Thursday, July 14, 2016

Last week in Brest

The closer we get to the end of our time here, the faster it seems to go. It is hard to believe we accomplish as much in a day as we do.

The week started Sunday night with the final game of the Euro 2016 football (soccer) championships. (Actually, the French count Monday as the first day of the week and Sunday as the last. So last week actually ended with the game.) France had defeated dreaded rival Germany to get to the final game. But the final was against a very feisty team from Portugal.
Many of the students had gotten caught up in the football fever along with their families. So, we teachers decided to sponsor a game-watching party in the building where we teach classes (Octrois). There’s a great HD wide-screen TV there and cable access. Only about ten students and six students attended, but everyone enjoyed the match – except for the outcome.

France outplayed Portugal in the first half, taking ten shots on goal, but didn’t score. Portugal came back in the second half, but it was 0-0 at the end of regulation play. They played two overtimes, and Portugal scored on a sloppy shot with about 90 seconds left. All of our face painting and wearing of the colors (blue, white and red) wasn’t quite enough to get the Blues to victory. We all got home late.

We teachers had predicted a late night, so we didn’t start until 10 am on Monday. The students re-took the test they had taken at the beginning so we can chart improvement. They finished early, so we let them go to lunch early. Some went to the cafeteria, others went out on their own.

Last week, several of us went to this little Libyan restaurant for lunch with Sammy to celebrate the end of his Ramadan fast. We all ate kebobs and were thrilled. Real mid-eastern kebobs have nothing to do with meat and veggies on a stick. That exists, but it is called something else. This is shaved meat with lettuce, tomato and a sauce in a grilled bread. The sauces are custom made (unless you choose ketchup) and are served with frites and a drink for just €5, which is about $6. It’s a feast. Last Saturday Aspen and I went there…not planned, not together. She suggested we might have a kebob problem. She might be right. We are not alone. For more and more of the students, free-choice lunch means kebobs!

The rest of Monday was rehearsal for Tuesday’s spectacle, the Fête des Familles. This is the big show the students put on for the host families. Planned events were several sketches written by the students, solo singing performances, a couple musical performances as well as dance. The kids had set the bar pretty high for themselves. By the end of the afternoon, they were confident.

Tuesday was dress rehearsal day. We were actually on the stage in the Salle Saint Louis, part of the cathedral complex. I think they ran the entire show four or five times with lunch in the middle. We released about 4pm, with everyone to return by 6:15. The performance was to begin at 7 pm.

We held the curtain for about 20 minutes because traffic in Brest was impossible and many people were late. But we began with Jamie singing the Marseillaise and didn’t look back. I’m attaching the program. The internet at the teachers’ residence isn’t fast so I don’t think I will be able to upload videos. I will when we return to the US. But I have many photos.
Wednesday, we got together at 10am. Several students stayed with their families. One of the girls expressed to me that it was odd to have accomplished everything – classes, exams and the spectacle – and to have no goal to be working toward.

What we did was attend Brest 2016, which is a maritime festival that takes place every four years here. There are over 1,500 sailing vessels from 10’ to 125’ in the harbor of Brest. The Hermonie, a replica of the ship that brought General Lafayette to the American colonies to help with the revolt against England in 1776, is here. There are ships from France, Russia, Holland, England, Portugal, Tahiti, and Africa. The festival encompasses the entire port and naval base, which is probably about two miles of waterfront.

At such a festival, there is no way to keep a group of 20+ together. So we let the students go, following the rule of three, to visit the festival as they would. We teachers stayed together, but none of the kids seemed to want to hang with us. We all did the same thing anyway – we walked a ton, looked at amazing ships, listened to exquisite regional music, and ate really good food. I saw a couple of groups, but the area is so vast, we just didn’t bump into one another much.

We regrouped at 3pm. By then, everyone was pretty tired. The students headed home or to other activities. Anna, Audrey and I went off to do senior portraits high and low in Brest.
I think I have done sessions with about seven students. The weather and the schedule haven’t cooperated for more. I am going to try to do some “portrait” type photos in Paris for those who haven’t been able to get with me. But there isn’t time for portrait sessions. Students will be provided with an online link for their portraits.

Thursday, July 14 is a holiday here. So, students are with their families. We won’t see them until Friday morning early as we meet the bus that takes us away from Brest. I have no idea what internet access will be like at the auberge in Paris. So, this may be my last post until we return home.

Even if I can’t post in Paris, I will be making lots of photos and writing about our experiences. I’ll post all of that when we return home. So, when your child is safe at home with you, you should still check the blog. When you ask, “What did you do in Paris?” and the answer is, “All kinds of stuff,” you can go to the blog for specifics.

It isn’t that they don’t want to share their experiences with you. It’s that they are going to go into sensory overload in Paris. Everything they have studied about Paris will come alive before their eyes. Abstract ideas will become real experiences. It will take a while before they have words to express what they have done, seen and felt. Be patient with them.

(pictures coming with internet availability)

Just after posting, I learned about the events in Nice. Please be assured that all of our students are safe. We are on the diagonally opposite side of the country. I personally attended the fireworks at the port and can attest that there were no issues here. We will proceed to Paris as planned. Security there has been at a very high level for nearly a year. We will be quite safe. If you have any concerns, please contact Loni.

Friday, July 8, 2016

July 4 ceremony, danse bretonne & the last excursion before Paris

July 4 is of course not a holiday in France. The national holiday here is July 14 (storming of the Bastille and all that). But a small number of French people helped us put on a ceremony to mark America’s birthday.

We met at the American War Memorial, which was erected to honor the American soldiers killed in WWI, with a separate small plaque to honor those from WWII as well. There was a French color guard made up of veterans along with military reservists who presented arms. The mayor, the sous-prefect and an admiral were all present. French veterans presented floral wreaths as did Angélique and Camy.

Our group then sang both the Marseillaise (the French national anthem) as well as the Star Spangled banner. It was very moving. The sous-prefect said that he enjoyed hearing the Marseillaise sung with a bit of an American accent. Emma Boyer led the group in the Marseillaise and Sofia led the Star Spangled Banner. (Four weeks ago when I jokingly asked if anyone would like to sing the Marseillaise for us, Emma volunteered and sang acapella, from memory, in a way that took our breaths away.)

After the ceremony, we attended a small reception the sous-prefect had for us at the sous-prefecture building. The mayor attended (for just a few minutes) as well as the conseil-régionale. As the sous-prefect explained to the students, a conseil-régionale is like an American governor – but with less independence. The sous-prefect of Brest is in charge of the local brigade of the national police and oversees the general political system. The sous-prefect was very gracious and welcoming.

The admiral also attended. The French Atlantic fleet is based in Brest. France only has three fleets; the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the North Sea. So this was one of the top three officers in the entire French navy. But he was very down to earth with the students, expressing great interest in the program. He was a bit awed by the total language commitment and went out of his way not to speak English.

French has two words for the pronoun “you.” “Tu” is the word you use with close friends, family and small children. “Vous” is the word you use in formal situations with people you don’t know or people deserving respect.

It was absolutely adorable when Emma Boyer used “tu” when speaking to the admiral. He had asked about the story of Jeremiah Johnson, and Emma was the only one who knew of the story. She began to speak animatedly with the admiral and just slipped into the “tu” usage. He didn’t miss a beat. He continued the conversation, ultimately explaining the stars on his sleeve. It couldn’t have been a more perfect moment. Emma didn’t realize her faux pas until someone pointed it out later. The joke now is that Emma is BFFs with the admiral.

We returned to L’Aile Michelet for a reception with the host families. The French seem to love this kind of thing. There was much talking and laughing as well as eating and drinking. It was a wonderful time for the families and students to spend together as a group and share. It was a very successful evening.

The American Monument is quite
impressive and may well be the tallest
structure in Brest.

The admiral was very engaging.

Ah, you do know the story of Jeremiah Johnson?

And now, Best Friends Forever!

Schmoozing with the sous-prefect.

The SP is a pretty cool guy!

All the little French girls know...

Is Jamie taking a picture of me taking a picture?

They seriously did not plan this.

Grant and the posse.

Ashley just defeated Nicholas in our ongoing game,
and he was in the lead! (Note the look of sad resignation
on Nick's face.)

Seriously, they now all talk with their hands!

We have spent our activity time this week preparing for the program we are going to present on Tuesday evening for the French families. The kids are going to present sketches they have written, play music and sing, dance and even lip-sync. It’s going to be really cool. They have really put their hearts into it. I promise videos.

Last night (Thursday) we got to participate in “danse bretonne.” This is the traditional folk dancing of Bretagne (Brittany). Jean-Paul, our one of our onsite coordinators has been an active folk dancer for 16 years. He and one of the French mothers taught the lessons.

We met in a meeting hall of a junior high school that teaches in the ancient Breton language only. Our teachers started slowly and the students learned quickly. Nicole loves to dance, so she was chosen to help present the dances with three or more people. Amanda has also done danse bretonne, so she helped the students.

Everyone had so much fun! We (they) danced for nearly two hours, but it seemed like less. We departed with tunes and dance steps in our heads. The pictures and videos really tell the story. 

Many students returned home to parties, as it was France vs. Germany in the final four of the European tournament. There were bound to be sleepy eyes in the morning. (France won, by the way. Allez le Bleus!)

How cute!

They are getting the hang of it!

Girls, it's not tango!

This is, apparently, serious business.

I forget who is leading!

Nicholas! Rule #1 - Don't look at
your feet!

Grant, lighten up!

Today (Friday), we went on our final excursion before Paris. We visited the Medieval city of Locronan and the city of Quimper, the regional capital. Locronan is a town of 800 inhabitants that has preserved its buildings built from the 1200s to the 1500s. People live and work in these old buildings. There are shops and restaurants, a really quirky bookstore and a fantastic church.

Nicole arranged for us to visit a boulangerie (which is a bread and pastry bakery) to learn about the making of a kouign amann, a traditional Breton pastry. We got to go into the kitchen where one of the bakers explained the process. He took a dough he had made of flour and water and added butter and sugar. This doesn’t really begin to express it.

He had 300 grams of dough (about 10 oz.) and covered it with 250 grams (about 8 oz.) of butter. And this is Breton butter, called demi-sel. It is slightly salty which comes from the cows that eat grass grown in slightly salty soil and the salt added for preservation. The taste is heavenly and makes other butter seem tasteless. He covered that with 200 grams (slightly less than 7 oz.) of sugar.

He then punches the mixture flat then folds it over onto itself. He then runs that through a set of rollers that turn the dough ball into a long flat dough. He then folds that back onto itself. He does this several times. The dough is then left to rise for half an hour. Finally, it is introduced into a very hot oven for 20-25 minutes.

What comes out is a very flaky, very sweet pastry that is absolutely dripping with butter. The students were absolutely blown away. You must ask you students about this heavenly experience.

Afterwards, we toured the little town soaking up the rare sunshine and doing a bit of shopping. We had a picnic lunch and headed for Quimper.

Quimper is the capital of the Finistère region, although its population of 63,000 is less than half that of Brest (141,000). It is a very old city, its “modern” version dating from as early as the 1200s. It escaped the destructive bombardments of the Allies in WWII because it was home to a POW camp that housed some 7,000 captured French soldiers. It was also an important communication hub for the French Resistance and the Allied Forces.

It is a port city that straddles an estuary. It has more pedestrian-only streets than any city in northwest France. So it is a center of the import-export trade, but more importantly for us, it is a shopping hub. 
Once we visited the beautifully restored 14th century cathedral, we ventured out in small groups to window shop, or really shop or to take in the sights. Several of us found welcoming cafés for a late afternoon coffee or cup of tea.

It was a delightful way to end what has been a very intense week. Unfortunately, we returned to a chilly, rainy Brest. …And we were early returning…And where we meet is right on the sea…But they are promising sunshine tomorrow!

How cute!

Amanda holds court in front of the

Les cinq mouquetaires

Yes, that's a half pound of butter!

And over a third of a pound of sugar!

Smoosh it all together...

Wasn't there a song, Anticipation,

Is that...? Yes, Mickinleigh is eating!

A city on the water.

Mickinleigh helps keep Anna warm...

Whatever it takes to keep warm. That brown blob is

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Week 4, I think

We’ve done lots of things since I last updated you. It seems that the closer the end of the stage comes, the more there is to do.

Last week, I convinced a small number of students to play pétanque with me. This is a game not unlike Bocce, if you have played that. The idea is that you toss out a small ball as a target. Then you throw larger balls to see who can get as close as possible to a target that can move. It sounds simple, but there is so much strategy that it has captured the imagination of Europe for over two thousand years. Pétanque is the unique version of the game and the most practiced in the world.

Friday, we went bowling with our French families. That was an amazing adventure that brought us all closer. Just saying, but I was the best of the American bowlers with a 124. Okay, my average in the US is 182, but I didn’t have my own shoes or my own bowling balls. I haven’t bowled with house shoes and a house ball in 15 years! Stephanie, Sofia‘s mom had the high score. I don’t even want to talk about it anymore…

It was really fun. We are really glad we did it. The students learned that some words in bowling are the same; strike, spare (with a French accent obviously), but others are different. The lane is a “piste” and the balls are “les boules”. Our French group didn’t know the word for “frame” but I’m sure it exists for serious bowlers.

It’s kind of strange how a sport so uniquely American, which has a great popularity in France, could bring us all so close. We find that the cultural gaps are not so wide as the students may have thought at first. But as one student said to me (in French certainly), “This was really fun. I just wish they talked a little bit slower when they get excited. I didn’t understand half of what they said. But it was vraiment cool!” That’s high praise in anybody’s book.

I’m going to make a separate post for Monday’s July 4 celebration so the posts don’t get too long.

(P.S. I did “senior portraits” today (Wednesday, July 6) of Ashley and Grant. Tomorrow, I will photograph Karlee and Maggy. If any other parents would like portraits of their kids in Brest, please post a comment to this post.)

Sofia gets the hang of it.

But her French little brother Pablo is a pro.

Great form Emma!

Sammy didn't fall, but what  is he doing?

Bffs (mma, in French - actually I made that up)

Great form Geoff! (Shh! not really)

She was a princess in another life.

French descriptions of food and drink are hard to understand,

Chloé has probably had the "camera smile" since she
was very little. 

Diego celebrates a gutter ball.

"hey, what can I say?"

Why is no one paying attention to Audrey? She's
gesturing and everything.

Sometimes, I think Bruno tries to confuse the American
kids on purpose!

That's my girl!

All in a day's work.

"I got this!"

Maggy picked up a single-pin spare!

This isn't a pose. She sits like this
all the time, really. (not so much)

Pablo has this crazy idea that Jake is cool!

Audrey really is cool, and all the little French girls know it.

Although it may appear differently, Geoff is NOT proposing
to Aspen.

Geoff also has a "camera smile."