Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sunday: An Unfortunate Adventure

I made it to St Vincent de Tyrosse in one piece. Barely, but still alive.

The morning started out by leaving the hotel in Paris with Ed and Matt (who very kindly helped me with my bags and let me ride to the train station with them in their taxi) and taking the 12:15pm TGV (high-speed train) to Bordeaux. The trip was beautiful--picturesque countryside dotted with little villages. I had an hour layover in Bordeaux, then caught the train (normal train) to St. Vincent de Tyrosse.

Unfortunately the message that I would be arriving at 6:15pm did not get passed along to the director (who was the one supposed to meet me at the train station), so when I one was waiting for me. I waited about 20 minutes until the entire station and platform was empty, but no one shozed up. I was starting to get really nervous because I didn't have any telephone numbers (my phone didn't even work) or addresses--I had no idea where to go! I decided to ask the man at the desk in the train station for help, but he wasn't very helpful or friendly. Basically he said: "No, there isn't any free internet around here. No, there's no place to get minutes for your phone--it's Sunday, everything is closed." And then just stared at me, without offering any help. Greeeeat.

So I tried walking into town to find a person who could help me, but the town was empty because on Sunday all the businesses are closed and everyone is at home aith their families. I spotted a phone booth- unfortunately you had to have a phone card to use it. It was then that I started feeling totally awful (it was now 7:30pm). It probably didn't help that I hadn't slept much the night before and hadn't eaten much during the day...and that everything hurt from lugging my heavy bags around.

Just then, I spotted a large warehouse with a bunch of people inside! I made my way over and went inside, not sure even what I was going to ask them to do for me, as I had no names of people in Tyrosse (my only contact person lives in a different town). A lady came over and I tried to explain my situation, but ended up bursting into tears instead. At that point a few ladies came over to see what was wrong and I sorta explained a little of what was going on, but it wasn't very clear because I kept sobbing in the middle. Definitely an embarrassing experience for me. They got me a glass of water and said that I shouldn't worry, they would help me.

After I calmed down, I told them that I was there to work at the elementary school, they found a lady who knows the director (who was supposed to pick me up) and she took me and my bags in her car to his house. Boy, was he surprised to see me! He had no idea that I was arriving (turns out my contact person didn't check her email on the weekend, and she hadn't passed along the message...of course he doesn't check his email on the weekend either, so it wouldn't even have mattered!) and he quickly invited me to stay at his house.

I had a nice dinner with Bruno (the director) and Françoise (his wife), who were very apologetic for how my arrival had taken place. Of course, I assured them that it wasn't their fault! After dinner and a shower, I feel much better. Sleep will be good as well...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Saturday: Day 2 at the Knife Show

Saturday started much the same way as Friday—a good breakfast and then off to the Knife Show. I was able to set up the table by myself and promptly sold a knife before Ed had returned from his morning walk-around. Since I had spent a lot of time just sitting the day before, I brought my hand sewing to keep me occupied. I brought an extra row of the quilt for Grace to work on, so we both chatted and stitched off-and-on for a few of the hours. In the afternoon, Grace and I took a stroll around all the tables in search for apresent for one of her daughters. It was fascinating to seethe other knife makers’ work. Some were more commercial, but others had amazing hand-carved handles, fancy designs in the blade, beautiful boxes or sheaths, or something else that made them stand out from the others. I had never really thought about how many different styles of knives there are. My favorite was a knife with a wooden handle that had been carved to look like a piece of branch with a bee crawling on it—it was so detailed and real-looking! I would have taken a picture, but the maker was not at his table and I wasn’t sure if it was allowed.

One of the best parts about working at Ed’s table was that he had a stack of tiny knives that were given to him by the company he designs for (Spyderco) and could be given out for free. The knives are folding knives and (when folded) are roughly 1” long! Perfect for little kids. So, if a child came up to the table with their parent, we would hand them the little box and wait to see their surprised expression when they opened it to find a little knife. They were always so enamored with it and were stoked to find out that it was being given to them! As we were leaving the show, a woman came up to Ed and told us (in French) that her son was “in heaven” and that it was his first knife. It feels so good to make someone’s day.

After spending two days at the show with Ed, I’ve learned a lot about his beliefs regarding the knife community. He is always friendly and willing to talk about his knives, or someone else’s. He gives advice and encouragement to beginning knife makers and respect to older ones. Quite often he’ll press an extra gift into the hands of buyers—or old friends. His belief is that by always being friendly and generous, he can build strong ties with the other knife makers, thereby creating a close community. And, so far, it seems to have worked. Many people stopped by over the course of the two days to say hello and sometimes drop off small gifts in return, for Ed. It was great to experience so many genuinely good and fair people who were more concerned about creating friendships than making money. I was honored to be there.

At 6:00pm, Ed, Matt, Grace, and I had packed up and were headed back to the hotel, via metro.

Since the show was on the edge of Paris, it took us a good hour to get back. Although I had been told that we would be eating at really fancy restaurants, we hadn’t dressed up so far.

The restaurants were amazing, but it wasn’t necessary to wear anything special. Saturday night, however, we were headed to a fancier place. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite fancy enough to wear a dress (now I feel really dumb for freaking out over having to dress up), so I just wore a nice shirt and skirt.

We headed to Le Petit Poucet , which is a lovely restaurant on an island in the Seine.We dined with Patrick and Mark, who is a top chef who moved to France from the US 40 years ago. They helped me find enough vegetarian food to eat (starter: goat cheese with fancily-cooked beets and carrots, main course: a huge plate of mixed cooked vegetables). Of course there was more wine (I’ve been actually enjoying it and have had two glasses with most dinners!) and delicious bread. The dinner conversation mostly revolved around the idea of starting a different (smaller) knife exhibition in Paris—but one that would be much better than the current show. There really is nothing as entertaining as an enraged French man speaking in profanity-filled English. I talked to Grace most of the time. ;)

When it came time for dessert, I decided I should go for it (I hadn’t eaten any at the other restaurants)—so, on Mark’s recommendation, I ordered something similar to French toast (no, it’s not called that in France) with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce. YUM.

While I was enjoying it, the waitress arrived with two complimentary places covered with little desserts. What?! No one had told me about that! So, after checking out all the new desserts, I felt obliged to try a few… I mean, how could one pass up free macarons? I ate three.

I wished I had known that they would serve free desserts, because I felt so bad that they were going to waste! At that point, I was definitely regretting that doggie bags don’t exist in France…

As we were finishing up our desserts, the chef came out to sit down with us and check out the knives that Matt and Ed had brought. Some of

the managers and head waiters came over to have a look as well. I just sat back and watched them all exclaiming and arguing over the knives in both French and English. In the end, a few knives were purchased and we said adieu.

Mark offered us a ride back to the hotel (since it was after midnight), but we happened to be driving near his newly bought restaurant…so, we stopped in for a tour. It is located

just down the street from l’Arc de Triomphe (in a very nice area) and is very big, for a Paris restaurant. At the moment, it looks like a construction site. There is a lot to be done before they open in 3 weeks (flooring, plastering, electrical, painting, lots of cleaning, etc.). The best part was getting to go down a narrow, winding staircase into the wine cave. It was pretty much exactly as I would have pictured it—cool, dusty and cobwebby, dark, but with only a small amount of wine at the moment (the oldest bottle I saw was from the ancient time of 1983…). Perhaps when I come back to Paris later this year I can stop by and at least see it when it’s finished! There’s probably no way I could actually afford to eat there, though…

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was 1:30am! I said goodbye to Grace, who was heading home early in the morning, but I hope to visit her at the end of October.

Then I retired to my lovely little room for the last night in my comfy bed. …Definitely getting nervous about heading to St. Vincent!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Friday: Day 1 at the Knife Show

Friday morning we were up bright and early! After a traditional French breakfast (tea, juice, croissant, baguette, yogurt, grapes...), served by the lovely Eva--who is about 4'10" and just about the most friendly and excited person you'll ever meet, we headed off in a taxi to the Paris Knife Show. The show is currently located in a large warehouse building on the outskirts of Paris (much to the frustration of the participants who are disgusted with the price of participating and what they receive in return) and there are roughly 120 participants.

Upon arrival, we were ushered to our table and I helped to unpack the knives and organize them into a display. Grace (a knife maker from the UK, who is a good friend of Ed's) and I carefully placed the knives in an organized fashion--even drawing out a map of where the knives were located on the table. Apparently this was the most organized Ed's table has ever been. ;)
Of course, I was desperate to have a cheat sheet of names/prices since he spent some of his time visiting with other knife makers around the room and I needed to know how much to sell the knives for.

The day was very fun--I did some translating (although much of the knife making vocabulary was waaaay over my head...) and spent most of my time hanging out with Grace and drinking white wine! My responsibility was to greet people when they stopped by the table and tell them the price when they asked.
If they wanted to buy one, I would package it up and take their money. Pretty simple, so it left me lots of time to people-watch and eavesdrop!

The table next to us was taken by two guys selling swords. The owner of the company was from Denmark and spoke English really well. I got to chat with him a bit, and he helped me when I tried to translate something into French for a guy who spoke Danish...oops! His helper was French, but he also spoke English. It was rather entertaining to watch the helper demonstrate with swords that were nearly as tall as he was. I kept waiting for him to cut the limb off an unsuspecting passerby.

After the show, Matt, Ed, and I took off on the metro, headed towards a Thai restaurant for dinner. We met up with Patrick and his wife (I never quite got her name!) and had another entertaining meal. Patrick is extremely exuberant (especially as he uses expletives every other sentence when speaking in English) and gets very into whatever he happens to be talking about. It was during this dinner that Matt informed them that I could understand French-- which, of course, led to them trying to get me to speak French. It wasn't that I was refusing flat out, but when someone tells you "Go! Speak French right now!"--your brain goes completely blank! I said a few little comments in French, but nothing too exciting. Mostly I found it much more interesting to just listen to their conversation and stories.
The Thai food was authentic and amazing. I had a papaya salad and vegetable curry--and a tiny sip of this really intense rice alcohol drink that they gave us for free at the end. Suuuuper strong! I didn't get past the first sip.

We made it back to the hotel at midnight and had to be up at 8am for another long day...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I have arrived.

Here I am. Back in France, once again. Although it was extremely hard for me to leave Corvallis this time, I am determined to have a fun and exciting experience in France. I can already tell that I will learn a lot and grow much stronger... especially trying to lug over 100 pounds of luggage through the metro.
My flight was long, but uneventful (exactly as a good flight should be). We landed in Iceland just as the sun was rising (beautiful!!) and the layover was just enough time to walk from the plane, through security, and onto the next plane. Someday I'd love to spend some time exploring Iceland--it seems like an intriguing place.
Coincidentally, a friend from Corvallis happened to be taking the same flight to Paris! Lucy and I didn't get to sit next to each other, but it was nice to have someone to hang out with during the layovers! And we had fun trying to lug our bags up and down the Paris Airport escalators! However, she had (wisely) booked a hotel at the airport for the first night, so while she got to stay there, I had to trek all the way across Paris on the metro. And the funny thing about bags with wheels is that they don't do so well going up stairs. By the time I made it up a few flights carrying my 35lb backback, a ~20lb bag on my front, and a 50lb bag in my arms, I thought I was going to pass out! Needless to say, I was overjoyed to finally arrive at my hotel.
I am spending a few days in Paris before heading down to Saint Vincent de Tyrosse (where I will be living until the end of April). While in Paris, I will be helping out at the Paris Knife Show! A close friend of my father, Ed Schempp, is a knife maker who is selling at the show, along with many of his friends. I will be minding a table in return for a lovely hotel room, meals at the best French restaurants, and excellent company! The show is 9/23-9/24, so I will stay in Paris until Sunday.
Today (after FINALLY getting some sleep!) I accompanied Ed and two of his friends to their friend's house for lunch. Patrick lives in Paris and is an expert knife sharpener. He sharpens knives for the best restaurants in Paris-- and is a great cook! He made us a delicious lunch (including 5 bottles of wine) and entertained us with many good stories. His wife makes beautiful necklaces, which she was nice enough to display for us. We spent over four hours sitting around the table, drinking wine and chatting. It was interesting for me to listen to the conversations between Patrick and his wife (in French)--I'm pleased to say that I could understand mostly everything they were saying!

If anyone would like to write to me, I can receive mail at the school where I will be teaching! In November I will get an apartment (I will live with a family until then) and I will post my updated address then. If you write to me, I promise I will write back! I love getting real letters!

École des arènes
15 rue des écoles