teaching job. So instead of telling him that I teach English in a Lycée, which would likely have lead me to divulging which one, I told him that I was studying French, which was the truth, just not the complete truth… At some point in the conversation the young man insisted on giving me a map of the Paris metro. (I already have at least two, probably three if I searched the bottom of my bag thoroughly.) Amused at his insistence that I take it, I accepted the map, shoving into my pocket. Then, the young man asked if I had a telephone number and if I’d like to have coffee together. I politely refused, inwardly wondering why this never happens to me in the US. Perhaps I don’t take the bus enough? Maybe Christian young men in the US ride the bus, and since I don’t when I’m in the States, I’m missing out on the opportunity to have coffee dates with them? “No thank you, I said, I don’t feel comfortable giving it out.” “There’s no reason to have fear,” the guy reassured me. I renewed my regret, insisting that I couldn’t give it to him, and just as I was wondering if my bus was every going to arrive to rescue me, his cell phone rang and he walked away to answer it, missing his bus in the process, but leaving me relieved to see my bus arriving shortly thereafter. The previous two times that this has happened, it’s left me equally confused and amused. Perhaps in 10 years, if my relationship status remains the same, instead of putting up a profile on match.com or e-harmony, I’ll simply return to France, find the closest bus stop and begin to wait for the bus.
Oh, one more thing, if you can’t tell from this and past posts, I have a penchant for alliteration. Perhaps I go overboard with it on occasion, (ok, I admit it, I do), but in order to have the title of this blog post in which I wanted to tell the about the books I’ve read about London coming to life, running my half-marathon, the attempted seduction by a 20-something-year old Frenchman, I can’t leave you without an update on my war against the spiders. Unfortunately, I have bad news to report. While my tally has grown, (I’ve lost count exactly but I estimate it’s somewhere near 21), the spiders have scored a point. Before yesterday, I was unsure how the spiders would ever win a point. I mean, usually spiders don’t kill people. But yesterday, a spider was lurking in my running pants that were warming on the heater in the bathroom and it bit me. It quickly dropped to the floor and I soon disposed of him in revenge; but now, I all due fairness, I must grant the spiders one point. Thus, the estimated score stands as such: Me-21, Spiders-1.