First, the little slide show of the town of Sancerre, cobbled together mostly from photos I took:
i just spent the month of October at the amazing French language school Coeur de France in Sancerre, learning or at least improving my French, which I started relearning — after only a high school’s acquaintance with the language — about a year ago at the age of 65. Despite what i felt was my own unfortunate lack of grammar basics, I placed into an advanced level class but the class was so tiny at four students that we made huge progress. Group classes with the delightful Valerie, for the first two weeks I was at Coeur de France, were followed by two weeks of individual instruction. Despite the pace and intensity of learning immersion French, I had a ball, for the most part.
This was literally my first trip anywhere of significance since childhood, and certainly my first all alone to a foreign country. I looked forward to it, and chose Coeur de France on the basis of its emphasis on encouraging students to speak French as much as possible and because of its 250+ positive reviews at Trip Advisor! But no less because of its comprehensive and reassuring website, which hid nothing from prospective students, and even gave detailed and accurate instructions on how Americans can best reach the school, which as its name suggests, is located smack dab in the center of France. (Okay, maybe and perhaps unwittingly since clearly they are used to it, the website neglects to mention the steepness of the hill upon which the school sits, a hill I had to climb each and every morning, rain…rain… or rain!) Everything the website says about the school is true and I experienced it personally, from the lovely apartments rented to students to the amazing and skilled teachers and the low key but convivial atmosphere. And in fact though there was rain very frequently, the clouds often parted to give dazzling views and allow photo taking.
To give one small example of the welcome extended, a vase of a half dozen coral-colored roses awaited each new student in the kitchen of their new temporary home.
This I just had to paint, but except for pencil sketches I did not otherwise do a lot of art while at the école.
i also drew the school from the popular side view. And some students in Veronique’s cooking class. (The school drawing in pen and ink is not yet finished.)
i had a hard time with jet lag at first and it took me a good week to recover, not to mention to get used to the climb up that steep hill for ten minutes each morning. But by the third week it had become easy and I scarcely thought about the incline any longer. Thank heavens I had quit smoking a few months in advance, as it would have been hell to both want to smoke and struggle to climb the hill each morning.
By the third week, too, I had come to terms with my not being able to participate in the school’s social life and activities. Largely because I was just too tired but also because such things are not enjoyable for me. I loved having one-to-one lessons the second half of my stay then going “home” to my apartment (Le Jardin) to be alone and “do my thing”. I felt that the location of my particular apartment kept me isolated from other students, too, at first, but I ceased caring once I acknowledged that I really was there to learn French and not to meet a lot of new friends…
More difficult by far was my needing to enter French stores and other enterprises. I have a hard enough time with this in the US so it was doubly hard in France. Luckily my wonderful and highly skilled one-to-one teacher, Sabrina, came to my rescue, and we went on various missions each day to get me more Familiar with the process. With Sabrina’s help I learned to enter the boulangerie and say, “Bonjour Madame!” almost fearlessly as time went on. I even went to the store that sold used books and asked the propriétaire if he could choose a couple for me “pas trop facile”. He thought at first I meant “not too difficult” but I had in fact intended to say, “not too easy” and when he understood this, he handed me a book. (The bizarre thing was that I was already reading that very same book! Given all the millions of books in print, what are the odds of that? ) I said so and he chose two others, then I bid him adieu and left, my heart lighter by factors of ten than it had been.
This trip was difficult in many ways. Many old fears reared their heads and did not let go till I departed, but I was also supremely happy almost every day I spent there. Coming home has brought paralysis and even a kind of despondency. But a French tutor i speak with (she is in Tunisia) sent me an article about “le déprime du retour” or the dépression in coming home, and knowing that this is a recognized phenomenon helps me feel better. It will pass, as everything does.
This was the trip of a lifetime and I might never have gone. It was only after Lynnie died that I understood how tenuous and iffy life is, and decided to actually go to France, try out my language skills, seeing as how French was the fifth miracle of my life. But will I go again next year? Truth is, I had refused even to consider travelling before Lynnie’s death, as I know that flying contributes a huge amount to global warming. Like that 16-year- old climate activist, Greta Thunberg, i too felt it incumbent upon me not to travel by air, amd to use my car as little as possible. I still feel that way…so while I understand that travel and tourism provide much needed jobs for people, we will all be seeking more than jobs if the temperature increases by the anticipated additional 2 degrees centigrade. What’s the point of the travel industry when half the world is drowning and the other half is on fire? I believe all will have to make drastic changes at some point…I choose to voluntarily make some changes in my lifestyle now rather than having them forced on me by global climate catastrophe. *
*( If there’s one thing I know it’s that life is full of surprises, so if I started selling my art successfully I might speak and even feel differently)