Below you’ll find the links to all posts on Croissants & Conjugations in chronological order
YEAR 1: Based in Montluçon, Auvergne, France
From Missouri to Montluçon: I created this blog to tell a story, and I hope it’s a good one: the story of the year I exchanged central Missouri for central France.
Adventures in Immersion: It turned out that language immersion education was not a happy, clappy, ‘can you say oui’ affair, but a serious job with distinctly right and wrong ways of doing, well, everything.
Sweet Goodbyes: Why does our culture venerate a life lived selfishly? When time steals your youthful beauty, most of your energy, the meaning you may find from your work and possessions, what will you have left? My grandma, she has something left.
Cheese Girl at Work: Today was my second-to-last day working in “Cheese Island.” I’ve really enjoyed getting paid to nibble on cheese all day and talk to people about it.
Arrivée à Lyon: I’m here in the beautiful city of Lyon and after fourteen hours of sleep last night, I feel pretty good.
Goats & Grapes: I Make it to Montluçon: I felt something like dread. When would the car stop? I kind of didn’t want it to. We could just sit here listening to Celine Dion until the end of time. Or at least until we ran out of gas. I did not wish to be a “small-town girl in a lonely world,” not even in France.
Elementary Introductions: In some of the classes, there were gasps and murmurs when I said ‘je viens des États-Unis’. Wow, an American!?
Not a French Girl: Stéphane said something that, while simple, really helped to change my perspective. He switched to English to say: “but Jess-ee-cah, you are not a French girl. You are an American girl in France.”
Struggle Bus: Public Transit & Me: The bus turned, opposite of where I knew I needed to go, and my heart sank and my bus-induced nausea returned. I ventured a hope: will we be stopping anywhere near Grand Frais peut-être ?! He shrugged, ‘no, not really’, but didn’t offer any advice. Anyway, wasn’t I just here to chat about movie stars?
Confessions of a Brand-New Teacher: I mean, I am young, as one of my French ten-year-olds remarked. There’s going to be some trial and error here.
Bringing Missouri to Montluçon: So rather than trying to introduce the whole country in one go to children who think I regularly hang out with Obama, I took a local approach. There are now dozens of small-town French children learning about float trips, caves, the Gateway Arch, and gooey butter cake.
Rainy Day Reading: I know this year won’t always be easy or fun, but when I read the stories of other assistants, read the posts where they say goodbye to their French lives and go back home, it just confirms what I already know: this opportunity is difficult and special and wonderful and over in a flash.
Happy Luck: We talked a little with the produce vendors, who were interested in our origine. This happens a lot. Then when we say we’re American, people tend to jump at the chance to try out the little English they know. I’ve had people stare at me, repeating a word like good! or Miami!
Pûy de Dome Hike: There’s something impressive about the Puy de Dôme in silhouette, something you miss standing at the top. Still, the view is breathtaking: almost prehistoric, incongruous with the rest of France.
En Vacances: So far, vacation looks like sleeping ’til ten, lingering over chocolat chaud topped with clouds of chantilly, and exploring the medieval city.
Foie Gras & Pop Art in La Ville Rose: The biggest & best surprise: Toulouse is known for its food: classic southwestern France country food. This means foie gras everywhere. Duck everything. These are two of my very favorite foods so I’m giddy about it.
La Gourmandise: What to Eat in Toulouse: La gourmandise is a good theme for a trip to Toulouse. It’s the perfect destination for the lazy, hungry traveller.
Fall in Toulouse: pictures of la Ville Rose
Bordeaux: à la Foire: Bordeaux began as all good trips should, as a decision made at two in the morning the night before.
French People Tell Me What to Do: In my French life, there is almost always a slight sense of bouleversement–disruption–the feeling that I don’t quite know what’s going on at any given time. All the yawning aspects of daily life have been shifted, a bit like that prank where you move every piece of someone’s furniture five inches to the right. I am the one pranked: I don’t notice when I walk into the room, but am surely going to stub my toe.
In Which I ‘Faire des Bêtises’: I’m now the kind of person who watches Blue’s Clues-wannabe videos: a jolly thirty-something man singing “this is my favorite pumpkin” in an attempt to teach autumn vocabulary. But I’m rolling my eyes. And that’s the secret. Teachers have lives. We may be writing lesson plans, but we are also making Korean bibimbap and dancing around the kitchen to the Ying Yang Twins.
Automne Malade: Every year around this time I find myself reading bleak dystopian novels and wondering how the days can drag on but pass so quickly à la fois. I thrive on excitement, newness, sunlight. This time of year: weeks built for existential poetry, for hiding under the covers–brings an agonizing pause.
Bowling with the Homies: My expectations for nightlife contained a lot more electronic dance music and a lot less English breakfast tea, but this will almost certainly lead to better stories.
Less-Than-Thrilled: When You Don’t Want Your Dream: Things worked themselves out, improbably. I was here. My French future stood in front of me, bright and sweet as a macaron.There was no time to be bored, listless, uncertain. And then there was.
There are Snails in the Salad: Adventures in Renting: The lettuce thing represents just one of the many little misunderstandings that are bound to happen, when you think about it, when you put together a traditional French man in his seventies and two lively American girls in their early twenties.
How to Speak to Santa Claus in French: It was definitely him, Père Noël, but his shoulders were stooped, his steps slow. He trudged around the festivities in a slow circle. Even from behind, he looked decidedly unjolly. And disconcertingly thin.
Le Retour: I walked into school the next morning like a prisoner to the gallows.
All Lit Up: La Fête des Lumières: Happily, it was worth the wait. It’s fair to say it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen: bright 3D lights transforming an ancient cathedral into a moving piece of art. There were falling leaves and breaking glass, lace and waves, all accompanied by a futuristic instrumental piece.
Rainy Colors: A Weekend in Strasbourg: I am head-over-heels for this Alsatian city: its bright buildings that remind me of a child’s drawings, its lovely street art, its warm, filling comfort food, cobbled streets, and abundance of bicycles.
The Real World: An Honest Account of Teaching Abroad, 5 Months In: I am simultaneously enjoying my time here and counting down the days til I leave. I write this to express the two opposing and equally important aspects of my time in France with TAPIF: worthwhile. Difficult. But you know what they say about things that don’t kill you.
Kids’ Stuff/Next Steps: I still get such a kick out of their faux-sophistication, the way they rattle off French phrases and verb tenses that took me years of study as an adult to master. The way a class of baby-faced 7 year olds clad in sweatsuits chide each other for not paying attention. Eyes rolling to the ceiling, that French sigh: pffft. Can you believe this guy? He’s not even listening.
Maman + Lyon: Our Trip Begins: Technically it was a little too cold to be eating ice cream cones outside, but I was also wearing four-inch clogs and riding a bike over cobblestones, so what do I know about practicality.
Three-Hour Tour: Never did I ever know that gardening could produce such passion, such fervor, such urgency.
Humble Pie in Lemon Land: Currently, or so I had told many people, my raison d’être was a garden of Broadway paraphernalia.
Bad & Bougie: Our Ill-Fated Vacation turned Writing Retreat: The apartment is small and cozy, like a cabin or a nest, a perfect place to write. This high up, we’re surrounded by whirling pigeons and seagulls, by their spirited calls that mimic the full spectrum of human displays of mirth: from low chuckles to full-fledged maniacal laughter.
Secret Garden: Serre de la Madone: Like much of Menton, the garden is a cozy contradiction: nine hectares of manicured wildness.
War & Peace & Confetti: My shoes were full of confetti. My purse was full of confetti. My bra was full of confetti. My heart was simply full.
Neon Future: Thoughts on Life in the Liminal Stage: Is that what you give up when you leave, ever having a home?
Shoebox in Paris: This wobbly balance between glamour and grunge became a theme for the week (and truly, for my whole life in France).
Put that in Your Book: Accidentally Drunk at Lunch, or, My Life in France
Gypsy Jazz: I know only that this music sounds like Paris, golden-age Paris, and that it is frenzied and joyful and fills up the space.
Use Your Words: Confessions of a Part-Time Parent: Robbed of my words, I found I still existed.
Going Somewhere Soon: My plan was to have my teaching contract in hand two months ago. I’d have a flight, a place to stay, and an idea of what my life will be like over the next year. As it is now, I have none of these things. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned for sure in this past year of travel, it’s that rarely do things go according to plan.
Stranger Things: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Auvergne: I am unaffected. I am bold. (Really, I’m desperate). I’m a BlaBlaCar rider.
A Room of One’s Own: Most days, I rather resented this little room, which on moody days I would compare to Jean Valjean’s cell. Luckily, a house is more than a room; a family more than a house.
Chasing the Wind in Bordeaux: It turns out there is a limit to my ability to appreciate all this beauty, history, and almond flour.
YEAR 2: Based in Cannes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France
Kicking It In Cannes: My new city feels classic “South of France” with its brightly-painted houses, palm trees, and abundance of signs advertising moules frites. Yet, considering its element of celebrity, Lonely Planet questions if it still has a soul.
The Tourists, I: I wondered if people would look at anything. So I took Nothing, its inverse, and I put it high on a pedestal.
Bon Vivant on a Budget, or, How to Be Broke in Cannes: In lieu of compromising my morals to afford a baguette, I should probably take the decidedly less-exciting approach and just learn how to budget.
Eye Candy: A Guide to Menton (a South-of-France Staycation, i): Its glamour is dilapidated, its opening hours are frustrating (why must a botanical garden close for two hours at lunch, or completely shut its doors on a Tuesday?), but it is beautiful and it is quiet. Menton’s old town is a pastel wonderland reminiscent of Italy’s Cinque Terre.
Population, 21: Exploring Île Saint-Honorat: Inhabitants of these islands (about forty altogether) are called Lériniens. I found it charming–a name for something so specific!– but considering the history, I think they’ve earned it: monks have lived here since 410.
Chez Moi: A Room With a View: I popped back into the house to grab one last load, the fragile stuff: my carton of eggs, a llama-shaped mug, and a bottle of chilled rosé I propped between my feet. It was then that I apologized, sheepish, for the bazar that was my packing job.
Shades of Blue: Falling for Gorges du Verdon: It was a proper road trip: windows down, blue skies above, and the radio cut by static. In the space of an hour, our setting evolved from beach town to classic autumnal landscape to the ear-popping heights of the mountains.
Mon Chou: Kale, the Forgotten Vegetable: Little old ladies in line at the market might ask me: “now what are you planning on doing with that?” Cashiers inputting the code eye the kale suspiciously. “Ça c’est le chou kale?” Thanks to Beddard, I know to respond with a confident oui.
Mediterranean Magic: a Walk around Monaco: In the Salle de la Baleine, the skeletons of sea mammals dangle overhead, poised in graceful flight. From their plus-sized skulls protrude long jaws with sharp teeth, and in the case of the narwhal, a fearsome tusk. Elegant and enormous, the specimens might drift away at any moment, inhabitants of some undersea underworld.
Embracing the Absurd: In France, effortless communication was a thing of the past, replaced by accidental non-sequiturs, wild hand gestures, and desperate expressions.
The Goldfish Bowl: Teaching this age often feels like swimming in circles with the same view: a monotony that is dizzying.
Sleeping with Strangers: There was something special about my first taste of real hostel culture: not so much the revolting bathroom and the torturous nights of sleep, but the summer-camp-camaraderie of it all. The way we were united by thrift, desperation, and dreams.
The Off-Season: In Cannes, land of silver screens, someone has pressed pause.
How to Swallow a Frog: Speaking Italian is like trying to swallow a frog. Not in a bad way.
No More Material Girl: On Prioritizing Passion: I’m probably not ready for my close-up. But I’m a writer.
Sixteen-Mile Walk: Marseille in a Day: We ate octopus and squid, climbed stairs, peered into dark crypts that smelled of candle wax, listened to the creak of boats in the port, and watched a purple sunset.
The Land of Oz: Adventures in Digital Friendship, pt i: Well, looks can be deceiving, I thought. Maybe the fact that they hadn’t updated the website since before the Y2K scare was just a nod to simpler times.
Group Date on the DL: Adventures in Digital Friendship, pt ii: The place was packed, but I didn’t see any signs advertising ‘group of people who just met over the internet.’
La Culture Populaire for the Couch Potato: Lessons in French TV: I can’t stand advertisements. I don’t like being told what to tell my doctor. I roll my eyes at deus ex machina plot lines and groan at laugh tracks. I am a TV cynic.
Out of This World: The Freaky Fun of Carnaval de Nice, 2018: The Carnaval is a loud, pulsating confusion of flowers and confetti and silly string.
No Shortcuts: On Making Friends in France: In France, it might take weeks, or months, or a deep conversation for the formal vous address to melt into the warmer tu. I know the rules of the language, but what are the guidelines to becoming socially adept? It might well take even longer to master, and is decidedly less clear then studying verb tenses.
Magic in the Details: On Noticing: The point is, who is actually enriched by crossing items off a list? Travel isn’t about changing pace at great speed. It’s not about how many museum doors you manage to swing through.
The Last Garden in France: I never imagined gardening could produce such passion, fervor, and urgency. Then I moved to Montluçon and next door to Monsieur C, a man who speaks exclusively in exclamation points, wears overalls and a sun hat, and jabs his finger at you when he speaks–and he’s usually talking about his garden.
Attention Abeilles: Hiking the Massif de l’Esterel: These are my personal fairytale mountains. But like a shy classmate with a crush, I was content to stay a safe distance away. I didn’t even have a name for the object of my affections. All this time I’ve been here and my description stopped at: “those pretty mountains in the distance. To the right. With the red rocks.”
Low-Key Glamour: Monaco in an Afternoon: Monaco is home of the eponymous Grand Prix, the belle-époque Monte Carlo casino, scores of luxury yachts, and–let’s not forget– actual royalty. Despite the evident glamour, I’ve always found a visit to the second-smallest country in the world surprisingly low-key.
Sweet Serendipity in the Eagle’s Nest of the Côte d’Azur: We would travel together for the rest of the day, and my quietly spontaneous trip to Èze would morph into a fun, frenzied journey to three different cities (one of them a country, if we’re being specific). We would be climbing up a hill to a pink mansion, running to catch trains, eating gelato in Monaco, and falling asleep over a late dinner of pizza. I wouldn’t get home until after midnight.
If each of us started the day like something out of “Eat, Pray, Love,” we ended it more like the Cheetah Girls.