IDEALLY I WOULD have written this earlier, but there’s been so much to do in the last few weeks that a) I couldn’t find the time and b) didn’t quite know what to write about. At any rate, the first term of my job as a language assistant is over, and I am writing this from the comfort of my English sofa, a twinkling Christmas tree in front of me and a repeat of Nigella Christmas on the TV to my left. All of which is considerably nicer than the foyer.
Speaking of the foyer, I’ve actually moved from the building I was in to another building around the corner, into a sort of ‘studio’. It’s still as soulless as the last one, but at least in this building I don’t have to walk down the corridors and wonder if what I swell is either very strong tea or cannabis.
Because the foyer is perhaps the most uninspiring place in Western Europe, I have spent more or less each of the last five weekends elsewhere. At the beginning of the month I traipsed across Paris to the airport on a Friday evening to visit a uni friend in Hamburg (I’d also like to inform you of my panic I arrived at the station in Orleans to find that the French national rail was on strike over a colleague who faced disciplinary action after drinking rum cocktails whilst working. Don’t ask). I love Germany, and after weeks of life in France, I found its eastern neighbour to be a much-welcomed change. One of the best changes was the sudden and noticeable increase in quality of Christmas market; after all, this is the home of the Christmas market, and they don’t disappoint – even if you don’t buy one of the unremarkable glass decorations, or light-up plastic shepherds and angels, wooden fruit bowls, nutcrackers or table lamps made from trumpets, it does a good job at putting you in the Christmas spirit.
At one of the markets, I was talking to my friend’s (German) landlady, who asked me about how I started learning German, and where I was from. I told her I am from England, and she and her friend (who didn’t hesitate to top up my Glühwein with a massive shot of rum) looked rather surprised. ‘I wouldn’t have said England,’ she told me, ‘because you speak German with a slight French accent.’ I am still taking this as much more of a compliment than an insult, now realising that all those hours in the staff room at lunchtime have clearly started to have an effect on me.
Lots of Bier and a flight back to Paris later, the Christmas-ness continued in the form of a trip to the cinema to see le père Noel, a French film in which a little kid follows around a burglar disguised as Santa. Now, my last experience of cinema in France was the not-so-terrifying-and-annoyingly-dubbed Annabelle, so I was rightfully apprehensive of watching what seemed like another generic Christmas film. I was wrong however, and it was infinitely better than I expected, finally pleased to have spent €7 on a cinema ticket and not come away feeling resentful of having sat through 90 minutes of an unconvincingly-possessed doll trying to kill a baby.
Although Germany may be the home of the Christmas market, Strasbourg, our final trip of the year, brazenly bills itself as ‘The Capital of Christmas’, and is almost fabled through Europe for its Christmas market. ‘It’ll be packed,’ my colleagues warned me. ‘There’ll be coaches coming in all weekend, you won’t be able to move, watch out for pickpockets… oh, but you’ll love it! It’s beautiful!’ ‘I already know!’ I would tell her. Before we’d even arrived in the capital of Alsace we knew how busy it was; almost every form of accommodation was nearly fully booked, meaning we had to split the group and stay in two separate apartments. It suited us just fine; we had half of a guy’s nice and warm apartment to ourselves, no more than five minutes from the tram into the city centre. It was great, other than the awkward phone call of: ‘Hi Robert, we can’t open the door…’ and him having to come back from wherever he was all to open it without any difficulty whatsoever. Désolé.
Strasbourg is stunning, even when its network of narrow streets are churning with tourists, all ogling at the shops and market stalls, which seem to compete for the best-decorated shop in the city given the scale of their beautiful decorations. The place looks, smells and sounds like Christmas, and could easily send the right person into an eternal hatred of the festive season because it’s so unavoidable, but the city is so charming that you can’t help but love the place. I would definitely return, perhaps during the spring. That is, if the city actually functions from January to November, which you could be forgiven for thinking is not the case.
My final week in Orleans was almost as rammed as a side street in Strasbourg. I was up well before dawn on the Monday morning to join the collège on a trip to the Centre National de Costume de la Scène in Moulins, some three hours away, for a Shakespeare-themed exhibition and drama workshop. I learned a fair about Shakespeare myself as a matter of fact, and it was quietly pride-filling to see 80-odd schoolchildren enjoy learning about English’s greatest playwright. Tuesday was another trip, this time to the Assemblée Nationale in Paris. It made me feel slightly ashamed that I’d not visited my own country’s Parliament, but it was highly interesting, and the Palais Bourbon is the most quintessentially French building in Paris, I should say…
My fellow assistants and I also joined forces to regale ourselves with a Christmas dinner, complete with M&S crackers and Robertson’s mincemeat – which made us feel as though we were in the UK for a couple of hours, at least. Thursday evening saw me tag along to the collège’s Christmas party/leaving do of a highly-respected biology teacher; a soirée which is not done by halves, I can assure you, after having spent an hour laying tables for 65 or so members of staff. Oh, and the food… I’m sure you can imagine how stingy the French were with bringing food for a dear colleague’s adieu. But the best thing was being introduced to Nuit de Folie, a song I can best describe as the French equivalent to Agadoo by Black Lace that seemed to render my colleagues into an irrepressible state of dancing in a circle, booing when it was over and cheering when the DJ (who was one of the art teachers) replayed it. Magnifique!
And so before I even had time to gather my thoughts, I was heading back to Charles de Gaulle to catch a flight home, laden with a holdall of Christmas presents. My eyes lit up at the perfect, far-reaching and glittering views of London from the plane, however the realisation that I had left behind the hand-picked selection of biscuits from Brussels for my grandmother annoyed me. A lot.
Nevertheless, being at home is great, but I am now sure my blood is part brandy cream and I have fallen back in love with my bed, neither of which will do well for my disposition when I head back on Sunday.
Hope everyone had a great Christmas and all the best for 2015!