Electrical Storm

My last post, which explained what I actually do as a language assistant in Reunion, was intended to follow shortly after la rentrée (the return to school at the end of January after the lengthy summer holidays). Alas, by the time I got round to writing it on Sunday 8th, only a week of school remained before the next holiday. Yes, another holiday, this one of two weeks, has begun…

Fifty Shades of Mediocre

The weekend before last we went to see 50 Shades of Grey at the cinema, or rather ‘50 Nuances de Grey’, because this is France and the film was dubbed into French. I know that for many people, going to see 50 Shades of Grey is an indefensible act, for several reasons. It is common knowledge that the film is not exactly a great piece of film-making. Personally, I felt slightly uneasy at participating in the sort of popular cultural phenomenon that I often try to avoid.

One shade of grey as the storm descends.
One shade of grey as the storm descends.

But the general context made it more than acceptable – a group outing with a few other teachers from my collège and some other assistants – and it was a fun outing. And it was the first time that I had been to the cinema here, an activity that I usually enjoy regularly. As for the film itself… well, it was alright. The first half was slow and boring, the second half vaguely erotic. All in all, it wasn’t particularly entertaining and it wasn’t particularly shocking.

Call Me Maybe

There were also huge storms here the weekend before last, with torrential rain, I mean really torrential. Il pleuvait des cordes. I won’t exaggerate and say it was a cyclone, because technically it was only a ‘Moderate Tropical Storm’. But the rain was something else. There was widespread flooding, and the weather was so extreme that school was cancelled on Monday. The rainy season had definitely delivered.

Dramatic scenes on the route du littoral.
Dramatic scenes on the route du littoral.

The extreme rainfall was enough to draw the attention of national French news, and there was chaos in some places, with the infamous route du littoral closed after rocks had fallen onto the road from the cliffs above. I managed to get drenched twice by sudden showers, going to or from bus stops, in the days before the storm truly hit. And as with “torrential”, I mean what I say – I really got absolutely drenched.

As with all tropical weather systems, it had a name: Haliba.
As with all tropical weather systems, it had a name: Haliba.

This was all very well, until I realised on the second occasion that the water had claimed everything, including my mobile phone. After lengthy recovery efforts, the phone seems to work again, just without the screen, which remains black. But I can hear the phone turn on, and I can remember the right keys to navigate the start screen and type in the entry code… so I could still make a call if I really need. Texts, missed calls and voicemail are out of the window though. My famous old UK pay-as-you-go blackberry finally died in December, so I have no back-up. It’s far from ideal of course, but at this point in proceedings I’m not going to waste time or money finding a new handset for the sake of 8 weeks. That’s right, just eight weeks to go.

Rihanna, Kanye West and some guy

My last class before the holiday was definitely one to remember. I was using various photos on the projector to facilitate discussion with my collège class, including one of Barack Obama. Some of the students explained to me who he is and why he is important, before one of the slightly less enthusiastic ones piped up (in French obviously)…

“Je l’aime pas.” [I don’t like him]

“Why? Pourquoi?”

“Parce qu’il est anglais.” [Because he’s English]

I explained that Obama is not English, but American, and that the difference is quite important.

A couple of other students then told me that they thought that England and the United States was the same thing.

I promptly gave all the students involved a stern dressing down in my best French, explaining categorically how there was a great deal of absolutely essential difference between England and America. Okay, I didn’t give them a stern dressing down (I just explained nicely), but I wanted to. I like America and Americans, but the difference between our two great countries has always been important to me. And one of the first things the children do, and at great length, when they start to learn English at collège, is to learn about exactly what and where the United Kingdom is, so they should have an idea.

Who's that bloke with the guitar?
Who’s that bloke with the guitar?

Meanwhile, poor old Sir Paul McCartney, arguably one of our greatest national treasures, has been taking quite a beating in my classes. In the same exercise, I’ve also been using a photo from the seemingly universal hit song ‘FourFive Seconds’, a collaboration between Rihanna, Kanye West and Sir Paul McCartney. For all the students, whether at collège at lycée, the song is by Rihanna, Kanye West and “some guy” or “a man”. Of course, I don’t expect these kids to know his name; he is from a different generation and he plays a background role on this track really. But still, my heart sinks a little every time for poor old Paul. Luckily, everyone has heard of The Beatles.

Voyage au bout d’un livre

An immense feeling of relief as I finally finished a book that I had been reading on and off for at least two years. Reading Voyage au bout de la nuit, Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s 1932 masterpiece, was intended to be a side project during my final year at university, after one of our teachers during my year abroad recommended it as, well, the best.

But it was quite a challenge, for beyond the 500 pages of small typeface lies a world of darkness and desperate pessimism which makes it hard to digest. What’s more, Céline’s writing is complex and often philosophical, whilst his style is conversational and incorporates a lot of slang and expressions of the time, making some passages very difficult to understand. Despite it all, by the end of it I felt like I had read something truly extraordinary. I would highly recommend the book, but be warned, it won’t be an easy read.

And now I’m free to read the many other books on my ‘to read’ list.

A new friend...
A new friend…

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