Friday, June 15, 2007

chers coll├Ęgues...

Thursday night Beth and I were taken out to dinner by the English department. We ate at a restaurant that sits right on the oyster port on the bassin, a place with a lot of button down charm and lots of good seafood. Every table was full, there was a large wine tasting club there and then our group of seven and one other group. As luck would have it I recognized a couple of people there, one of the wine tasters, an elected member of the local municipal government and the patron of the restaurant, someone I had sat next to at a dinner earlier in the year and talked sports with for a good part of the evening. Making these random connections and being feted by my colleagues thus, reinforced for me the feeling of drawing the circle to a close. In the beginning there no familiar faces, no landmarks, and now we move about freely and eaily and are not terribly surprised to see a face we've seen before.

The next evening, last night, I attended the end of year faculty celebration. The staff congregated outside where a long table was amply supplied with champagne and hors d'oeuvres. It was a lovely evening, people's faces seemed suffused with light.

It's a familiar rite of passage - There are the goodbyes to the retirees. (there were two this year, a math teacher, Martine, and the media specialist, Marie), to certain temporary staff who would not be back. One sweet moment was when the entire staff sang a traditional song of farewell to the retirees. Everyone sang, a few supplied harmony. The sound of our voices all blending together lent a simple and affectionate dignity to the occasion.

There were some remarks by the proviseur about the year and a bemused reference to an unfortunate incident that very morning in which during one of the Bac final exams a student was caught cheating...something approaching a capital offense in France. There were murmurs and wry smiles all around, another chapter of local lore had been inscribed.

There was also a very touching gesture made on my behalf. First, a pair of teachers with whom I worked in the atelier theatre stood up and presented a poem, written in alexandrines (verse lines of 12 syllables). It produced a lot of laughs while managing to evoke a sense of how my presence here was perceived by them. My blog has acquired a little notoriety here, and which has resulted in my becoming perceived as a bit more than a casual observer of how things work here. The poem playfully suggested that upon hearing of how I had described some of the colleagues here, that the teaching staff regularly checked the blog nervously to see if they had been the subject of any further commentaries. It also had fun with the fact that I am a foot taller than literally all of my colleagues in the English department and that my presence had therefore elevated the horizons of this group. Finally there was a nice mention of my having shared some music with students and a closing expression of appreciation and a nod to Shakespeare. To cap it off I was given a hard copy of the poem, artfully antiqued on a scroll.

It was an absolutely endearing gesture which was followed by my English colleagues presenting me with gifts, books of art, cuisine and local history. For the remainder of my time there that evening I made the rounds trying to check in with and say goodbye personally to as many of them as I could. It's a little awkward at the end, there are last minute resolutions and invitations but time is running out.

I wonder more and more these days how my life will be changed by this experience. The Fulbright people warn you of a difficult transition when you get home. I can sort of intuit that already. I know that life at home won't just resume as if some cosmic PAUSE button has finally been pushed...there are already some changes in store for me at the high school, apparently I won't be teaching AP English next year, something I learned just yesterday when I checked my high school email account... it's strange how email and the internet have permitted me to stay abreast of events of back home but on a deeper human level I feel as though I'm going to need to reconnect with people, reestablish working relations and somehow reinvent myself there...change, the only constant, I guess.

On the flip side, all the very hard work, all of the personal investment Beth and I have poured into finding a place for ourselves here, all of that is about to reach a terminus...the long term fruits of our labor remain unclear...a year from now, who will we still be in contact with? Time will tell. One thing I can say for sure is that this year has push and prodded and stretched me in ways I couldn't have imagined. Now I can't imagine not having done this exchange.

Just for the record, I want to thank Beth for pushing me to apply to Fulbright. When I think of the myriad ways in which she has transformed my life it boggles my mind.



Anonymous erin said...

What a wonderful experience this has been for you all (and those of us at home experiencing it vicariously through your blog!). I'm so glad you've kept this record of your time. Separately you and Beth are incredible people, but as a team you are a force of nature! I love you both!

3:52 PM  

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