Monday, February 27, 2012

Le Bac Blanc Français Oral- If you see it coming, run!

So this morning, after a nice long 2 weeks of vacation, I was forced by the almighty powers that be to wake up early and go to school during what is normally my free block to take a practice test of the living hell we'll all be put through at the end of this year. No problem right? So I'm not sure how much of this I already told you guys but what I did this morning was the Bac Blanc Oral in Français. This is a 10-minute oral presentation of a text that you have written a mini commentary about with a 10-minute question period about the texts and lectures you've studied in class. So I got to school this morning with about 40 minutes of nothing to do and decided to do some last minute cramming. Now let me explain to you what exactly it is that we had to study: for each "sequence" there is a guiding question for example "La quête de connaissance peut-elle aliéner l'Homme?" ("Can the quest of knowledge alienate Man?"). Then you have a series of texts for that sequence ranging from a couple short discours to certain scenes of a piece of theater to a series of poems. Then you have your documents complimentaires, which means that these are extra texts to study in order to understand the others. Then you have (not in every sequence) your lecture cursive, which means a piece of work you did, for example a book report about the connection between science and technology and the use of these to dominate mankind presented in 1984 by George Orwell or some other writing piece you did in class. Then you have your parcours d'ensemble which are the 4 or 5 lectures we were given during class about this particular subject. All that to study... x5 because there are 5 different sequences. That makes 15 studied text total, plus 16 supplementary texts plus 3 different writing assignments from class plus 24 lectures from class that you (hopefully) meticulously noted in your notebook and there are of course the books you've read for class. All that to study and for the actual presentation that pick one, just one, text with a question. Of course you have no idea which text and it changes with each student so you have to study all that.
So when the time came this morning I walked upstairs to the near-empty room and went in. The teacher (not one of mine- can't have biased judges of course!) gave me a paper with all the points that she'll be looking for in my presentation (more or less the rubric of the presentation itself) with the name of the text and the question written. I was then plunked down in the corner and given a half hour to prepare my little speech. Now, one might say, is it humanly possible to study almost all of those texts and then receive one of the only ones you didn't get around to studying? Well, yes it is, because that's what I got. The worst of it is that the two people behind me got questions about texts that I would have loved to get myself. Now you might be thinking, what two people behind me? Oh yeah, I guess I forgot to mention that while you're preparing your presentation, the next person comes in to the room and start their own. And then when you're in your presentation, a 2nd comes in to start theirs. I think it was every 20 minutes, it a rotation thing like that. So there are now two witnesses to the slaughter of French litterature I commited this morning.
Anyway, so once you've prepared you're mini speech (which has to have an intro, two axes complete with outside examples to support your ideas and a conclusion) you're called up to the front of the classroom. I sat down in front of the teacher and she marked some stuff on my paper and told me to start. Just like that. So I started which came out awkward at the beginning; ah bon, OK donc le texte étudié ici est La Dent d'Or par Fontanelle, de l'année 1687... and so on. I had to introduce the author, the era, etc. Luckily I knew almost nothing about the author and decided he was going to be one of the biggest philosopher, writer and scientist of the time- I think it flew just because in the 1600's famous people who write are generally also philosophers and scientists. So I moved on quickly hoping she would not notice if it wasn't right. Oh yeah, forgot to mention, this text is from the beginning of the year so when we studied it with the teacher was still when I understood very little and my notes in my notebook about this piece were... well let's just say they were missing quite a bit. So anyway, after the intro of author and setting I had understood in class that we were supposed to reread the text. I guess that was only for very very short texts or for an extract because I was a half paragraph in and she stopped me dead in mid-sentence. (By the way, the whole presentation section is timed- ideally you want to last 10 minutes.) So I continued on and read out my whole presentation, repeating myself way too many times, under-explaining many of my details and not connecting my explanation of the supporting texts I chose. All in all it was pretty horrific but I managed to last around 8 minutes- not bad! Normally they would take the last two minutes to ask you provoking questions to squeeze some more details out of you about your presentation and if you're stranded and dead at 4 minutes they'll pose you enough questions to keep you talking to the end. But the idea is to get there alone obviously. So I sat there for another minute and she wrote many things on a paper, usually not a good thing.... Then we moved into the questionnaire section where the teach gives you questions about the other texts studied in class and how the principle question (the one you wrote the essay about) can be applied to other documents. For this you have to have all the documents listed with you. So she asked and I did my best to answer up until we got to or rather a tableau, that I didn't have with me because it was glued into my notebook. I thought it was something by Pascal, turned out it was Galilée, turned out I had no idea what I was talking about. Probably more times than one.
So that was my experience with the Bac Blanc Oral. Now just to think that at the end of the year I'll be taking the real thing, much harder and longer. Maybe I'll go on vacation early....

I'm gonna throw on some random pictures here just because the last couple days it's been really nice outside, sunny and warm, which, if that how it works in France, is fine with me because the winter here is too short and too not-at-all-wintery that the sooner it's over the better.
 La jolie Louet

La jolie Louet from further down the river 

Some big French chateau/manor thingy

and again le Louet

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Who would think that for such a small country, France would have such big mountains?!?

So one week ago I finished school for the February vacation (2 weeks long) and you know what that means: SKI! AUX PYRÉNÉES! POUR UNE SEMAINE! And yeah, it was awesome. 

We left Mûrs-Erigné Saturday morning at around 5:30 AM and joined up with the family Boucher at their house. OK let me explain: the Bouchers are like neighbors except that they live further away but we go to their house for dinner and they come here; they're very close friends of the family. Every year they go on ski with the Ligot's and they rent a chalet together at Saint-Lary. This year we rented a really cool house in a smaller community about 5 minutes from St. Lary. St. Lary is in the middle of a valley surrounded by the Pyrénées on all sides. It's not a very big village but it's packed with snow shops because it's more or less just a ski village- or at least that's what it's famous for. So Saturday morning we spent most of the day in the car with pit stops for gas, baguettes and lunch.  

We stopped at a park for lunch and I got my first view of the Pyrénées. 


Sometime in the afternoon we got to St. Lary and spent a fair amount of time lugging all our luggage up the two or three little streets it takes to get to our chalet. Because the stairs were so covered in ice, we had to hand all our stuff in through the window. But the view from the garden, holy crap, it was to kill for! The first day we got there, we were lucky to have crystal-clear skies and sun- what a change from Mûrs, where for the last couple of weeks it was alternately raining/extremely cold/cloudy and dark. 

The view from down the street. Pas mal, non?

So that Saturday evening we did a little tour of "downtown" St. Lary and got our ski gear from a rental store, along with the 50000000 other people who decided to do the same. We also got our "forfaits" or as you might call them, ski tickets. Here in France they do it a little differently from good ol' Shawnee Peak. Here you have a credit card type ticket that you just leave in your pocket the whole day and walk by a scanner to get onto a lift. It's so much easier, I don't know why they do the hanging slips of paper tickets at home... Anyway, we sure didn't waste any time getting to the mountain and Sunday morning we kicked off our first day of ski. Above you've got your's truly with my all my gear for the day. Oh yeah, that's another thing: in France everyone brings a backpack because when you go out to ski you won't get off the mountain for the whole day. So I got my first experience skiing with a backpack which I thought would be horrible but it's not that bad. Me, I'm used to going to the top of the mountain in under 10 minutes, skiing down to the bottom in under 5 and going back to my "chalet" in under 3. Here you leave St. Lary in a télécabine which takes 8 people at once up to the base of the ski area. From there you can take different lifts to different areas. There were more than 7 or 8 different sommets that you could go to et une centaine des pistes- comme en Amérique il y avais les verts, bleus, rouges et noirs, croissant en difficulté. 

No it's not the start of a race course, it was a flag with an accompanying sign warning about avalanches. But who cares about avalanches when you've got scenery like that?

Unfortunately, out of a possible 6 days of ski, we missed two because snow/fog that had descended into the valley. The first day it was more snow, as you can see above. It snowed like crazy and for everyone there (people who are accustomed to Anger weather) it was insane. For me, a Mainer, it was normal. We tried to ski but honestly coud not see more than 2 meters ahead of us and gave up after the first run. 

However, those two days of brouillard were made up for by other days where we had blue skies and sun. This one above is from the top of a trail looking straight over the mountains. 

This one is from the house looking across the valley: St. Lary is on the bottom left out of the picture and straight ahead are the slopes. 

In town there was a fountain but it was a little cold to see any real water running. But this actually defies reality because it was a hell of a lot warmer there than at Mûrs. Anyway, town was nice with tons of little sausage and cheese shops (typical) and your average souvenir shops with all sorts of stupid things. I also saw the first North Face shop I've seen in Europe, as well as Columbia. 

One week later, Saturday morning we were up and out again, on the road by midday. But we didn't go straight home. We went to Biarritz, right on the coast in the bottom left corner of France and it was... different. I'll put it this way: in the morning we were seeing mountains and snow and skis; 4 hours later we were walking on a sand beach in a mildly tropic setting with warm sun and short sleeves. It was weird... and the funniest thing was there were tons of people in the water trying to surf the minuscule waves. 

There were tons of rock formations and something called the Rock of the Virgin which is a natural monument dedicated to (I think...) the sailors who died at sea (maybe not, I think that's what someone told me but I forget). In any case, it was beautiful and strange to stare out on the Atlantic after a week straight of les Pyrénées. Oh yeah, we went down there to drop Aurélien off with the grandparents. They have an appartement there that we might stay at during the April vacation for a week.

On a totally different note, last night I made dinner for the family and it was pizza. Now those of you who know me, or just Portlanders, will know exactly what that is above. If you're someone else, allow me to explain: the famous mashed-potatoe, bacon, scallions (who were replaced by parsley) pizza of Otto pizza. I had to do a tribute at some point or another. Tonight, for Mardi Gras, Guillaume and I made crèpes for the family, who has extended now because the heating system at the cousin's house broken so they're here for now. 

So that was the start of my February vacation, pretty awesome I think. Now I have this week to go to a friend's party, probably hit town with some friends later and work, of course. The day I get back, Monday, I'm passing the Bac Blanc Oral in Français. I have study 15 texts we've gone over in class, plus many more documents complimentaires, plus all the lessons and lectures we've taken from the prof and Monday morning, at 8:35 they're going to assign me 1 out of the 15 texts. Me, I have to prepare a commentaire in a half hour and then present it orally to a judge. So yeah, I'm so totally screwed it's not even funny, but it should be pretty hilarious when I try to explain Pascal's love of God and critique of man or the complexity of César from le trilogie Marseillaise or Médée eternal anger and vengeance in Corneille's eternal representation of the sorceress. Or something like that. So we'll see how that turns out, should be interesting. Well I'll see you all later, I'm going to go figure out how to download X-Men in French for later tonight. 
À plus le monde!