mardi 4 mai 2010

A Lovely Day in Venelles

Today was one of those delicious blustery days when your umbrella blows inside out more than once but it's not so cold that you hate your life. After I take the bus to Venelles (about 20 minutes), I walk up a steeeeeep hill to my first school of the day, perched on up in Venelles La Haut, the medieval hilltop town, or village perché. I teach one class at the école on top of the hill and then walk back down to the newer part of town. On my walk back down, the view of the valley is amazing. I can see the Alps off in the distance when the weather's clear--here's where they should be.

No snow-capped peaks today. Even Mt. Sainte-Victoire was hidden by clouds, and the fields in that direction were veiled in a filmy mist.I love to look into this house's garden as I walk past. They have a little orchard and a fish pond, but it's not very well laid out--gives the feeling of a constricted jumble. Still, it was cool to watch spring creep up on it.

Around the corner, Spring is starting to give way to summer. The blossoms are saying their goodbyes.You can tell Venelles is a pretty ritzy bedroom community of Aix. Some of the crosswalks are made of marble paving stones!

I poked my nose into the grocery store to pick up lunch--I'd left my carefully packed pique-nique at home. After I came out, the storm had cleared up and Il faisait beau. Sainte-Victoire was peeking back through the clouds.
Venelles seems like a great place to live. I wish we could afford the rent here! There are mostly just houses for families, not much for a young pair of americains who miss their backyards but don't want a whole maison. There are apartments, but they're for families or retirees. The complex by my second school even has a daycare connected to the building! And you barely walk out your front door and you're by the biblotheque. I missed a class this week because my 1st grade (CE1, as they're called here) took a stroll over to the library with their teacher.
The way from the bibliotheque down to the next school is almost as nice as the walk down the hill. There are tree-lined streets with little townhouses that seem to be going for quality, not quantity. They look well-built, and snuggle in sweet little walled and gated gardens. No "contiguous lawn" democracy in France--here, the liberté, égalité and fraternité is maintained by strong fences to make good neighbors. Not so sure how well that's working for them.
Friendly as neighbors or not, these houses have become my new "dream homes": they're small, but they have yards and garages (that's important) and are close to shops and bakeries and civilization. Venelles has a concert series, an exhibition space, and a giant park with walking and biking trails. It really feels like a "town" and not a suburb.

My students walk to school and go home for lunch (remember, lunch break is 2 hours). If their parents work, they stay and eat at the cantine and play in the cour. One thing that all of the schools I've worked in have in common is la cour, a big enclosed schoolyard. Usually you have to cross the cour to get to the cafeteria, the music classroom, or the computer lab. Two of the schools I've worked in were actually built as a loose chain of classrooms with the cour in the center--when you're in a Mediterranean climate, it's not a problem to have to go outside to get from one classroom to the next. Here's a picture of École Marcel Pagnol, the school by the library--the kids play outside or in the indoor/outdoor space between the two wings of the building.
Can you tell how many of the little girls are wearing leather boots? I'm telling you, it's a fashion must-have around here.

To end our lovely school day, Marlin (the German assistant) and I found out that our last few classes were canceled for an assembly. So we wandered around town (I had never seen the main street, so Marlin took me there en voiture) and then into Aix where we had le goûter--an after-school snack. Normally parents meet their kids at the school gate with a pain au chocolat or some baguette with nutella. Marlin and I found a little bakery/coffee shop and had tea and hot chocolate and quiche...
But after chatting for an hour with a pastry case staring at us, we melted and split a tropezienne, a pastry so amazing I'm not even going to describe it. I'll just give you the recipe.
Comme c'est belle, la vie. Life is beautiful sometimes, non?

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