Friday, December 18, 2009

Chocolate Party


Ecole Froissart Christmas Concert


I've been a pooper and have complained a lot about this fine country I have been living in. So, to shake things up a bit, I am going to instead sing my praises for France and how it knows how to party.

My schools this week were a buzz with excitement for the coming holidays. Students were
preparing for their Marchés de Noël and even a fun game of English Christmas bingo was too much for them to focus on.

On Tuesday I was pleasantly surprised that I did not have to "work" (though playing with French children while teaching them English words can hardly be called work), but instead got to be an audience in Ecole Froissart's Christmas Concert.

It was the cutest thing--little French children (5-10 years old) singing off tune carols in French, and yes, in English. My little rugrats sang that Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and they sang it with the merriest Christmas spirit they could. I was so proud!

Following the Christmas concert, the school hosted their annual, are you ready for this?, CHOCOLATE PARTY.

Yes. A party for chocolate. How awesome is that? When I first moved to this country three years ago I was so overly impressed by how chocolate had been incorporated into everyday life: chocolate in cereals, pain au chocolat, chocolate bits that came with your coffee. It was great!

And now, at Christmas, elementary schools have full-on parties for it. Hallelujah!

We had chocolate truffles, chocolate rosettes, chocolate madeleines, saucisson au chocolat, chocolate cake, hot chocolate...the list goes on!

To sum it up, all I have eaten this past week is chocolate.

Man, like can be tough ;)

Merry Christmas everyone!


Students parousing the chocolate selection

Some of the chocolate goodies

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The First Snow

Hello Everyone!

I am so sorry it has been a while since my last post, but a lot has been going on.

First, it is snowing!!! I know this is not some unheard of Marvel, especially in Europe and the North of France. But give me a break, I'm a girl from California, and the possibility of having my first white Christmas is currently the most exciting thing in my life right now.


The first snow in Valenciennes

So, a quick update:

Two weeks ago I spent a lovely weekend in Compiègne with my new French family: the Gaudets. The Gaudets are family friends with one of my mom's students and we have been in touch since I arrived here in France. They invited me to visit two weekends ago and it was the most pleasant weekend.

I admit, I have been rather homesick these past few weeks, especially with the holidays coming. So staying with a family really did the trick in cheering me up. The Gaudets, Anne and Christophe and their three children Pierre (10), Juliette (7) and Matthieu (4) were the most charming family. We enjoyed two days touring the city which houses the Chateau de Compiègne (Napoleon's digs) and the location of where the English captured Jeanne d'Arc. We also caught the film Le Petit Nicolas, went to the local Christmas markets, went to Mass (my first time) and enjoyed a lovely family lunch on Sunday at Anne's parents' house.

The family was so welcoming to me and have invited me back whenever I want. I definitely plan on returning in the Spring and perhaps for a visit to the Chateau de Chantilly. Juliette even cried when I left! So I think they liked me :)


Christophe and Matthieu, Me, Anne, Nicole (Anne's mom), Pierre and Juliette

On to more updates...

I met up with Jordan last weekend in London. We visited his old college roommate Nick who is living there now and working for Skype Mac. We spent a couple days in the city, and then took a road trip out to Kent to visit some castles and stay in some B&Bs. We visited Leeds Castle, Dover Castle, and saw the secret wartime tunnels under Dover Castle and the White Cliffs of Dover. Back in London, we visited Greenwich park and stood on the Prime Meridian.


Dover Castle


Jordan and I on the White Cliffs of Dover


Me on the White Cliffs of Dover


It was so beautiful! And France was just over the Channel


On the Prime Meridian

Jordan is off to Berlin now to visit an old friend for the holidays, and I am leaving Saturday for Sweden. Because of the snow the forecast says to expect flight delays, but I am hoping that will go smoothly as it is Jonatan's birthday too!

I hope you are all going to have a lovely holiday and I miss you tons!!

More to come on a European Christmas!

Bisous!
Me on top of a castle!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

London Town



I am off to London tomorrow everyone for a weekend with Jordan and his friend Nick. We are checking out the city and then will be off to some B&Bs in the English Countryside. I will take a lot of pictures for you all to see!

I am sorry I have been neglecting this blog lately. Things all of a sudden got a little busy, and I have been focusing on my Swedish blog. But I have a lot to tell you, especially about my weekend in the countryside with my new French family. So stay tuned and I will update you all soon!

Bisous to all!

Friday, December 4, 2009

I Blog for The Local Now Too--Check It Out!



Hej Everyone!

I just wanted to let you all know that I have another blog out in the cyber world now. I am now a blogger for The Local--Sweden's News in English www.thelocal.se

You can find my blog here: Sverige on my Mind http://www.thelocal.se/blogs/sverigeonmymind/

Of course, my posts are pretty much focused on Sweden, but I have been getting a lot of comments and feedback and am sometimes featured on the main page. Kinda of cool :)

So please read!

Tack!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Brother is Gone



After about a month and a half of meandering around Europe together and living in extremely close quarters in a quiet French town, my brother has taken off on the next chapter in his journey around the world and has left me all alone in Valenciennes.

Ok, now I am just being a baby. I am not all alone. I still have my awesome roommate Chelsea and the other characters of Val. Plus, I have my own agenda to stick to: this weekend, a trip to the country with my famille francaise. Then it's back in Val for a few days, and then I actually get to go to London to meet up with the Big Bro again. So, yeah, it's actually not even really goodbye either.

Nevertheless, I am feeling a bit down, and more than I expected. To be perfectly honest, I was definitely apprehensive about Jordan's extremely long visit over here (3 months it will be in entirety).

When I first arrived in Lille I was freaked because I was homeless, and how could I have my brother come visit if I was living in a tent with the other SDFs?

Then I got an apartment, but it was small, and there were only two beds--one for me, one for the roomie. Where was he going to sleep? Did I need to venture to the big Carrefour to find a foam mattress for him? And do I really want him around, in my space, for that long? What will he do all day while I work?

Um yeah, I'm kind of a worrywart. Can you tell?

Well, to my pleasant surprise, this has been the greatest month and half I could have asked for. I've been a little bit more homesick this time around abroad and it was great to have a comfort from home.

It was also great to really get to know my brother. Sure, I've known him over 23 years now, and we've hung out a lot and even traveled together quite a bit as well. But this time, I got to actually live with him. Because of our close proximity physically in my apartment (and our bedroom, aka the living room/kitchen/dining room), there was not much room to hold back conversations, opinions, snores and maybe sometimes even farts. Gross, I know.

But really, it was so incredibly wonderful to feel so comfortable with my brother and to know that we really are a lot alike. To know that we live rather similarly, and that we are excellent travel partners.

It is my personal belief that siblings are your best allies and friends in life. They know where you come from, why you are the way you are, and are the ones who can understand your quirks, worries and phobias the most (I have many).

So, now I will have to go and watch The Office alone tonight. Jordan, it was a blast. Can't wait to meet you in London, I'm going to see what I can do about Barcelona, I can't wait to have you back here in Val for even just a little bit, and I am going to hate having to say goodbye for real.

Love you!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Francegiving



This year I celebrated my third Thanksgiving away from my family and country. It was also the second Thanksgiving in a row that I was abroad and away from real turkey and cranberry sauce, so I'm fairly used to accepting the fact that sometimes you just have to let go of your traditions and know you will have another "real" holiday someday.

But, this time, we decided to say "no way France, we are having our Thanksgiving!"

Chelsea and I scoured all of the grocery stores in Valenciennes, went MacGyver on poultry and cooked up an awesome Thanksgiving dinner for Chelsea's French family, the Bisiaux family.

And I must say, it was a huge success. I concocted, from scratch, the best-ever green bean casserole, Chelsea made her grandmother's southern dressing (kind of like stuffing) and her family's coca-cola salad (sounds crazy, I know, but it was delicious and served as a perfect substitute to our missing cranberry sauce). We found smoked chickens to be the turkey replacements, and add a bunch of French wines and aperitifs, and you get the best Francegiving one could have.

The night was perfect, and as we streamed a recording of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, we almost felt like we were home.

Check out these pics of our feast! I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving and am so grateful to have you in my life!







Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Amsterdam-The San Francisco of Europe

Amsterdam is by far one of the coolest cities in Europe. The instant I arrived I was all at once impressed, excited and at ease. The streets are peaceful, yet energetic. The intertwining streets and canals are more than just picturesque. This past weekend was such a treat for my senses and my mood--a treat that I was in desperate need for after some extra dreary and rainy days in Val. Really, that city is starting to get to me. I think some more weekend trips are in order.....(good thing small farm town, London and Sweden are coming up).

Anyways, in short I was completely blown away by this town, and am already planning trips back, as well as Jonatan's future shipping career there (it has the biggest port in Europe. I think it's a plan).

Jordan and I strolled around the Nine Streets neighborhood, visited the Anne Frank House (incredibly moving and the best "museum" experience of my life), attended the burlesque festival going on in a nearby circus tent by the shipyards and perused some prostitutes and coffee shops. An all around good weekend.

The people are as warm and open as San Franciscans, the townhouses were reminiscent of the brownstones of New York and throughout my whole stay I had the most comforting feeling of nostalgia. It was as if I was there before, but for the first time. And I can't wait to go back!







Friday, November 20, 2009

Amsterdam


Jordan and I are off to Amsterdam for the weekend. It is the Burlesque festival today and tomorrow. I'll let you all know what kind of trouble we get into....stay tuned :)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sweden vs. the U.S.A in Climate Consciousness


In a recent article published by The Local http://www.thelocal.se/23278/, it was reported that a new study by the Swedish National Environmental Protection Agency (Naturvårdsverket) found nine in 10 Swedes to consider themselves conscious of climate issues. Half of the polled citizens revealed they suffered a guilty conscience when their actions negatively impacted the environment.

In the wake of the upcoming Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, COP15, to take place next month, this seems the perfect time to re-evaluate American habits in regards to the environment and where the country stands on the new climate change deal.

Unfortunately, the United States has been causing a lot of stress to the other United Nation countries involved in this deal, saying it cannot participate so soon in this formal global climate agreement as it is not realistic for the country. But is it really too soon? Others would argue that it is becoming too late, and that time is running out. President Obama has mentioned fears that there is not enough time for the U.S. to commit such an agreement as there is still pending legislation with the U.S. Senate and of course, the issue of cost.

However, the need to take action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been stressed as one of the “defining challenges of our century”, according to incoming COP15 president, Connie Hedegaard.

America has never even officially signed, or rather, ratified the Kyoto Agreement, a protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC) introduced in 1997, aimed at combating global warming. This is significant as the U.S. Energy Information Administration noted that as of 2005, the United States was the largest per capita emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.

So what is there to do? Why is America so behind?

Being from California, the San Francisco Bay Area to top it off, I’ve gotten up on my high horses, thinking my home was as green as you could be. Organic clothing outlets, vegan buffets and signs about “going green” every which-way you looked. I have since been proven wrong. In my frequent stints in the glorious nation of Sweden I have quickly learned that that country puts the U.S. to shame when it comes to caring about our Mother Earth.

In California people want to drive a Prius, shop at Whole Foods and attempt to reduce, reuse and recycle. It is the “trendy” thing to do now.

Well, recycling-schmycling. In Sweden they have full on recycling stations in their homes, where they sort everything from cardboard boxes, to newspapers, bottles and plastic containers to batteries and old electrical supplies. Yes, you Swedes reading this may be laughing at my American naïveté and baffled that I find your organized trash and recycling rooms in your apartment buildings to be works of art, but it’s true. I thought our blue containers we put out on the street in California were advanced and efficient, but that was before I saw the 30 square metered recycling room (of which there are two) at my boyfriend’s complex in Göteborg. It is a recycler’s paradise in there, with neatly labeled bins and receptacles complete with photo-ID cards distinguishing where one must put the paper products, the dark glass products, the light glass products, the plastic products, the electrical products and so on. Sweden has taken it to a whole new level-a level that has truly taken America far too long to reach.

In a parody of the United States’ opposition to Socialism, The Daily Show visits Sweden and analyzes the “horrific” effects a socialist government can have on a people. In the episode, Wyatt Cenac tours Swedish Pop Star Robyn’s home in Stockholm. Her “recycling station” in her kitchen is mocked, but really, it is just to show the absurdity of America’s slow assimilation to becoming environmentally conscious http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-april-21-2009/the-stockholm-syndrome-pt--1 . If you have the time, I would check out Part 2 of the report as well for some more satire on why free health care and free education is a bad thing http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-april-22-2009/the-stockholm-syndrome-pt--2 .

Since first coming to Sweden, I have now been trained to organize, separate and reduce my waste and recyclables—a basic skill even a 5 year old knows in this country. I cringe when I accidently throw my plastic coke bottle in the trash can on the street and not the green recycle basket. Having lights on in unused rooms is now a pet peeve and I am completely anal about unplugging all appliances when not using them.

It is definitely a contrast looking at the way I was raised in suburban California compared to my boyfriend’s upbringing in a smaller, Swedish town. And to be honest, it is kind of silly that it is. I could go on for hours about how Sweden, and many other European countries for that matter, are more environmentally aware and advanced than us. Americans need to step it up-from slightly altering their day to day lives to help out the planet, to taking the initiative as one of the biggest world leaders and taking a daring step towards the diminishment of global warming.

I am still counting down to Copenhagen—just 19 days left. Let’s hope for possibly a surprise outcome.


Nothing stays plugged in here. There is no wasting energy allowed.

Monday, November 16, 2009

There is a cat garden by my apartment


One of the hardest things about living abroad for me is being away from my pets. The love and affection one can get from their animals is irreplaceable and unlike anything else. I envy those who took on the challenge of bringing their furry pals overseas (Jamie, if you are reading this, I am thoroughly jealous).

I miss my kitty Gracie so much and want more than anything to just snuggle her nose and babytalk her all night long. Come on, you know you would do it too.

So, to my very delight, I discovered a small patch of gated grass on my way home from school a few weeks ago that was covered with kitties! Black, white, gray, white and gray. They were all kittens the first time I saw them and have since grown.

But how cool is that?! A freaking garden of cats! There were at least 10 of them (though I was only able to capture a few on film).

As I was walking home today I noticed an old man putting around the garden distributing water and food to his feline friends (he must be the leader of the pride). I tried approaching one of the resting kittens and she looked quite curious and interested in who I was, but then got this manic look in the eye and the thought of french cat rabies quickly entered my mind.

I am going to monitor this cat garden phenomenon during my time here, but maybe I'll just keep my distance...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I really saknar dig, sverige


And to top off my homesickness for Sweden today, the reality show Paradise Hotel, the Swedish version, starts tonight and I'm missing it. An island full of beautiful, single swedes hooking up in huts while drinking pina coladas. What could be more brain-numbingly entertaining than that? Nothing, and I'm missing it. Ughhhhh.

Jag saknar dig, Göteborg

video

I'm having a Sweden withdrawal day. The people (duh), the streets, the sounds and just the overall energy. Especially that of Göteborg. Håkan Hellström can always give that to me, if only for just a few minutes.

I'm trying to be creative for some more blog posts, and am attempting at starting HubPages to write even more, but the words just aren't coming....

Inspiration, where are you??



Friday, November 13, 2009

Salsa!


This past Wednesday night was definitely one to put in the books of my life here in Valenciennes. In an effort to stay fit and active while also trying new things while living abroad, Chelsea and I decided to partake in the weekly Salsa dance class at the Cuba bar here in town. It was 5€ and then you could stay after for the DJ set, so it seemed like a pretty good deal.

Cuba bar is located just across the street from the Valenciennes train station and is apparently the only real bar/nightclub in town. It is the place to go in Valenciennes. If you ever go/have ever been/or ever hear anything else about Cuba bar, you will realize that this last statement is probably the saddest thing you will ever hear in the world.

Cuba bar is tastefully decorated all in red with Che Guevara paraphernalia splashed on the walls. It has no real tequila (we asked the bartender for Patrón, but he had to go in the back to dust off a bottle of Jose Cuervo to even get anywhere close to that). They didn't even really know what a "shot" was and instead made us Tequila Sunrises which were a pathetic excuse for a cocktail (pretty much a fruity smoothie with apparently some alcohol in it and a fake, candied strawberry with fake, hardened whipped cream on top). The crowd wasn't the best either. It was rather sparce and all the men seemed to be no more than 5' 5" while the women were, well, rather greasy.

Anyways, the salsa instruction started and it was actually rather fun. I love to dance and the music definitely picked things up a bit. Until it came time to dance "en couple." Well, I figured that since Chelsea and I had come together, we were "en couple," but apprently "on ne peut pas faire ca en France," the instructor said (we do not do that in France). There was a moment of confusion, it was a little dark and the music was loud and I could not quite understand the French of our teacher in his thick Northern accent, so when he extended his hand to me to invite me to dance with him I just thought, "ok, pourquoi pas?"

I approach my partner glancing over my shoulder to be sure that Chelsea has been paired up as well, and oh yes, you betcha she has. She has Michel. The 4 foot mini-man dressed in a blue-checked shirt. I cannot help it but burst out laughing. He literally comes up to her boobs and is half her size. This is our life in Valenciennes. She sneers at me and mouths a big "fuck you," but what can I do? So, I just apologetically laugh again and continue dancing with Mr. Salsa dance teacher, who spins me around all night. It was a pretty good time.

Michel turns out to be flaming gay and an incredible dancer. Chelsea gets to kiss a French guy (not Michel, obviously), and I end up having to foot the bill of our overpriced, kitchy cocktails.

Yet another adventure in Valenciennes and more proof that this town will never cease to amuse me. Stay tuned for many more.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Success! I have a library card!


Yes! Something went very well today: I succeeded in signing up for a library card at the library here in Valenciennes.

It is a rather nice library actually: 3 stories and a great collection of French as well as American, British and even Swedish literature.

First borrowed books: Anais Nin's Henry and June en francais, and the Life of Pi for Jordan and a collection of Keats' poems for Chelsea.

I think I found my new hang-out in this town :)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Back to Valenciennes


After our travels to Sweden, Germany and Paris, Chelsea and I are yet again back in Valenciennes. The rain was here to welcome us "home." We were thrilled, as you can see by Chelsea's disposition.

It is not all bad though. Jordan and I went on a 3 hour walk and discovered some hidden parts of the town and its surrounding areas. He also prepared a Mexican feast for us tonight and we were able to escape to Lille yesterday afternoon to take a tour of the Palais des Beaux Arts.

We are now snug in our little apartment, candles burning, Chelsea crooning away on her guitar, and Jordan doing the dishes :)

Next up: weekend trips to London for some shows, some jaunts to Belgium and The Netherlands and a meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to France in Lille.

A bientot!
Palais des Beaux Arts, Lille

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Rainforest in Sweden


Jordan and I visited the Universeum museum in Göteborg during our visit in Sweden. It is the science discovery museum of the city (think Academy of Sciences in SF but toned down..a lot). It was pretty cool though. They had an indoor rainforest with wild animals like crazy birds and marmosets running around, an aquarium and tons of discovery stations. Here are a few of the pictures. Enjoy!


Me trying out a Swedish police car. Jonatan was jealous :)



Jordan experiencing what a gale wind feels like.

The aquarium.


The crazy birds that were jumping all around our heads!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Halloween in Sweden


Halloween in Göteborg was a blast. I had fun showing Jordan my "second home" and it was great to see Jonatan and his family. I can't wait to go back! Just 6 more weeks...:) Also, check out my facebook page for more photos!! http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/liana.small?ref=profile

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hej Då France!


I am off to Göteborg for some much needed r&r. Looking forward to some good TV, a little Max, a little Liseberg and Jonatan...of course <3 I will be back in the beginning of November, so I apologize now if I am a bit MIA. I am really excited about this trip because my brother, Jordan, will be meeting up with us there next week. The first time any of my family members gets to visit Sweden! (and meet the other family).

Puss och kram!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Neness...yes it rhymes with p****

This is Neness. He has a picture of himself tattooed on his arm.


For weeks now Chelsea has been saying we need to check out this bar in town called American Graffiti.

"I hear they play good music and stuff. One of my teachers recommended it and her husband is a musician, so it must be good."

Well we went, and yes my friends, it was good.

This place, American Graffiti, is a haven for any American wandering, lost and alone in Europe and in need of a good friend, who is totally obsessed with all things Americana.

We stumbled in last Friday night, and once Chelsea opened her mouth and that Southern drawl came out, the owner of the joint, Neness, nearly peed his pants with excitement.

"Nashville?! Comme Johnny Cash?! Yes?"

We were instant celebrities, were offered free beer (and cherry beer) all night long and coaxed into taking pictures with the band of the night (they wanted us to hold their guitars, which were apparently replicas of the one Marilyn Manson has. How cool....).

I don't quite know what else I can say about this place. Really only pictures can convey the absolute awesomeness of it. Though yes, I have to say it again, Neness has a tattoo of himself, on his arm. And a statue of Elvis in his kitchen.

I love this place.


Elvis, Native American, Marilyn Monroe. That's America


There's our guy


Just like Marilyn Manson....


Thursday, October 15, 2009

I'm a Teacher and a Tour Manager

One of the classrooms at one of my schools: Plaine de Mons


Quick update to everyone, just to lay down some news and an overview of life so far here in the North.

I went back and read a few of my past posts and I must apologize--I sound rather cynical and ungrateful for the experience I am getting to live now.

In all honesty, I am having a blast. Yeah, France can be pretty ridiculous and I never will understand how this country works, Valenciennes is the quirkiest town next to Tucson in my book and I swear I sometimes feel like I am in an episode of the Twilight Zone, but other than that, people here are nothing but warm and welcoming, I laugh everyday and I am able to talk to the ones I love whenever I want (except Bea and Allison, I need to work on that one--sorry loves!).

So I have taught two classes so far, on Thanksgiving. I think they went well. I am discovering that even though I am only teaching 12 hours a week, I am definitely going to be working a lot more. Prep time for lessons takes a while, plus I have 12 different classes a week, and even if I repeat lessons, I need to tailor them to the individual classes since language levels vary greatly between classes and schools (I teach at three schools).

But I am enjoying it nonetheless, and also have started tutoring Louise, the 13 year old daughter of the Inspector of my school district, so that is a little extra cash.

I also am the European Tour Manager of my roommate, Chelsea Lovitt, singer-songwriter from Nashville. It started out as nothing serious, but we've been here about 2 weeks and already have her booked at two gigs.

Yup, we are just hanging out in the cold North of France, playing guitars, sipping wine and just trying to soak it all in.
Chelsea on the streets of Valenciennes, guitar in hand


Lez Assistantes
(Laura (from Miami), Chelsea (from Nashville), Me, Rose (from Alaska!))


One of the schools I teach at is for handicapped children. This just looks like some weird torture device from the 1940s. I don't even want to know...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ma Tres Chic Vie en France

Chez Moi


Ma Chambre

La Cuisine

I am now finally settled into what will be my home for the next few months. My 2-room apartment is on a quiet street, down the road from the Musee des Beaux-Arts of Valenciennes and, as I have just discovered, right across the street from the French version of Gossip Girl.

Juste en face of my large, living room windows is the private Lycee (high school) Notre Dame and today I have learned that my front doorstep is the hot-spot before and after school and at midi (lunch time).

Five minutes ago the immense green doors of the gated school opened and out strode the throng of highly well-dressed tweens and teens complete with their Longchamp totes, heeled boots, neck scarves, and, of course, that signature cigarette hanging from the lip.

I've decided it is best to either stay hoarded up in my apartment during these specific hours or just stay away, otherwise I end up fumbling through the tangled mess of intimidating French girls who look way more sophisticated than I, a girl almost 10 years their senior.

While this could end up being rather a nuissance, I will revel in it for now. Nothing goes better with my lunch of rice and lentils than a little French teen gossip and galavanting around.

And yes, I am eating rice and lentils because that was all I could afford from the discount supermarket as I now only have 2,50€ in my bank account.

Yup, I am living the dream people. The dream of the glamorous, tres chic life in France.