Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Delville wood

I wanted to blog on Delville wood on 11 November, the day of celebrating the end of WWI. Alas, time didn't allow and after reading Nerina's blog I've decided that she captured the spirit in such an accurate way, I'll just direct you to her site. www.weskusbanneling.blogspot.com especially since I'm currently not able to upload photos.
But before going there, you can read the first part of a poem about Delville wood that is in the museum and another one, written by a soldier.

Delville wood
By ruined houses in Montauban, by trench and sunken road
All resolute and strong the living stream of khaki flowed
Through land laid waste and seared and torn by ruthless giant guns -
And so that stream South Africa had lent her sturdy sons.

The soldier
I was that which others did not want to be.
I went where others feared to go
and did what others failed to do.
I asked nothing from those who
gave nothing and reluctantly
accepted the thought of eternal
loneliness...should I fail.
I have seen the face of terror - and enjoyed
the sweet taste of a moment's love
I have cried, pained and hoped...
but most of all, I have lived times
others would say were best forgotten
At least someday
I will be able to say
that I was proud of what I was...

I don't know how many of you have read PG du Plessis' book 'Fees van die Ongenooides' - about the Second Boer War from 1899-1902. The hardships the women and children had to suffer in British concentration camps eventually got to the grandfather of the family who is featuring in the story who then questioned God.  I can just say that after visiting Delville wood, I knew that God used a terrible war in SA to limit the enormous amount of lives lost during WWI.  For those who don't know - it was during that war in SA that guerilla war and trenches had its origins. You might still question why God allowed WWI - it was man's choice and God gives us the freedom to take our decisions in life...

Monday, November 26, 2012


I have to admit, studying is even more demanding than what I've expected, so sorry for being so quiet! I'll try to give you a snapshot of what happened the last 2 months.

Yes, it is a business school in Paris, created by two well-known management schools in Reims and Rouen.  I have class every second week, Thursday to Saturday, and take the TGV (the high-speed train) with JL in the morning at 7h20 on the Thursday & Friday and then returning from Paris at 19h28, arriving home at 20h30. On a Saturday I take it at 7h43 and returning from Paris at 18h28.
The classes and notes are all in French. I had to stop the one prof on the third day, asking him to speak slower. A young guy who didn't take it so well...
The first 3 days we had 5 different people teaching us, the second week another person, but at least for all 3 days, and the last 3 days 2 people. Each one with their speed of talking and articulation (pronouncing the French words clear or less clear) and own handwriting (they have a different handwriting here than what we have in general, making it sometimes difficult to read what is written, more so because it is in another language).
I'm grateful for the classes I'd followed in September as I've defnitely picked up some necessary vocabulary. But for now I have no time to revise, so sometimes I recognise a word I've learned in Sept, but cannot remember what the meaning is...
On Thursday, a month after starting class, the prof responsible for the M finally agreed that I can follow the obligatory e-learning in French rather than English. After one month....
The case studies are several pages and small print and high level French. I'm halfway through reading it, then the others are already busy working on the case study. Fortunately I'm not the only étranger, there's also a Chinese and a lady from Ukraine.
We've heard two weeks ago we'll write an exam just before Christmas. It came by surprise and my stress levels are quite high. Even though they have agreed that I can respond in English, the question is still whether I'll understand all the French (if you misinterpret one sentence you risk to do the whole exercise in the wrong way...) and whether I'll read everything fast enough to finish...
We're a small group, only 14. But not being French def makes it more difficult, as I do not always have the vocabulary to convince people of my point of view during group work (and they continue with their wrong answer).
The volume of work is enormous and it takes me so much longer than what it would have if I was French. For that reason I've opted to stay at home rather than traveling during this week to Lyon with JL for his work for 3 days, as I'll have to study for the exams.
Watching the Springboks playing
I had class on Saturday and fortunately we've finished earlier than usually on a Saturday. JL told me beforehand that he thinks the Irish pub next to his office in Paris will broadcast the rugby match. So off I went in the hope to see the Springboks playing. Arriving just after the second half started.  Nerve wrecking so JL sent me a sms while watching that I'm not allowed to scream in the pub, I must remember he is working in the area... :)
Making friends on the train
On Saturday I had two delightful journeys. It is not often that one has a discussion with the person seated next to you, but on Saturday morning I was chatting to a young French woman who studied for a dr. Her dad is also a dr and her parents did volunteering work in African when she was young. She loves SA and Namibia and went there often.
The afternoon I was seated to a girl who had finished her matric and is busy to prepare for the concours. It is a competitive exam you have to write to try to enter the prestigous universities in France.  She's from Ardenne and was delighted to hear that I think it is a beautiful region.  We were talking all the way to the platform and agreed to assist each other in French/English, specifically with business terms, as she would like to follow international business.
The famous truffe of France and Italy. We pick cèpes (wild mushrooms) in the forest during autumn, but I didn't realise we have truffe not so far from here.  On Saturday night we've joined some friends at a restaurant in a small village on the other side of the mountain.  We chose a menu to discover truffe. I never really had truffe, so was curious to know why everyone is raving about it. The owners of the restaurant search their truffe not far from there. Everything, from the amuse-bouche (a little thing to taste) to the starter (5 different things) to the main (beef fillet and mash potato) to the cheese (brie and mascarpone) to the dessert (5 differnt things) had truffe in it. To accompany each course, we had 3 different glasses of champagne. The meal was excellent, we had a good evening out with friends, but I was exhausted at the end of the evening(we left at midnight), especially since I had class during the day.
Swopping champagne for whisky
JL's sister and her husband visited us end of Nov and we've decided to visit the distillery in the Montagne de Reims, being the only whisky maker in the area.  It was an interesting visit and even though I'm not fond of whisky, I've wet my lips to taste the difference between all the types (with my brother-in-law happy to finish my little tasting glass).  It is set in the mountain in the forest.
(I wanted to incl photo's here, but google is telling me I've exceeded the 1GB free space...not so sure what they are counting and what not, but i fear you'll have to wait for a while before having photos on the blog again...)
We've passed a group of hunters parked not far from there.  The hunting season is in full swing and one needs to take care when you go for a walk to not take a route where hunting takes place...
The new market in Reims and tasting champagne in a cellar
This one is specially for those who have already visited us, but before the new (old) market was opened in Sept.  It is an ugly concrete structure built during 1927-1929.  In 1988 the market was closed down due to safety reasons and the municipality planned to destroy the building. However, the minister of culture insisted that it is a special building and needs to be saved for future generations.  Therefore the municipality started with a renovation programme about 2 years ago and re-opened in Sept this year, hosting the main market of Reims again. In addition to Saturday mornings, it is now also open on Wednesdays & Fridays.  I went for the first time during Vernon and Sandra's visit early Oct.  I was impressed with the end result and it will be easier to go the market on a rainy day or icy winter's day!  I also took them to our favourite cheese shop and bought several types of cheeses that they could explore during their few days of stay. At the end the guy told me the amount of cheese I bought is what a French family will eat in 15 days - well, by the time they left there were hardly any left... (but I have to add that the reblochon I've used in the tartiflette and the beaufort I've also used in cooking). We also went to a wine shop, as they were so kind to replenish our cave that was desperately empty.  You go down a staircase to the cellar.  After a long wait, as the guy was serving other customers, we were served and asked if we would like to participate in a competition - it is to select the best champagne maker under 40 years old and we have to taste 3 champagnes and just rate them as nr 1,2 or 3. Since they have only arrived the day before it was their first opportunity to taste champagne and they've jumped at the opportunity. But we had nothing to eat or drink since brushing teeth the morning, so the other guy in the shop went to fetch a knife for us and I opened our beaufort cheese, not that cheese is always good with champagne!  Vernon and Sandra thought they've arrived in 7th heaven and we've spent much more time than planned!
Replenishing our very empty cave
After all our visitors we've had this past year, our wine stock was very low (the majority that we have still need to age in the perfect condition we have in our underground cave).  Every year the independent wine growers (they have to grow the vines and make the wines according to certain criteria to belong to this group) have a salon in Reims in Nov.  This is my third year and by now we know very well who are good producers (which cut down on time required and glasses of wine to taste!). I've requested our favourite, a wine maker from the Languedoc-Roussillon, beforehand via mail to please ensure that she keep some wine for us, as we'll only be there on the Sunday, due to me being in Paris for class before then.  We had a long chat at her stand, while tasting all the wines (and got a bottle of dessert wine as a gift, not normally a wine we'll buy but one that they are well known for and had won many prizes for, so we'll definitely taste it some time).  After buying good Saint-Estèphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, other Rhône and southern wine, our budget was exceeded and we left.  At least I have decided our 'guest house' are closed until after my studies have been finished, so hopefully our stock will last us till next year Nov!
Saying good bye to the butcher
The economical crisis gets blamed for many places shutting down. Personally I think the main reason is the high social charges you have to pay in France and the fact that the socialists had introduced a 35 hour week a number of years ago.  None of these contributing to job creation...
According to an article I've read in a recognised French magasine earlier this year, the gap between France and Germany have increased significantly during the past few years (and they have reduced their social charges a few years ago and work longer hours than the French...).
To add insult to the injury France was recently rated in the press as the 4th highest tax paying country in the world.
Despite all of this, I was still shocked and sad when I arrived at our butcher in Taissy (2 villages from here) last week and heard that they are closing down the end of the week - permanently. I've heard the discussion between the lady in front of me and him, but was hoping that I'm misunderstanding the conversation. So when it was my turn to be served, I've asked him whether I understood them correctly. And sadly I did.  The owner of the butcher's shop decided it became to expensive to pay the social charges on the salary of the butcher and rather close the shop down (he owns 2 other shops and is closed to retirement). The butcher is now searching for a job and we're without a good butcher :(
I fear slowly but surely the big monopolies of the world are taking its toll and the long standing culture of France of the small individual specialised shops is more and more threatened.
It was always a pleasure to go there and explain the type of dish I want to prepare, he'll advice me what to buy (sometimes even how to cook it). Besides for fillet and rum steak, the cuts (and names) are different, so it was good to be able to explain what I want to prepare.
We'll surely miss him and I hope the French government will soon wake up and start with constructive measures rather than destructive ones...
Shopping in Troyes
One more time. I desperately needed a new handbag and after seeing the prices in Reims and Paris, I've insisted we go to Troyes (where you can buy branded items at huge discounts and 1hr from here by car).  I was happy when JL finally agreed last Saturday to this daunting task.  And I was happy when we've bought him 2 new pair of jeans and me 2 new handbags (for less than what one would have paid here!). But I was disappointed in some shops which had far less clothes than when I went there in May with my mom and Hennie & Nerina. I guess sometimes one is lucky and other times not. At least we didn't return empty handed.