Back at school after two lazy weeks of vacation. It feels quite good to be getting back into the swing of things. Vacation was great, don’t get me wrong. We went to a couple different waterfalls, befriended the driver of an ice cream van who offered us all free ice cream because his wife was not present to make the crêpes. I ate an enormous sandwich called a lord au bouchon for the first time, an enormous circular sandwich larger than the surface area of my face with lettuce, tomato, little bouchons (sort of like dumplings) and french fries inside the sandwich. I also found a type of Dodo beer that is really good, la blanche (white) with a bit of citrus added. The other day I cracked open a rotten coconut and drank (spit up) it’s chunky filmy contents…
Cascade (Waterfall) de Langevin
A group of us drove to St. Joseph in the southern part of the island to a waterfall called Langevin. A short walk from the side of the road, we found ourselves alone romping through the ravine to uncover the most surreal waterfall basin with water so clear you can see every detail of the stones lining the bottom. There was a small chamber with dark, rectangular rocks forming a rough staircase that made it possible for us to climb to the top and jump 20 feet into the pool below. It was so beautiful, none of it seemed real. We explored all three basins, and as it began to drizzle, we made our way down to the city of St. Pierre while listening to the words Bob Dylan, the cliché bohemian feel of it all enhanced by the enormous dreamcatcher hanging from the rearview mirror. After a lazy dinner set against the seaside and a setting sun (romantic, right?), we stumbled upon a dear old ice cream man who, after apologizing for not having crêpes (his wife makes the crêpes but she was out) or hot chocolate, gifted us all free italian ice cream.
Back to the Present
Vacation went by paradoxically slow and fast. We went to the beach nearly everyday, on a fait la fête (made some party), and hung out on each others’ terraces. Every day was blissfully slow, mostly (aside from moments of being harassed by locals at bus stops), but by the end of the two weeks I was definitely ready for something more.
I received my professors bike a couple days before school restarted, and I have taken it twice from St. Gilles where I’m living to Collège Plateau Caillou, roughly 10km and an enormous hill away. The base of the hill begins near the city center of St. Paul and continues climbing until Zeus’ feet which you’ll gladly kiss if you ever reach the top. It’s extremely steep with switchbacks that have taken ten minutes to climb and three minutes to descend which could be faster if it weren’t for the congestion cars and buses. As with the waterfall, I can’t help but remark on my commute to and from school. The road I take hugs cliffsides and the coast. Although I miss the most bike-friendly city in the States, the biking here is not half bad.
At home, I cook mostly with vegetables from a really nice woman at a market stall in St. Gilles and serve them with couscous, jasmine rice, or pasta. I see the woman from the market every few days to replenish my stock of carrots, eggplant, kiwis, bananas, etc. and often see her just slipping items back into my bag without ringing them up. In the evenings and at midday I’ll run to Ermitage beach via the coastline or the road, or I’ll hang a left at the end of our driveway and head straight up the hillside which leads to an incredible overlook of the St. Gilles.
My kids are learning about Bob Dylan. Honestly, I had never listened to him before nor had read anything about him. So inspired by his music in the car on the way to St. Jo, I printed off his wiki page to learn that he went to Hibbing HS, was a gopher for a year before dropping out (it’s rumored that he used to live above the Loring Pasta Bar in Dinkytown), and won countless awards including a Pullitzer Prize Citation in 2008 for the “poetic power” of his lyrics, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 for his influence on the Civil Rights Movement and American culture as a whole. Thus, my students and I have all been listening to “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and “Like a Rollin’ Stone”. In hindsight, I probably could have picked an artist easier for my kids to understand, but hey, it’s Bob Dylan, right? said one of the few Minnesotans to previously know nothing about him.
In addition to planning lessons on anything of interest, I get to drink wine during my classes at the vocational school for bartenders, servers, cooks, pastry chefs, and restaurant/hotel managers, Lycée Hôtelier La Renaissance. Thus, today’s lesson was about wine service, and seeing as I have a full 4-months of experience serving wine, who better to educate an entire class of budding service-industry professionals than myself?
Monsieur Cassard: “And you smell the cork and consult your sommelier to verify that the wine is good?”
Me: “But of course!”
Monsieur Cassard: “Okay then. Now show us how you would taste the wine, please.”
Me: (Confidently): “Well, you need to swirl the contents of the glass and hold it up to the light to verify that the color is good, that there aren’t any sediments from the bottom of the bottle floating around. Then, when you taste the wine, you need to pull it through your teeth to aerate the wine and better release the grape’s flavors.”
In actuality, I cracked the lip of the first bottle of wine I ever attempted to open in front of a guest and had to go back to the bar and fetch a new bottle. I have never worked in fine dining. At the restaurants where I’ve worked, we set out wine glasses on our tables, rolled our silverware in black linens, and dimmed the lights. But fine dining? No. There was no time to verify with a non-existing sommelier nor wipe the lip of the bottle between each pour. 90% of the time you’re precariously run-walking with 9 wine glasses in your right hand, a bottle of wine in the other, and 12 tasks that need to be done written in the creases of your stress-induced, visibly-aging face.
Nonetheless, I’ve been assigned to the best lycée and collège on the island. As I was writing this, a student popped into the teachers lounge to inform me that I could come by the restaurant d’application, the student restaurant where they can apply what they’re learning to a real restaurant setting, and have a cocktail, a glass of wine, a cup of coffee whenever I want. Not to overemphasize this detail, as great as it may be, the main takeaway is that my students are great – eager to learn more about the US, speak in English, and make sure that as the language assistant, I’m feeling welcomed here on Reunion Island. I receive on average 27, sing-songy, French “helloooos!” everyday.
Next week I will give the vocational school students a lesson on the local, niche coffee shops of Minneapolis and the concept of latté art, barista battles, and coffee shop culture in the US versus cafés in France.
Additionally, I caught the end of Le Grand Raid (a 100-mile race through the mountains that traverses the island), gave practice balls, water, and a towel to an internationally-ranked Dutch tennis player by the name of Robin Haase, went sailing for the first time on a catamaran, and found this guy last night by the toilet.