25 February 2008

Hello Friends

As I count it, this concludes my fifth and last week of sabbatical. Or rather, my last week of avoiding writing home, and of wondering why I had this compulsion to avoid writing home. Or, honestly, having a mild existential crisis over the whole concept of “home.” I’m tempted to proclaim that this whole sabbatical was a wash, that I am not more rested, fully present, or French-speaking after these five weeks, but I know that would be undervaluing all that has happened. It wasn’t restful: classes started, with all the French university chaos which surrounds establishing anything like a schedule or routine; I traveled to seven cities in three countries; and, even when you’re putting a thought to stew on the “back burner,” it still takes up a good bit of energy, and I had several back burners going. For that reason, being fully present was difficult to achieve. And I spoke loads of English, mostly due to the fact that just as the semester began I acquired a new, dear, genuine, “on site” friend, whose one detracting characteristic, if you can say that, is to be English-speaking. That ruined my linguistic intentions from the get-go, but I can’t say I regret it. As close as we can be through letters, phones, emails, blogs, and the blessing of Skype, we are still very much apart. It makes a difference.

Still, thank you for the space. Since I have recently been acutely reminded by several of you who sincerely missed hearing from me, I’m back. So, to try to encapsulate the last five weeks:


My schedule has finally settled down, and I don’t think anyone will envy me the “opportunity to have such enriching experiences.” And I don’t have to remind you that it’s all in French, even though now that is a much less difficult detail.


10-12: Germanic Cultural and Linguistic Change

12-14: Sociolinguistic Approach to the Situation in Alsace

14-15: Grammar

16-17: English-French Translation

17-18:30: Tango


Market Morning!

11-13: Regional Language and Culture

13-17: English teaching internship at bilingual school in town

17-18: Linguistic Diversity in France

18:30-20: Alsatian


9:30-14:30: English tutoring

16-18: Grammar


11-12: French Linguistics

12-14: Internship teacher’s meeting

15-17: Grammar

18:30-20: Couples’ Dance


8:30-11:30 Internship

12-14: Linguistic Policy in Education

Yes, I do like all my linguistics classes, and am glad to have the opportunity to learn so much about the field. My English teaching internship is for my TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) degree, something I’m hoping to do for the next several years, whether outside or within the US. I work with 6-10-year-olds who spend half their day with one teacher in English, the other half with another teacher in French. I really enjoy it, teaching things like how to write a letter, what makes a sentence a sentence, and spelling lists. Mostly, I just marvel at the opportunity these students have, envying most of them for their bi-/multilingualism. One six-year-old girl speaks Portuguese with her mom, Dutch with her dad, and English and French at school. Wow. And the dance classes are a nice addition to the mix: learning tango is as serious and technical as learning a gymnastics routine, but the couples’ dance course is just plain fun. Thanks to the “workshop” dances they have once a month, I’ve already learned (only the basics, I’m telling you) the paso, bolero, salsa, bachata, cha cha, swing, waltz, and meringue (my favorite).

If you’re gonna do it, do it up big

Then came the season of Carnival. Move over, New Orleans Mardi Gras, because the Europeans know how to party. Carrying on a long history of celebrating the end of winter and ushering in springtime, Carnival is only marginally linked to the Christian tradition of Lent. Think of it as Halloween: Everyone dresses up in costumes they’ve worked on year round, parades through town, sings, throws out candy, plays jokes, and dances to loud music. Parades last several hours, and after the parade, the drinking. And you’ve never seen so much confetti! I suspect entire forests of trees are planted just to be harvested, dyed the colors of the rainbow, and thrown into the air to end up, well, everywhere. Imagine cleaning that off cobblestone streets. I saw Carnival first in Freiburg, Germany, where Leslie and I went for a weekend to visit a Manchester professor there on sabbatical. Dr. Gilliar is a gifted, inspiring, passionate native German who’s spending her year teaching English and working for a Freiburg newspaper, and wonderfully hosting any MC students who drift her way. We went on a historical tour of Freiburg, focusing on the period of the witch hunts; had dampfnoodle, the most wonderful creation of soft bread bathed in vanilla sauce and cinnamon; discussed the bronze name plaques placed among the cobblestones outside any home in Germany that had belonged during the 30's and 40's to deported Jews; and just caught up with each other. It was a wonderful visit.

We went directly from Freiburg to a small German town called Gengenbach, to watch another Carnival parade with the BCA group. It starts with music; then each “float” parades past showing off its costumes, masks, and this year’s theme; groups of schoolchildren march past, sometimes singing or at least equipped with noisemakers; people ride past on bikes, throwing out candy; and once the parade makes it all the way around, the music bands start, people go for hot chocolate or coffee or beer at the stands in the main square, and everyone mills around in good spirits. Here they are, doing just that:

And then, during a two-week “winter break” three weeks after classes started (I know, rough life), we had another BCA excursion to see the Carnival in Basel, Switzerland, supposedly the biggest one around. Though we arrived at noon, it began at 4:11am, when all the lights in the entire city were turned out for the lantern procession officially opening the Carnival. Basel is a beautiful town, German-speaking, dealing in Swiss francs instead of euros, and full of Swiss chocolate that has earned its reputation. I’ll have to return sometime to see it when it is not buried under three feet of confetti. Case in point:

one of our BCA director’s sons, four years old, face-painted, thoroughly enjoying the parade.

A Familiar Face

Tuesday to Friday I spent in Marburg, Germany, a not-so-big but incredibly hilly university town a bit north of Frankfurt. I didn’t go there for its castle and gardens (though they were beautiful), its steep cobblestone streets (which had quite a bit of character), its crooked-tower church (yes, crooked), or its genuine Birkenstocks (though a few were acquired while I was there). Frankly, I could have been anywhere, as long as I was spending time with my lovely smiley dear friend Nicole, who recently arrived from Manchester to spend the semester studying in Marburg. Poor thing: she’d only been there ten days when I came to visit, but managed her way to the train station to pick me up, and I couldn’t have been more elated to see her. Someone from home! Someone who knows me! Someone who is not new, whom I already know, with whom I have shared much! We passed our time telling stories, cooking and eating together and with other BCA students, reading, going to her English teaching internship, napping, wandering around Marburg, giggling, remembering. Possibly my favorite trip so far.

Contemplating said crooked tower, the town of Marburg spread out below.

Me with Amy and Nicole, a common combination for dinner.

Soon to come…

And finally, I spent all last week traveling in Italy. But as this post is already getting long, the hour is already late, and I’m obliged to post this tonight, I’ll continue with stories of gelato, Florentine art, St. Mark’s Square pigeons, and the Coliseum next time. Ciao!

ps. I bought a bike! A genuine French Rembrandt, with a lovely bell.