My first story is the dog story. Last sunday I woke up thinking what a lovely day it was going to be, after sleeping in as late as I possibly could, which was 9:30 with the help of a good blind on my window, which I always forget to draw, and a late saturday night, due to raclette eating. I thought, I know exactly what I want to wear today, and I hope the weather is gray, but without rain, and not too cold. I got up out of bed, and drew the blind up to reveal a light grey sky, perfectly smooth with cloud coverage, and not a drop of rain in sight. I got dressed, taking as much time as I pleased, not a luxury during the school year, and then proceeded to the kitchen. I was the first awake so I emptied the dish washer (I wasn't afraid of making too much noise because the house is very spread out and insanely sound proof, so that with the kitchen doors closed there's no way they could here me upstairs in the bedrooms). , then set the table. By the time I'd finished Gilles was up too, he made coffee, then invited me to accompany him to the bakery, which I did happily. Only there was a foot race in town that day, apparently fairly well known too, and there was no place to park, so Gilles sent me with the money to buy a baguette and a pain coupe, or a loaf thats been put through the slicer. Nervous as I was, baguette cam out fine, but Pain coupe got a bit mangled so the woman behind the counter got this clouded look in her eye, and then brightened and went around to offer me an eclair. I think she automatically thought eclair because judging by my accent (which I can't really hear, but I know is there) she knew I was american, and americans when they come to a French bakery want two things, a baguette, and an eclair. I have to admit for a fraction of a second I considered just conceding and trying again to order a pain coupe after she served up the unwanted pastry, because I was embarrassed at my failure, but I plucked up my courage and said politely as I could, "non, pardon, mais je voudrais un pain coupe, s'il vous plait." which means, 'no I'm sorry, I would like a sliced bread loaf please,' and it worked! So there I was with my loot walking back to the car, feeling proud and very French. When we got back I made myself some oatmeal, no one else wanted any, and ate it with a slice of baguette, and my coffee. It was very tasty, and I was feeling quite excited as Isabelle had a wonderful pot of veggies and meat on the stove for the anticipated sunday lunch with Gilles' mother, plus an apple tart in the oven. Later that morning, bordering on noon, Gilles came down stairs and started getting ready to go fetch the grandmother, and Sarah came over inquiring whether or not she could come. The reply was yes, but then she wanted to know whether or not they were bringing the dog. Now Brunette has on several occasions come along in the car, so I didn't think too much about this. However when almost forty-five minutes later the car pulled up and there was a large commotion at the door, I was ever so surprised to find Sarah carrying, not Brunette, but a larger white dog. Do to the fact that I had to be introduced to Gilles' mother, and such, I didn't really get a good look at the dog until later, sitting on the couch watching the two dogs now running about together. It was hideous! Like a bloated, beached wale, wallowing in its grotesque size, with a rather long whip like tale attached at the back. Its face, oh my god, its face was squashed and stretched so that the mouth was like that of Marlon Brando's in the Godfather, only with tiny pointed teeth jutting up from the bottom, and a smell wafting out of it that could have turned yogurt to blue cheese. As is often the case with little dogs like this one, or little dogs that have become not so little, its eyes were encrusted with crud, crud that was a reddish brown and ran down the full length of its terror-inspiring face. Whenever the playing got to be too much for Brunette, she would climb to the safety of the couch, where the grandmother was always waiting with open arms, and the other dog, Bijou (which laughably means jewelry in French) would stop and stare longingly up at the couch, where it was simply too fat to be allowed. It was easy to tell my host family, had pretty much the same impression of this dog that I did, but the Grandmother simply adored it. Whenever no one else was sitting on the couch with her, she would let the thing get up on her lap at the same time as Brunette, and stroke it lovingly, while whispering little words of comfort and nicknames to its disgusting mug. That day for lunch, along with the veggies and broth served over couscous, there were also some lovely merguez sausages and some lamb, cooked on the bone. The bones went, naturally, to the dogs outside. However, after we had finished eating, Sarah overcome with annoyance at the racket the two things were making at the door, went to let them in, and accidently let them come inside with bits of bone in their mouths, well actually only in its mouth; Brunette was too well trained to attempt that terrible a crime. This as you can imagine unleashed chaos on the household. Bijou began dropping bits of chewed bone on the floor, which Isabelle found. She flipped at, as the greasy lamb bone bits had come to rest on her living room rug. Sarah, guilty as she was, and being accused of her crime, set about trying to get bijou, and thus the lamb bones, outside again. Unfortunately, the coffee table in the living room was comprised of two large squares of wood, one resting on the floor the other suspended half a foot or so above the first to serve as the table surface, thus leaving a gap in the middle. Bijou, scared by the commotion centering on him, and his food, took shelter in the gap, rendering him unreachable to Sarah. Gilles, who had had just enough of this monster's havoc, tried to help Sarah by luring it out with another lamb bone it had dropped earlier, while yelling 'Bijou, vient, vient ici!' (which mean come, come here). Sarah meanwhile had reached for the Grandmother's cane sitting next to the couch, on which the grandmother sat, and tried to use it to scooch Bijou out from under the table forcefully, but alas, he was just too damn fat. Isabelle was now trying to wipe the rug off, and pick up little bits of lamb bone while reproaching Sarah for letting him in in the first place, and encouraging her to get him out again, all at the same time, and with great zealous. And all this time the grandmother sat in her spot on the couch, smiling and thinking how delightful her little companion, truly man's best friend, was, and how entertaining he could be, in between watching a program on TV. And me, I tried to help pick up lamb bits, though I was much too frightened to touch the thing. I couldn't laugh no matter how funny the whole thing looked, as no one else seemed to be able to see the hilarity in the whole situation, save maybe the Grandmother, who didn't seem to realize the terrible scene her horrific dog was causing right under her nose. I didn't laugh, not even a suppressed giggle until later that night, as I recounted the tale over video Skype to my parents, when I was over come and forced to roll around on the bed with tears leaking from my eyes, as I remembered the full thing unfolding as it did, and my disgust for this thing called a dog culminating in its final and spectacular fall from grace!
My second story takes place at school on a particular crummy day. I looked and felt like crap, and I'd just had a run in with the English teacher, whom I don't like in the hallway. I managed to escape to the girl bathroom, where I sought refuge from all this, but there was no toilet paper. Now you may be thinking, why didn't she just go to another stall, but you see in France in many public bathrooms, especially those of students, have one large roll of toilet paper in the front near the door, instead of in the individual stalls so when a bathroom is out of toilet paper, its really out! So I went to the bathroom in the other building where I had my next class. This bathroom is by far much nicer than the others, not so much because the others aren't clean, or the toilets clog easily, or there is a lot of graffiti, but because this one was more spacious, and it had both mirrors and a lovely second story window, which made the whole thing full of natural light and thus more pleasant than the artificial lighting of the others. Just as I was setting my bag down near the window, as in a school you can do that, a teacher came out of the stalls. Instead of going to wash her hands though, she came over to me, and said "but, what are you doing in here?" Well, this off the wall comment, shocked me greatly. Firstly, what else would I be doing in there, it was a bathroom! And secondly, why was she asking me, and in such sharp tones. Well I was so flabbergasted at being accosted in my place of refuge by a figure of authority, as yet unbeknownst to me, on my crummy day, that I simply stared at her, and shook my head slightly, as my mouth opened silently a few times. After asking a second time and then recognizing the bewilderment on my face and the tears budding in my eyes, she softened and said "oh you don't speak French." I shook my head, and muttered the phrase I've used so often here, "um only a little," and she left me alone, as abruptly as she'd come, and with no more explanation. Shaken greatly now, all I could manage was to lock myself in a stall and pity myself for a few seconds, then hiccup and hold back my tears, and then breath and tell myself to snap out of it, that I was fine, and being a baby, crying in a bathroom stall, in what I now believed to be the staff bathroom. It all seems rather comical now, but I must say I felt deeply wounded by this stranger's attempt to discipline me in my innocent, and confused state.
The other day it was pouring down rain all day. Everyone was huddled under umbrellas and hoods. The bell rang after the last class, and we all trooped towards the door. The rain had really picked up during the last hour, and as approached, umbrella at the ready, a senior girl in front of me with a great leap yelled out "Vive La Nord," pulled up her hood and was out into the storm in one fluid movement. Here in la Nord, pronounced with a perfectly circular mouth and a long suggestive slur on the end so that it comes out, 'norrrre' everyone is bitter-sweet about their home. Its clear they love it deeply, but they mock it incessantly, and attempt to drive fear into the hearts of visitors, this emotion is perfectly captured by the saying, when you come to the north of France you cry twice, once when you arrive and once when you leave. Also by referring to the cold and winter by giving an all knowing little nod, and say ing "ah yes, you're really in 'la norrrre' now."
Last night was my second time going to swimming. Its every tuesday evening for an hour at a little pool in Saint Amand. Luckily its not a real team so there will be no competitions, but it was still plenty hard. The pool is clean and cosy, and the woman who sits at the front desk was so nice and helpful, that I couldn't help but be encouraged. Then the coach was very nice too, and even tried to speak English for a bit. Unfortunately it is required by the pool that you wear a swim cap, and my only two bathing suits are a bikini, I think not, and a one piece halter top, very stylish, but not exactly swim team wear, well that wasn't really a problem, but I intend to get a new one soon, maybe even this weekend. Last week there was just a few laps and exercises involving the crawl, breast, and back strokes, plus one where we had to place a kick board between our legs and attempt to swim with out the use of our legs all while balancing the kick board in its awkward position, which was particularly embarrassing, as I was the only one who really couldn't do it. Luckily no butterfly, which I've never done in my life, and the other girls were very nice. This week however: butterfly!!! Duh, duh, duh.... At first it was, if you don't know how to do it, pick another stroke to do instead, no problem. Then it was practice the leg movements, (What?!) which I skipped out on by just kicking instead, and finally do the arm part, while kicking, as its easier, and with a kick board under your stomach to keep you from downing. Thank god he explained how to do it twice, and then I third time just for my sake, when I apologized and said I really didn't understand. This week the water was colder, it was more tiring, and the coach was annoyed with my constant failures, but I will go back next Tuesday, because I need the exercise, because Sarah and Thomas will, and because I'm very competitive by nature, and as much as I want to, I will not give up that easily. Its only an hour once a week, and I always feel better in the warm car and the way home to a nice dinner, a warm shower and my bed.
I don't have much more in me tonight, but I feel obliged to tell you that this morning the daughter of Olivier and Chrystal, the couple we've been socializing with, who are very good friends of the family, passed away. She had a very serious genetic disease, but it is very hard on everyone here. While I don't want to be indelicate by posting this news here, I feel it is far worse to ignore it. My thoughts are with that family tonight, and I think its really hard on Isabelle especially but also the rest of my host family.