Things Fall Apart

It’s been one of those weeks (well, week-and-a-halves to be precise). The internet at the house conveniently stopped working for three days in the middle of last week and thus I was unable to post all of the exciting news that has been happening recently in France. Not that much of it has really been that exciting, but the lack of internet does explain why I am posting two entries so closely together.

This week-and-a-half of misfires all started on Monday evening. Monday sounded like a good day of the week to have Mexican food, and so I decided to try my hand at fish tacos. “What a good idea,” I thought to myself during one of those rare moments when I am actually proud of my ability to cook. Ha. What a joke. By the end of the night, “What a bad idea,” is the mantra that was running circles in my head. Being the naïve, debutant chef that I am, I was unaware that salted cod needs to be de-salted for at least 24 hours before it can be eaten because otherwise it is “inedible due to the high levels of salt that the fish absorbs.” Two things: 1) Why would you salt a fish to the point of rendering it inedible? 2) “High-levels” is the grossest understatement I have ever seen on paper. The finished product was beautiful upon first glance but I was literally dehydrated to the point of having a skull splitting headache an hour after ingesting a single bite. Kévin respectfully tried to continue his portion while I re-heated a pizza but I threw away the rest of the fish before he could finish because I was afraid he would be sick. As it turns out, we were both sick afterward with stabbing stomach pains and terrible headaches. If you can imagine swallowing three tablespoons of salt in one go, that would be the equivalent of this cod. It was perhaps the worst thing I have ever tasted.


Following this disastrous salty cod experience, I was determined to succeed at making edible fish tacos with edible fish on Wednesday night. The finished product was, again, beautiful, but this time when I went in for my first bite, all I could taste was disappointment. I mean this quite literally because the cod itself had absolutely…no…flavor. I give up at making fish tacos. This is the first time that I have failed so completely at making any sort of food and I finished the meal in tears with Kévin half-trying to comfort me and half-trying not to laugh at me because I was crying about fish.

And now to jump back to Tuesday. Tuesday morning I wanted to call the Rectorat de Nantes so that I could ask about prolonging my contract for another year of teaching. During our orientation in October, I was assured that it would be very easy to extend my contract. This was certainly a lie considering their current track record with all things professed to be easy which are actually very difficult. However, I would have somehow survived the tedious process and had my teaching contract in hand at the end of the day – that is, if the CIEP hadn’t decided for some mysterious reason that only German assistants would be allowed to teach in France for two consecutive years. Why only the Germans you ask? I was curious as well, but nobody could seem to give me a satisfactory response. It was, however made very clear that all other assistants would NOT be receiving extensions for next year. I received this news as gracefully as I could over the phone, but as soon as I hung up it was as if a violent storm had descended upon the living room. After my initial phase of shouting and cursing at all of the objects in sight (I was home alone), I promptly melted into a pool of tears on the carpet, plotting my revenge on the universe and all those who had conspired to change my plans for the future so thoroughly. The eye of the storm arrived next and I was able to – with a superhuman amount of calm – research all other options for staying in France for another year. Barring living as an au pair however, it is next to impossible for US citizens to obtain work visas in France. In order for a French employer to hire you, you must prove that you are better qualified than anyone in the European Union, seeing as these citizens do not need special work permits to hold jobs in other EU countries. I have a high esteem of my abilities, but it would be difficult nonetheless to prove that I speak English better than anyone in the United Kingdom. The eye of the storm passed just when Kévin came home and I was once again reduced to tears as I recounted the rather short series of events that so completely upended all of our plans for next year. So now the huge, unanswered question is, what am I going to do next year? On that count, I am rather stumped. Graduate school may be looming closer than I had anticipated…

In other (lackluster) news, my excursions in France have been spectacularly uneventful for some time now. Excepting a daytime trip to Pornic, my life is so uninteresting as to be comical. Last Tuesday, the history teacher that drives me to work, Fabien, was at a meeting in Nantes and thus couldn’t bring me to Collège Soljenitsyne. You might be thinking, “Public transportation is great in France. Why didn’t you take the bus?” Well, public transportation in France is great as long as you don’t live in the middle-of-nowhere Vendée. There are two buses that pass between Challans and Aizenay in the morning – one at 6:40am and one at 10:00am. Seeing as I had class from 8:30am to 10:30am, Kévin was nice enough to drive me in at 7:30 (which was not on his way to work at all). While I successfully avoided taking the 6:40am bus in the morning, this did not change the fact that the only bus between Aizenay and Challans leaves the town center at 5:40pm. This not-so-minor problem left me to wander the rural streets of Aizenay for seven hours after class while I waited for a bus. I asked one of the teachers on my way out what there was to see in Aizenay at which point she laughed and said, “absolutely nothing.” So, with “absolutely nothing” in store for me, I set out on a brave new adventure.

Carine was only half-right. There wasn’t much to see in Aizenay. In a style that closely resembles Challans, Aizenay is shockingly industrialized for a town of 7,000. I passed endless warehouses and construction companies before calling it quits at the Hyper-U at the town limits. Yes, I walked the entire length of Aizenay only to end up in a super market for lunch. Luckily, I was determined to find some green plot of land on which to picnic and upon close inspection of all road signs leading back to the collège, I found a park. And so, I ate my sandwich alone in a park in sub-zero weather in the middle-of-nowhere Vendée. On my way out, I noticed a llama and goat that perhaps feature in some sort of petting zoo during the summer months and are left to wander a fenced section of the park during the rest of the year. Seeing as I had just eaten alone, I decided to have a conversation with them before leaving. A monologue would probably be a more apt description, although the goat did bleat in acknowledgement when I told it what I had for lunch and asked if the grass was good this time of year. Naturally, the minute I turned to go I started cracking up due to the absurdity of the situation. I have now befriended a goat and a llama but my circle of friends is severely lacking in humans. Next goal: have a conversation with something that actually talks back.

(Chateau de Pornic)

Strangely, it is often the comical parts of life (i.e. talking to a llama) that help us realize the beautiful parts of life. Over the weekend, Kévin and I went on our second outing to Pornic, this time to admire the medieval port town by day. While we did not meet anyone new, an afternoon of sunlight and stunning ocean views helped to reacquaint us with nature at its finest. After two months, the pouring rain is beginning to relent and long forgotten images of sunshine are resurfacing in my memory. Next week marks the beginning of “winter” vacation and it promises to be fourteen days of beautiful weather and unparalleled scenery. It would seem that adventure is heading back my way. On to Paris, on to Scotland, and on to my next excursions…

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