Scènes Européenes: Letter to America Part 1
«Curiouser and curiouser» said Alice as she went further down the rabbit hole. I was leaving the apartment for a few days (staying in Mulhouse and Basel, from which I have just returned), and I found a letter from NZ in my letterbox: a letter from the family, some newspaper articles and YOUR CARD were enclosed. Thus you can probably imagine the circuitous route your letter took to get to me: in a plane for over 12 hours to get to NZ from America, only to be sent onwards for another 24 hours in a plane from Auckland to Europe (at least it had some clippings from The New Zealand Herald to talk to during the journey). Then it went through the slippery and unreliable hands of «La Poste» before arriving in a far-flung corner of Alsace for me to read with delight. AND I have your new address. I also notice that it was an Anne Geddes card (was this deliberate or not?). And also thankyou for the photo, which I can add to my special people display I have constructed on top of my bookcase/ laundry cupboard/ resource storage unit. (It’s a very large series of cupboards and drawers in my dining room and there seems to be all sorts of things in it.)
You say in your card, and I quote «aujourd’hui alors la France est dans ma tête». France on the brain, is it? Consider yourself lucky: how do you think I feel? (Given that I’m actually HERE right now).
I am imagining that you will have received the letter that I sent care of your parents by now. If you haven’t, then ask whether something from France has arrived for you in C.P. scribbled by a confused kiwi. It explains sort of how I ended up here and a little bit about what I have been up to. The first month has raced by SO fast. I’m still getting used to the idea of teaching kids and still have a couple of things to do to complete all my arrival duties (apparently I have a Social Security number now, but the school hasn’t told me what it is.) No major problems and everyone continues to be very friendly and I have eaten far too much choucroute and raclette. I haven’t been able to weigh myself, but I am convinced that I have put on weight (if you can imagine that...).
I have spent a few days «on holiday» in Basel because it’s les vacances de Toussaint this week.... it was really good to get out of T. for a little while: it’s a small place and there is not a terrible lot to do here when you have holidays. I spent Friday night in Mulhouse with the host family of my NZ friend S, whom I visited in 1999 after my stay in Grenoble... That night I went out with J (S's host sister, who has spent a year in NZ) and her boyfriend and some of their friends to a concert in central Mulhouse: the main band was Strasbourgeois, a group called «Weeper’s Circus»- a mix of medieaval, celtic styles, Brel/Brassens-influenced chanson and little «coups de théâtre» which were very funny. Lyrics went way over my head but it was lots of fun anyway.
Also great to go out with some people roughly my own age (rather than 30something French profs, who are very cool too, but not the same) and learn some slang- however even then they were very much an undergrad (first and second year) student bunch, and it’s amazing what a year outside the undergrad environment plus a JOB can do to your attitude. They would talk about what their friends are up to, I would talk about the pupils in my English classes. It wasn’t the language that made me feel slightly out of place, rather the age difference between them and me (they’re 20 and I’m 22. Or am I just old before my time?)
On Saturday morning I took the train to Basel to spend some time with Mum's old boss, E-D and his wife A. My visit coincided with the visit of their daughter K and her two daughters, H and Kl (5 and 3 respectively), the ones who live in Lille. The linguistic combinations were quite frightening sometimes. The dinner table is a mixture of German and English (mostly English when I am there). BUT K and H and Kl speak French with one another (although 5 year-old H a can understand German and speak it a little). E-D and A cannot speak French, so they speak German with the grandchildren, and the grandchildren reply in French (which either I or K translated into English when appropriate). I spoke English with E-D and A, (of course) and a mixture of French and English with K and French with the children. One night I read them a story in German, which H and Kl did not understand, but we talked about the pictures in French.
H: As-tu des enfants?
M: Non, je n’en ai pas.
M: Parce que je suis pas marié
H: Tu habites donc avec ta maman?
M: Non, j’habite tout seul dans un apartement
H: T’aimes habiter tout seul?
M: Pas vraiment, mais ça va pour l’instant.
H: Tu habites à Lille?
M: Non, j’habite en Alsace. Mais moi, je viens de la Nouvelle-Zélande.
H: La, la, la Nou... la Noubelle-Zéladaire, c’est près de Lille?
M: Non, c’est l’autre bout du monde de Lille. Ecoute, si tu creusais un trou dans ton jardin chez toi et tu continuais à creuser pour des jours et des jours, on arrivera en Nouvelle-Zélande. Donc c’est très très très loin de Lille.
H: Quand nous avons les vacances à Lagette, nous roulons pendant CINQ HEURES dans la bagnole de Papa. La Noubi Zilée, c’est près de Lagette?
M: (tout à fait lessivé par la logique circulaire de l’Inspecteur H) Oui, la Nouvelle-Zélande est près de Lagette. Mais maintenant c’est l’heure de dodo, quoi?
To be continued
Weepers Circus – Le Pas de Renard – En Suivant le Renard
From L'Ombre et la Demoiselle [Buy]