Sunday, March 23, 2014

not for the faint of heart

last week was full of firsts for me… both professional and experiential. i’ll leave it for you to decide which one was more challenging!

my weekend was bookended by two stints as a school-trip chaperone. i still haven’t been able to decide on an appropriate word to describe the fact that i’m considered “adult” enough to be responsible for school children – perplexing? horrifying? humbling? flattering? at any rate… on thursday, the 13th, i walked to school at 5:55am, to load up into a van with six students and one other teacher and make the three-hour drive to bordeaux. the kids, all in their final year of high school, were participating in a sort of friendly english-langugae debate tournament with teams from several other high schools in the region. my secondary role at the tournament was to serve as a coach for one of the 8 teams, each made up of kids from different schools. each group debated three times – they were given 25 minutes to prepare and then the actual discussion lasted for about 20 minutes. all in english! overall, i was exceedingly impressed with my team; they had a genuinely impressive level of english, and expressed their ideas and beliefs very articulately. we even won our final debate, in which we had to argue against the necessity of learning a foreign language in today’s world. ironic, considering they were all speaking a foreign language… then, the two teams with the top scores debated in the final round. and one of my kids was on the winning team. :) i had a great time meeting the other students, and also getting to know my students a little better outside of the classroom!

after the tournament was over, i had the driver drop me off at the train station in the city, because (in typical jill fashion) i had planned a little weekend getaway to the south! being just outside of bordeaux made the train journey considerably more convenient, so i couldn’t help but take advantage of the opportunity. unfortunately, thanks to several seemingly-pointless delays and a work truck broken down on the track later on, my 3 hour journey turned into a 7.5 hour journey… oh well. i just hung out on the various trains, reading and chatting with the other passengers. finally, around midnight, i arrived in my destination – the mountain town of pau, where my friend lauren (remember her from my moroccan trip?) is living for the year. it was so lovely to see her again, but it was laaate and we’d both had long days, so my first night in town was a quiet one! we spent the next day exploring pau a little – highlights included touring the impressive castle, shopping in h&m (a luxury for my country bumpkin reality!), having lunch on a café terrace, and wandering through the open-air market. pau actually reminded me a lot of angers, the city where i spent my semester abroad three years ago. naturally, that association made for a good impression of the city! plus, the weather was gorgeous all weekend, with bright sun and comfortable temperatures – a fantastic change from the constant rain of the previous months. the night was topped off with a bacon cheeseburger (!!!) at the pub across the street from lauren’s apartment. it wasn’t like burger up, but it sufficed to tide me over until i’m home in two months!

saturday was my big debut as a future olympian – lauren fulfilled her promise to take me snowboarding in the pyrenees! several of her friends joined us for the hour-long bus ride to gourette, a ski station nestled right into the middle of some seriously snowy peaks. we arrived around 9am, and i headed to the gear rental shop to get outfitted. i chose to snowboard for two main reasons: lauren snowboards and could therefore teach me a little better, and somehow one sliding plank attached to my feet seemed easier to control than two. once i had my board, shoes, and helmet, we headed up to the bunny slopes. now, as someone who is not quite what you would call athletic, i had my doubts about my potential success on the mountain. and, true to expectation, my first “run” was basically what you would call a comical disaster, in my opinion. but lauren was endlessly patient and very encouraging, and i made it down the mountain having only fallen once every 14 seconds. from that point on, i was determined to get the hang of it; in my rare moments of vertical, forward motion, i could sense that it was something i would actually enjoy, if i could just stay upright! my second run was definitely better – i pretty much only fell when i tried to turn on my toes. i took a break after the second run, to rest my aching knees/hands/butt/body in general, and to give lauren a chance to do a run or two on the big girl trails. the rest of the day was spent in similar fashion – two runs, break, repeat. i did a few runs by myself, and by the end of the day, i actually made it down the mountain without falling a few times! granted, i spent a large portion of the descent “braking” and generally avoiding collisions, but still! i was so proud of myself, especially since i don’t particularly care for extreme sports – something about the speed and seeming lack of immediate control doesn’t sit well with me. but, i was happy to have tried it and found moderate (albeit hard-earned and painful) success! the bus ride back revealed several aches i had not yet noted, and by the time we got home, i was miiiiserable. we took baths to try and soothe our protesting muscles and joints, and were passed out by 9pm. not exactly party girls, but there was no rallying after the sheer physical exertion of that day!

after making my way home on sunday (slowly, but without the delays of thursday’s journey), i had one day to rest before heading out on my second chaperoning stint  - an overnight high school theatre festival! the festival took place in perigueux, so it wasn’t as long of a journey. my kids were performing a play that the freshmen had written, as a part of a workshop led by a local playwright earlier in the year. and, since that was a noteworthy-enough achievement, the freshmen had been invited to present their work to the audience before watching their play for the first time! we arrived around 9:30, and the kids were on stage by 11. having participated in both the school theatre productions and the local theatre company,  i was very, very interested to see the kind of theatre these groups put on. it was all, in typical french fashion, very post-modern and metaphorical, in a “theatre of the absurd” kind of way. a far cry from the musicals of my youth, to be sure. our kids performed splendidly, and i was just as impressed with the writing. we had lunch in the lobby of the theatre before heading down the street to watch what ended up being the weirdest dance performance i have ever witnessed. i couldn’t even begin to describe it adequately; suffice to say, it took “absurd” to a whole new level. there was lots of rolling around on the ground and balancing upside-down, and also a part where the dancer (a solitary woman) was naked from the waist up. talk about an american moment… i couldn’t stop myself from wondering what the reaction to that would be in the states, with a room full of minors. the rest of the day was spent watching the other schools perform their plays. my reactions ranged from pleasantly surprised to completely baffled to moderately offended. but i guess that’s what theatre is all about – creating emotion in the heart of the audience. as different as that theatre experience was from my own high school show tunes, there is one constant in the equation – teenagers. the overnight stay in the hotel was basically exactly what you’d expect from a group of 15-17 year olds left to their own devices… thankfully, everyone survived the night. all i will say is that i genuinely hope i never have to be the figure of actual authority in a situation like that. i much preferred being the cool semi-teacher that could act as a sort of go-between for the kids and the real adults. by the time the next shift of teachers showed up to take over, i was very ready to be home in my own bed!

photos from pau can be found here. this coming weekend, i’m jumping up to paris to hang out with connor (also of moroccan vacation fame!). stay tuned! :)

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