Summer in the North isn’t really the summer that I knew growing up near Dallas, Texas. 55° versus 100°. Rain versus sunshine. Windbreakers versus tank tops.
But when I have a view like this on my evening walks, can I really complain?
This week has been better: the sun finally came out for my birthday, which was on the 22nd. M and I went for a drink in Lille where some of my friends surprised me and joined us. Since then, I haven’t had to put my winter coat back on – yet – so, maybe summer is finally here!
Schoolwise, I finished classes in early June. I had half a week off and then had to go check on some 10th graders who were doing their mini summer internships. This past week, I picked up my “birthday present” of 90 national tests to grade in a week’s time. France, unlike the United States, has a national education board. Therefore, all seniors take the same subject tests at the end of their senior year to receive their diploma.
The tests I’m grading are for the students doing a specialty in technology. They took a two hour test made up of two texts, comprehension questions, and a 150 word written expression exercise.
If any of you are wondering what sort of level French high schoolers are supposed to have in English, here’s the test subject for technology students.
My 90 tests are anonymous, so I have no idea whose tests I’m grading. They’re definitely not students from my school, just in case I might recognise their handwriting. So far, I’ve had tests between 4/20 and 18.5/20. Some students just chose to not answer half of the comprehension questions; others didn’t even write anything for the written expression. But, once in a while, there are tests that are extremely well done. So it’s not TOO bad. I’ve made it through all 90 tests for the comprehension questions, and have done about 20 tests for the expression. So I should have no problem finishing on time!
I finish work for the year on July 7th. Between now and then, I have: my tests to finish grading, half a day of internship presentations by the 10th graders, the school’s end of the year soirée, and three days in Calais to grade make-up exams and act as a jury member of the final grade deliberations for any strange test cases.
After that, my friend Shane will be here to visit for a week! The week after that, M and I are heading down to the Alps for the Celticimes Irish Music Festival! Yippee!
Here’s hoping the weather doesn’t change anytime soon.
If I had to name this weekend, it’d be the Weekend of the Walks.
A couple of months ago, a colleague spoke to me about an event in Saint-Sylvestre-Cappel (a town at the bottom of Mont Cassel, where we live) called La Balade de l’Ortie: The Nettle Walk. Apparently, nettles are a huge thing in the North. You can find them everywhere this time of year.
This is a walk organised by some local business owners and consists in a 4 kilometre walk in the countryside with six stops along the way. There are several groups of about a hundred people that leave every twenty minutes. Each stop has some sort of show: comedy routine, storytelling, marionnettes, short play, concert, street art. Normally, there is a serving of nettle soup involved, but last year it was so hot that the soup went sour. This year it was replaced by chai tea. A nettle walk with no nettles?! Oh well!
We left from the town center of Saint-Sylvestre-Cappel at 4:20pm. First stop: the gardening store where we buy all of our backyard supplies! They had installed a seating area with a stage, where we were treated to a comedy routine by two actors that was fun for everyone. Thank goodness we were sitting in the back; they pulled multiple people onstage to help with the show.
We walked through a neighbouring field for about ten minutes before arriving at our next stop: an old barn. Music was playing through a small hand organ. Bales of hay had been converted into long benches, and a backdrop had been installed. A storyteller entered the scene; she told us a story about a magical forest, a young boy who falls in love, the first violin being created, and the boy and his wife living happily ever after…
… and then in the barn next door, we attended the “wedding reception” of the couple from the story. Beer, juice, and snacks for everyone, accompanied by accordion music from a local music school. So fun!
(You’ll notice in the picture that I’m rather poofy, wearing a t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, sweatshirt, rain jacket, and scarf. It was June 4th. Lord help us all.)
We continued on, with a longer walk this time, until arriving at a private property with a large house and lake. There was an outdoor stage set up with makeshift seating made from barrels and wooden planks. A marionnette performer treated us to a fifteen minute show with two different marionnettes: a cat and a caterpillar. When you hear “marionette show” and you’re over the age of ten, it may sound a bit silly, but honestly, it was so impressive. This cat marionnette had at least twenty strings controlling each part of the puppet. The little caterpillar was so cute. And the whole story of cat falls asleep, caterpillar comes out to play, cat hunts caterpillar, caterpillar escapes and turns into a butterfly… was adorable.
We continued on to another venue: another barn. This barn was in the process of being renovated, unlike the first one, which was in current use. It was a one-man show, just like the previous ones. This actor performed a skit of a crazy circus manager and his goofy Russian employee, who had to deliver some magic nuts to a fellow circus manager. The actor obviously performed both roles. It was hilarious. (Once again I was happy to be in the back of the audience – there was some very funny audience participation in this one!)
Our last stop of the walk had two shows. We arrived at a – yet another! – barn about a kilometre away. As we were walking up, we saw horses and cows and could smell that campfire smell. I felt like I was back in Texas. The feeling was even stronger as we entered the barn enjoyed some dinner with a live bluegrass concert.
After refueling on beer, bread, and cheese, we walked to the barn next to this one for another show. Two guys performed street art with Chinese YoYos. It felt like an act that you would see on America’s Got Talent. It was amazing! How did they do it? We’ll never know. The best part of the show is that the guys seemed so proud and amazed that they made it through the act with only one drop. It was so much fun.
At this point, we started to head back to the town center. Our final stop was in the town’s church, where a rather large jazz group of about twenty people performed three songs for us before we walked back to the community center for dessert: ice cream and coffee!
We got home around 10pm, so it was a 6-hour affair! I’d definitely do it again next year. For only 12€, we had tickets to six shows, a nice walk in the countryside, two beers, a light dinner, and dessert. Not bad for a Saturday afternoon!
M was so inspired by the experience that he planned a 7km walk for us near Cassel on Sunday. We left the house around 3:30pm and followed the “yellow trail”, which was supposed to take us down the hill, around a neighbouring hill, and back up to the town center of Cassel.
The walk started out well, so I felt comfortable telling M about the recent article I read about a 65-year-old woman who got off track by a few hundred yards while hiking the Appalachian trail in Maine and ended up dying because the area was so dense that even if you were a hundred feet from someone, you wouldn’t be able to see or hear them. That wouldn’t happen to us, right?
We reached a point where there were a few different marks and decided to go left. Thinking back, I’m sure this is where we went wrong…
Good thing we brought water, because we ended up walking for over 13 kilometres instead of the 7 that we had planned.
I was mostly scared for Benji, who has never walked for more than an hour or two. This time, he went on for three hours! Brave puppy. (He’s still sleeping as I type this. Yes, he’s breathing. No playing this morning!)
Even I was done by the end of the walk. The great thing about going back to Cassel is that, seeing as we live on top of a giant hill, the last thirty minutes are a rather steep incline. But we made it. We survived. And we’re one step (or 13 kilometres) closer to our summer beach bodies for 2016. Ha!
Needless to say, we stopped at our favorite estaminet on the way back where we ran into our group of friends and consumed most of the calories that we had burned with beer, cheese, and pizza.
Two weeks later, I’d say it’s time to finish up this post on my mom and dad’s visit to northern France in March!
After three days in Paris, we took a train – or three – to Cassel, France, population 3,300. We had a weekend to enjoy together before I had to go back to work on Monday.
On Saturday, we enjoyed lunch with M’s family in Cassel at the best estaminet around: Kerelshof! Welsh, carbonnade, tarte au pavé de Cassel for everyone! It was fun to have both sides of the family reunite. We had all eaten together the last time my parents came, in 2012.
Once again, it was a lunch full of laughter, translations, franglais, and lots of good food.
I also showed my dad around the ramparts of Cassel. Cassel still has many of the old walls that were once used as defense against invasions. Now, they’re used for quality walks with Benji.
I wanted to give my dad an idea of the city layout before going back to work so that he could navigate his way around on long walks later that week. In just an hour, we had seen all of Cassel: the park, the ramparts, the church… that’s it!
On Sunday, Michel and I wanted to treat my parents to a nice brunch in Lille, the biggest city close to us. We both work there – and lived there for nearly two years – so we have lots of places that we like to go to. For Sunday brunch, there’s nowhere better than Tamper Espresso Bar. We’d both been there several times, but never for brunch, so this was just the right occasion!
Fresh bread and jam, French toast, fruit salad, a main dish, a dessert, and a hot and cold beverage for everyone! It was so, so good. We enjoyed a small walk around the city center of Lille before heading back to Cassel.
Monday was my first day back to work after two weeks of holiday. My parents used that day to rest a bit after all of our adventures. They deserved it!
On Tuesday, we all drove to Lille together in the morning. (Oh my gosh, I am so glad that I take the train to work normally. Traffic is horrible!) Mom and Dad hung out at a coffee place and walked around Lille for a bit until I could meet them for lunch around noon.
We strolled around the city center for a bit until I had to go back to work. Then I left them for the rest of the afternoon, where they apparently enjoyed reading at another coffee house until they walked to my school to meet me to drive back to Cassel. I let the reception desk know that they would be stopping by, and that they spoke no French, as to not freak out my colleagues. All went well!
That night, we went back to Kerelshof to enjoy an Irish session that takes place once a month there. M and I both play in the session – he plays, I try to play – so my parents came along to listen to some Irish music while sipping on an Irish Coffee. Apparently Kerelshof makes the best Irish Coffees they’ve ever had!
Luckily I only worked half days on Wednesday and Thursday. M took his Wednesday afternoon off to go with us to the planetarium in Saint Omer. Both my dad and M are obsessed with anything related to space, so everyone enjoyed the show… even if the entire presentation was in French! I think Mom napped a bit. But we all had fun.
For the last day, my dad made use of the morning to take a long walk/run from Cassel to another nearby village. He went to the tourism office to ask for a map of the walking trails in the area, but they didn’t seem to be much help. He ended up taking a picture of the map they had inside the office and made his way towards the Mont des Recollets. He took lots of pictures, but here’s my favorite one:
And another one from another walk my parents took together to Cassel’s park:
So much fun!
To end our week together in Cassel, we visited the local museum, which I had never been to before. It’s full of history about the village and surrounding region. This beautiful museum is worth a visit; I’m glad we had time for it.
I’m so glad my parents got to come and see where I’ve made a life for myself: boyfriend, dog, rabbit, and all! To be able to welcome them into our home and have them stay with us was an added bonus. Even though I had to work for a few days, they were able to enjoy Cassel and its walking trails, small shops, and more while I wasn’t there.
Dropping them off at the train station on Friday morning was definitely tough. And going to work immediately after was tough, too! But a week and a half together was so perfect. I can’t wait for them to come back again!
Once again, it’s been months since I’ve last posted here. I’m still Haley, I’m still in France, but my goodness, it’s been busy around here. I need to remind myself that I enjoy keeping this blog up and will enjoy looking back on it one day! I even started another blog, Pepper & Cream, to post recipes using all of the amazing local ingredients we get around here at the markets. (I’ve done just as bad of a job keeping up with that one as well!)
So, thanks for sticking around. Here’s what’s new!
Our move to Cassel last June has changed our lives for the better. We have a dog now! His name is Benji and we picked him out from the local shelter. He’s about 2 years old and has become best friends with our bunny, Violette.
We’ve had several of our “out-of-town” – ha! – friends stay over for a weekend to get the whole Cassel experience: walking around the ramparts, eating at a local estaminet, enjoying our guest bedroom.
M works from home 2 days a week and I take the train into work every weekday. It allows time for me to grade some papers or take a well-deserved nap.
Most importantly, our little family is rather happy here. And I think we’ll stay in this area for a while!
One developing situation is whether or not I’m destined to be a high school teacher here. I started working full time at a new school this year. It’s a very good high school centrally located in Lille, full of mostly boys as it’s a school focused on scientific studies. I’ve had some problems with classroom management – although this really is not due to the fact that I have mostly boys in class – and it has made me question whether or not I would be happier teaching at a university level rather than in high school.
France is big on recruiting native speakers to teach engineering students and business students. M has some connections in those areas, and a little birdy told me that some schools are already recruiting English teachers for the next school year.
It would be a big decision to make. My teaching certificate, unlike the American versions, is only valid while I teach. I can only take one year off of teaching before it becomes invalid and my spot is given to someone else. (French teaching certificates are given out on a competitive, number-of-spots-based system.) So, if I did leave the secondary school world, I would not be able to teach there again later unless I retook and passed the certification exam.
I won’t say too much about it here (who knows how many of my students have already found this blog), but happy thoughts, prayers, or whatever it is that you do are welcome.
As of Wednesday morning, a hazebrouckois and an américaine who had been lillois for about a year and a half became the newest casselois. And let me tell you, the change was a big one.
We went from a 500 square foot apartment (plus large terrace and basement) in the popular Wazemmes neighborhood of Lille to an 800 square foot house (plus terrace and backyard, sans basement) in the village of Cassel, population 2,300. We had one bedroom, now we have two. We also went from being woken up on Sunday mornings by the loud bass coming from the bar across the street – they often stayed illegally open all night and continued the party at 8am on Sunday morning – to being woken up by the sounds of birds coming from the uninhabited land behind our house. In Lille, customers of the bars across the street used to gather in front of our 1st floor apartment window, allowing us to listen to their deep conversations. In Cassel, the only people who will walk in front of our house are perhaps our neighbors. We went from having to walk 5 minutes to our rental garage in Lille to being able to park directly in front of our house.
We went from being able to hop on a bike to go to work (and getting there within 15 minutes) to having to drive 3 minutes to the train station to take a 40-minute train into Lille (and having to walk / take the metro a few stops) to get to work. We used to walk to the grocery store; now there’s a 13km drive to get to the nearest “big” supermarket. This has been the biggest change for me. I don’t mind the train or the short drive to get to the station; it’s a straight shot there with no stop signs or lights. However, learning to drive a manual car has not been easy.
Now that I have no choice but to drive myself around, I’ve already had my fair share of embarrassing moments. M is in Portugal this weekend on a work trip, so I’ve had to drive myself around a few times: home from the train station on Friday after work (made it all the way home and then stalled while trying to park in front of the house), to Hazebrouck and back to pick up Bunny Boo from M’s parents’ house (didn’t stall the whole way there and then stalled on the way back after waiting on a very slight incline for a train to pass), and to get groceries yesterday morning in Hazebrouck. This was by far the worst experience ever.
The way there was okay – I only stalled once in a very small roundabout – but the way back was miserable. I took a different way home and, while trying to enter a large roundabout on a very, very slight incline, I stalled. Several times. To the point where the cars behind me were pulling up around me on the curb to pass. I had my hazards on, and was trying desperately to get moving. The lady in the car behind me came up to see what was wrong. After seeing me in my state of panic, she told me not to worry, to take my time, and that she would wait behind me. (I stalled again at a stop sign later, once again encouraging those behind me to pass me.) I believe I’ll be taking a break from driving today… Sunday is the day of rest, right?
We can still go out for a drink in Cassel, but most of the restaurants on the main square are closed during the week and open Friday – Sunday. Just like in Lille, we can still walk home from the main square and not have to drive everywhere.
We were apartment owners in Lille. M bought the place back in November 2013. We tried to sell it, but after two months with no offers, we reviewed our budget to see if we could manage keeping the place and renting it out while we rented our house in Cassel. Thankfully, it worked. We have a young couple that will rent out our apartment in Lille while we go from owners to renters ourselves in Cassel.
I’ve already vacuumed twice and mopped once, so I think it’s safe to say that we are settled in.
It has been nearly three years since I’ve published a post here. I have reasons, I promise! I went home for a year, I came back in 2013 and studied like a crazy person at Lille 3 to take the national concours to become an English teacher in France (spoiler alert – I passed!). In 2014, I started the second year of my Masters degree while teaching part time at a high school in Lille. As of last Friday, I have officially finished my first year of teaching and can say that I am a professeur titularisée, which basically means I have the right to a job for life teaching middle school or high school English in France. Not too shabby!
The past two years, I have been living in the Wazemmes neighborhood of Lille, France in a cozy apartment with my boyfriend – or should I say pacsé? – and our fluffy rabbit. In only nine days, we’ll be starting a new adventure in Cassel, France. This small town of 2,300 people will be a welcomed change compared to our very lively neighborhood known for things like its giant market and the annual accordion and soup festivals. We’ll have a real backyard, two bedrooms, and a normal sized kitchen. We’ll also have to take the train to get to work, but it’s worth the compromise!
As I’ll have the whole summer off – yes, teachers can still brag about this – I’ll be writing about some of the more interesting things that have happened in the past two years, which include but are not limited to:
our fabulous neighbors in Wazemmes (just search “cheval blanc wazemmes” in Google images to get a preview)
anecdotes from my first year of teaching French high school students
transitioning from life in Lille to life in Cassel