Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chez Moi

As many of you know, I have been taking more intensive French classes since the beginning of February and have been realizing some of the benefits from this over the past little while. My increased ability to understand the language has made me feel much more at home here in Marseille than before.

In fact, it has also resulted in some more employment in the form of tutoring. I was able to successfully get through an interview about a month ago with an agency that matches students and tutors. I have already been tutoring a student from the university for a couple of weeks, but I will be meeting my first student from the agency on Friday. Although tutoring isn’t the same as teaching English in the classroom, I am hoping that these will be rewarding experiences which will help improve my ESL teaching skills. Regardless of how things go, all of this is a step in the right direction as I am no longer completely petrified to speak French over the phone, although it is still a HUGE challenge.

I also know that I am feeling more comfortable in the city because I have been able to drive in it and not get completely lost or frustrated. Today I was able to find my way to an interview outside of Marseille, at an international school without GPS and during morning rush hour traffic. Perhaps I am now used to the heavier level of traffic, but I it was less stressful than driving in Toronto.

As for the interview... your guess is as good as mine. But I’m sure some prayers and good karma sent my way might help the situation.

Little things like these let me know that this city is becoming more like home for me, but I must say I still miss everyone in Canada more than I can express.

Le Dernier Weekend

As I write this, at five o’clock on a Sunday evening, the sun has finally decided to emerge from the cloud cover that has battered us with wind and rain during the rest of the weekend. This weekend wasn’t nearly as beautiful, and was definitely not so full of excitement or quite as adventurous as last weekend.

Since the weather was so brilliant last Saturday, we decided on doing a hike in the Calanques following the coastline. After a brief bus ride, we were at the edge of the city and began our afternoon in the sunshine.

The first bit our hike was a steep climb, followed by a bit of shimmying along somewhat steep cliffs. As we strode along the path, we past a family of six with all of the children under the age of 13, one of whom was commenting on how if someone falls they would definitely break their head open. Perhaps we should have taken this advice more seriously considering the rest of our day.

 Soon after these initial steeps the path evened out and spread into a wide trail that swept gracefully along the coastline. In the picture below, you can see the remnants of an ancient theatre. For the most part it has been buried by time, but the situation of the theatre provided for a bit of quiet and calm from the noise of the waves and the winds, and it is not surprising that someone chose to build it here. Again with no information whatsoever at the actual site, we let our imaginations bring forth scenes of people coming by boat to witness performances or festivals.

Our hike continued in a leisurely manner past rock slides and a restaurant that clearly has everything shipped in by boat. It really is in the middle of nowhere with no power lines around at all, but has a great beach. We will be keeping it in mind for a future lazy walk day.

The adventure of the afternoon started when we branched off onto the “green trail.” Now I know for us green means "easy", "go ahead", "no problems", but as I have mentioned before our Calanque map has no indications about trail difficulty. When we got to the fork in the path, two guys  were taking pictures and I offered to take a picture of them together. As soon as we started down the green path, one of them told us it was a difficult path with cliffs. He spoke in English, perhaps to make sure we understood. We just smiled and said “Oh that’s okay!”

Things started off well enough with a bit of scrambling and crawling down a steep incline, but this was nothing we couldn’t handle. As we completed, this I was thinking; “If this is the worst of the cliffs, no problem!” Well it wasn’t. As soon as we turned the corner. Viola, this is what we saw.

Now do you see space for a path here? I began to second guess our choice, as Keith jumped ahead. Not being able to pick out the path ahead of me for more than two meters was a bit disconcerting, but also having a sheer drop into the sea about 5 centimetres from edge of my foot, and I began to question why I follow my husband on things like this. Half-way along the ledge we ran into some wild asparagus, and Keith was either trying to distract me by getting me to take a picture of it, or trying to kill me by stopping on the edge.

Just as I was trying to rationalize with myself that there was a lot of space on my left that I could lean into, we came to a section of the trail that had almost no foot holds, but instead had a rope that edged around a corner of the cliff. Basically this next section involved a lot of nervous laughing from me, as we shimmied along the rope, going from one foot hold to another. My stomach still turns at the remembrance of this section of the trail. I don’t think we will be doing it again

Now you try. Can you find the trail? Take your time, zoom in. See it?

I included some people who were coming at the trail from the opposite direction as us in this photo to help you out.

Later on, after we were back away from the cliffs, we got to do a bit of climbing with the help of more ropes. By this time my heart rate was starting to return back to normal, as the fear subsided. Unfortunately the next hour was full of more scrambling and climbing up steep vertical which increased my heart rate again, but this time out of exertion not fear. Sweaty and hot we were able to return home feeling we had really accomplished something. I guess it is good to look fear in the face once and a while, but that hike will not be revisited.

Although it has taken me a week to finally get over my vertigo and be able to write this, I would like to report that “Project Neighbour” is going extremely well. This weekend because the weather was so bad, we actually spent most of our time visiting with our neighbours. Saturday night we even continued to converse in French until 2 a.m. This is a personal victory for me, as I find my brain doesn’t like to function in French after 11:00 p.m.. I am loving the ability to rejoice in these little accomplishments.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Yes, that is right we have taken up another “old person” sport. Pétanque much like curling seems to be dominated by an older demographic. Both are games of strategy and involved just as much thought process as technical skill. As well, both are easy to learn, but difficult to master. I don’t really know why we are attracted to these types of games, but I find the same trends hold in the types of board games we tend to play regularly.

Last weekend was our second experience with the game and now that we have a grasp of the rules, we are beginning to work on technique and strategy. The goal of the game is to get as many of your balls as close as possible to the buton (the smaller orange ball in the picture below). This can be a bit confusing at times because you have to remember the small differences between your balls and those of the other players, add to this the interesting factor that the buton itself may be moved by being hit by a ball, and you have a game which involves just as much haggling and conversation, as it does actual throwing.

Pétanque can be played almost anywhere there is a somewhat flat surface. Unlike curlers who are fastidious about knowing the ice conditions and develop strategies that take advantage of this knowledge, the ground for Pétanque is continually changing. Each time the buton is thrown it can be in a different direction; therefore, players must be able to quickly adapt to different terrain. It took me a while to figure it out, but always rolling your ball over unknown ground is not the best way to obtain accuracy. Most players toss the ball underhanded so that it is airborne for much of its journey towards the buton and then rolls only for a meter or two before closing in on the buton. This way it is less exposed to the slops and dips of the pitch that may lead it off track. The underhanded toss is also useful if you are trying to get rid of the other team’s balls from their positioning near the buton.

Throwing must be done from within a circle that you scratch into the ground and you cannot move your feat. The order of throw is determined by who is farthest from the buton. Unfortunately for Keith and myself, as beginners, this plays a bit to our disadvantage. We often found ourselves using up all of our balls to try to get rid of the one ball of our opponents, leaving Pascale and Jacqueline the leisure to use all of their balls to get closer to the buton instead of having to defend against us.  By the end of the afternoon things were improving, but we still have a long way to go.

As the curling season comes towards an end in Canada, we have indulged a bit and watched some of the Soctties and Briar matches through TSN’s video on demand. Who would think you could get so addicted to a game involving cold ice, granite and sweeping? We have been told they have televised matches of Pétanque here; perhaps we will also develop an addiction for this provençal game?