I’m afraid to jinx everything by putting it in writing, but the summer program where I’m currently working in St Andrews, Scotland is going incredibly smoothly. The way to say that in French is ça marche du tonnere (sah marsh due ton-air), which literally means , “it works/goes like thunder.” In the much larger Paris program where I normally work, I’ve seen it all: fish tanks thrown off of balconies, thefts on the subway, and flashers in the street. Here in St Andrews, the students delight in innocent games like a bizarre one that involved making pterodactyl noises at one another (don’t ask me why, but this had twenty kids splitting their sides). “Introduction to crochet” was hugely popular, including one lad who thought he was arriving for an introduction to croquet. Last night, I was coming back to the dorm after a walk on West Sands (where I took the photo, above) when I discovered a group of students engaged in piggy-back jousting of sorts on the Old Course. It’s just delightful and I hope it continues to marche du tonnere until July 11!
St Andrews, my home for the next few weeks, is known for its university and golf course, not necessarily in that order. Even before the founding of the university in 1413, St Andrews was important as a cathedral town and for its castle.
The church was built in 1158 as a suitable repository for relics purported to be the bones of the apostle Andrew, making the cathedral a significant destination for pilgrims. During the Scottish Reformation, the altars and images were removed and the church began its decline into its current state of ruin.
The castle was the home to the bishops of the nearby cathedral, rather than royalty. It had strategic importance in the Wars of Scottish independence. During the Reformation, it was first used as a prison for the Protestants, and then they took it over and formed the first Protestant Church of Scotland. When the castle was retaken, the famous preacher John Knox was among those taken as a prisoner and made a gallery slave. By 1656, the castle was in such a deplorable state that the stones were carted off to form the pier.
The word dégringoler (day-gran-go-lay) means to tumble, crash down, or collapse. Lately, I’ve become a big fan of a BBC show called Restoration Home during which a decrepit building that is listed on the historic register is painstakingly restored by devoted owners. Many of these buildings look at bit like the castle and cathedral of St Andrews before their owners bring them back from a state of near collapse.
Have you ever filled out one of those “getting to know you” questionnaires? Like “What’s your favorite book?” or “If you were an animal, which one would you be?” These are a standard fixture of the summer program I work at as a means to get to know the faculty and administrative staff. This year, I was really stumped by “Describe yourself in three adjectives.” The first one that popped into my mind was cynical, to which I added anal and intense.
Realizing that these sounded rather horrible taken altogether, I enlisted the help of my daughter and husband. They came up with a rather nicer list: charming, brilliant, and hard-working from my husband; and charismatic, confident, and focused from my daughter. I was really touched. I liked their version of me much better than my own but I lacked the ability to see myself the way they did. The French expression for self-confidence is confiance en soi (kon-fee-ahnse ohn swah) and although I appear to others to possess this in abundance, deep down I’m a bundle of insecurities.
Isn’t it strange how hard we can be on ourselves? Recently, my husband gave me a link to a Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy entitled Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are. It’s all about how we sabotage ourselves from appearing confident and how we can re-wire our brains in just two minutes to convey a more powerful image. I practised her ideas prior to my opening address to the students and the faculty, and I did feel more confident. In fact, the President of the company I work for asked for a copy of my remarks to add them to his “best-practices” list for other Program Directors!
So what adjectives did I settle on for my questionnaire? I decided to go tongue-in-cheek and opt for omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. Not bad qualities for the Director for a program of teenagers to pretend to have!
In the summer program I work at, it’s important to do something to mark their birthdays. Sometimes parents will contact us with a list of requests, other times, it’s up to us to highlight the importance of the day with banners, balloons, candles, and cake. The French expression for marking an important event, particularly a birthday is marquer le coup (mar-kay luh koo). This week, one of our birthdays happened to fall on the day that the official piper for St. Andrews University was here. The piper told us about the history of the pipes in warfare and their cultural spread, including France. I’m afraid that we won’t be able to deliver such grandeur to mark the day each time, but it was grand while we could.
Well, I’m now settled in St. Andrews, Scotland, for my summer job. It’s a beautiful little town perched on the North Sea. Famous for golf and the university, St. Andrews is also known for West Sands beach, a two-mile swath of sand where the opening sequence of the film Chariots of Fire was shot. I haven’t been for a run there, but I have thoroughly enjoyed my walks bracketed by the dunes on one hand and the surf on the other. After a long walk west, I then retrace my steps or rebrousser chemin (ruh-broose-ay shuh-mahn) and walk toward the town. It’s lovely to watch the sun set over the sea, although it does so after 11 at night! Usually, I’m tucked in my bed by then.
If I was going to hire a decorator for my home, it would be Charlotte Moss. For years, I’ve drooled over her books, pinned her photos on Pinterest, and sought out her designs at the Kips Bay show houses in New York. Last year, in fact, I ran into her at Kips Bay and babbled incoherently. So, of course, I was delighted to see that she had a new book out, Charlotte Moss: Garden Inspirations, published by Rizzoli. My garden now consists of a cluster of pots on our patio, but I was ready to be inspired.
As one would expect, this is a beautiful volume, full of Moss’ own photographs of the garden she has curated over the past twenty-five years. The photos show the garden and the lush arrangements she makes with them that fill her home. Moss entertains lavishly and the arrangements are literally the centerpiece of dinner parties, where the flowers compliment the table settings. Moss also shares her inspirations, including European gardens, including French ones, of course. My favorite French garden is the Bagatelle on the outskirts of Paris, so I was glad to see that it made her list. Great gardening women from the past, including France’s Colette are also credited with helping to develop Moss’ eye. If you want to walk in her talented footsteps, the book concludes with an extensive resource guide. After all, quoting Edith Wharton, Moss says that “to behold our own patch of beauty and pleasure” is an achievable goal for all of us.
The French word for “moss” is la mousse (lah moose). Chocolate mousse, Charlotte Moss – it’s clear why the talented designer’s work has always appealed to me. (Even if the connection may be tenuous to others.) If I meet her again, I’ll probably babble worse than ever.
For a teacher, summer time means a chance to rest, recharge, and read. I have a stack to attack this summer – some are books that I’ve chosen, some are books that I’ve been given, and some are required by my school. La lecture (lah lek-toor) means “reading” and this is my reading list for the summer.
The first of the books that I have chosen is 100 Places in France Every Woman should Go. The cover blurb says, “With intelligence, style and depth, Marcia DeSanctis offers insight and advice to every France-obsessed woman, whether she’s a first-time traveler to Paris or the most sophisticated Francophile.” What makes this book different from the usual list of travel recommendations are the stories of “fascinating women to have changed the destiny of France.” This one is coming in my suitcase.
My favorite author is Michael Ondaatje; when I saw that he had selected the short stories and written the introduction to Paris Stories, by Montreal native Mavis Gallant, that was all that I needed to choose this book. As the jury for the Rea Award for the Short Story said, “Read any one of Mavis Gallant’s stories and you are at once swept away – captivated, amazed, moved – by the grace of her sentences, the ease of her wit, and suppleness of her narrative, the complexity and originality of her perfectly convincing characters.” Short stories are perfect for traveling, so this one is coming along, too.
Another book that I selected is Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance, by Jean Zimmerman. The cover illustration features a painting by John Singer Sargent, one of my favorite artists. The inside jacket says, “From the splendid cottages of the Berkshires to the salons of 1890s Paris, Love, Fiercely is the real story of a world long relegated to fiction.” I live near the Berkshires and my passion for Paris made this book a natural choice. If there’s room in my luggage, this one’s coming, too.
My husband had a major score on Mother’s Day with Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, by Kimberley Chrisman-Campbell. Everything about this book says PATRICIA fashion, France, and history. The cover art is by Elisabeth-Louis Vigée-Lebrun, an artist I’ve long admired. The blurb say, “Drawing upon documentary evidence, never-before-published archival sources, and new information about aristocrats, politicians, and celebrities, this book is an unmatched study of French fashion in the late eighteenth century, providing astonishing insight, a gripping story, and stylish inspiration.” This book is a weighty tome, literally as well as in terms of its academic merit, so it’s waiting until August.
One of the books that has been selected by my school is Breath, Eyes, Memory, by Edwidge Danticat. Danticat writes about Haiti, a former French colony, and the school where I work has a partnership with a school there. Reviewer Bob Shancochis said, “A novel that rewards the reader again and again with small but exquisite and unforgettable epiphanies.” My fellow French teacher said, “Some of Danticat’s characters are really messed up.” Hmm. I think this one can wait until I get back.
The second of the books selected by my school is #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education, by Grant Lichtman. I’m always up for the latest in educational research. The inside jacket reports, “Filled with compelling examples from around the country and based on the findings from the latest education research, #Ed Journey maps out how administrators and teachers can embrace the innovation process that schools and learners need right now.” Sounds great, but this is a hard cover, so it’s going to have to wait until August.
Have you read any of these? If so, what are your thoughts about them? What’s on your summer reading list?