Briançon and Hiking in a Winter Wonderland

Welcome to Briançon, a unique little city of medieval fortifications, strong history, hearty people, and stunning views, nestled in the French Alps. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, it is apparently the highest city in the EU, and definitely one worth visiting if you have time in France.

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Getting there is a bit of a trek, especially in the winter time as the windy, icy roads, threaten to slide you off the side of the mountain. Just hold back any fear of heights or car sickness, and you’ll be fine.

But the destination is always worth the journey. Picturesque views don’t hurt either…

This was my third visit to the city, and I have to admit that the stressful drive was well worth the worry when I experienced the beautiful snow and sun on a special hike. Continue reading

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4: Les Mots de la Semaine: Words of the Week

It’s that time again- Les Mots de la Semaine!

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This will be short and sweet today as it’s Antoine’s actual birthday and we are trekking to his hometown, Briançon. I say trekking because Briançon is situated in the French Alps and tonight there is a lovely timed snow storm gracing us with its presence. Which also means that if we don’t get there in time, the one tiny road cutting through the mountain might close. Here’s hoping we’ll be back by Sunday…  

But on to les mots:

1. Un Entretien an interview (for a job)

2. Les Loisirs– hobbies

3. Inculte– uncultivated, ignorant

4. Se Noyer– to drown

5. Un Losange– diamond as in the shape, whereas a diamond ring is un diamant (and NO don’t worry about if I was discussing diamond rings, I was actually realizing that I don’t know French shapes- très pathétique, I know).

And finally, here are some- Bonus B Mots:

  • Bâiller, un bâillement– to yawn, a yawn
  • Bricolage– to fix, to repair, to do-it-yourself
  • Brouillard– fog

Happy Friday!

Enfin, Je suis employé!

I must share my happiness today because the long wait is OFFICIALLY over!! I have a job! True, it’s only a temporary one as it’s a camp, but it’s not only a source of income, but a job that I am excited about!!

I got hired to work as a counselor at American Village, a program that organizes English immersion language camps throughout France. This is a great program for Americans who want to get paid to be in France. It is a rare thing to find, and I couldn’t be happier I got it! I’ll be teaching English and art, playing and creating games, frolicking in the sun (hopefully), and who knows what else!

Today marked the start of a new chapter as the long drought of unemployment finished, and I received a tiny book of hope in the mail, aka my paperwork. At first I felt daunted by the plethora of paper (I mean come on camp- this is temporary employment after all), but as I continued to read, my stomach filled with butterflies of excitement and happiness. This camp means business. Business I’m thrilled to be a part of.

I particularly relished the program’s goals, as they discussed providing a culture of awareness and global understanding/respect. Initially I was worried when I signed up for American Village Camps, but smiled with relief to know that not only are we on the same page, but my multicultural training can not only be utilized here, but could even thrive!

It’s nice to be reminded that sometimes having patience can pan out.

Needless to say, I’m feeling good (cue Bublé) -today and about the future.

Countdown to camp tales: One month.

Happy Thursday all!!

3: Les Mots de la Semaine (Dernière): Words of the Week

I got a bit sidetracked last week preparing a surprise birthday party for Antoine- complete with a flying spaghetti monster piñata, a specialized MacGyver relay/drinking race, and TWO cakes- one with pâte à sucre learned from the wednesday before- basically a kid’s party with alcohol. Yet another reason why I’ll never be a real adult.

It was quite the event.

That being said, I completely forgot the words of the week.

So without furhter ado, here are Les Mots de la Semaine Dernière. Better late than never!
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*Note- for now, I’m avoiding the pronunciation. I’ve had a difficult time finding certain phonetical spellings/creating my own. Bear with me as I figure this out.

1. Pourri gâté– spoiled or spoiled rotten, this can be used for kids or food

2. Honteux– ashamed or shameful

3.  (Faire) La grasse matinee– literally to make the fat morning, this means to sleep in, ex (slang): j’ai fait la grasse mat aujourd’hui (I slept in today)

4. Humecter- to moisten

5. Un sifflet, siffler– a whistle, to whistle

Bonus Mot: miettes- crumbs

Keeping it short and sweet today. Happy Monday all!

Cakes, spectacles, and jobs oh my!

Yesterday was awesome. Excuse my lack of eloquence, but there’s just no beating around the bush- it was simply awesome. Here’s why:

1. In spite of feeling lackluster and daunted by the idea of spending the afternoon speaking in French (still working on my fear of immersing myself in the language), I decided to help my friend make a birthday cake. And boy am I glad that I did. Not only was it a fun-filled afternoon with a French friend, but also an educational experience chock-full of vocabulary, and a French Baking 101 session.

You see, I learned how to make un Gâteau au Yaourt, a yogurt cake, one that French children master when they’re five. 1 point for France. Americans are lucky if they know how to make brownies from a box by age five.

But let’s talk cake. This was one of the best ways to ease into French baking, especially for me (context alert- I am the WORST baker. Seriously. I once turned boxed brownies into a brick slab, though to be fair my crazy vegan roommate told us that we could use oil as a substitute for eggs- this is FALSE).

The reason this cake is so wonderful for an American like me, or a novice French cake baker, is that all the measurements are in un pot, aka the convenience of a yogurt container.
Continue reading

2: Les Mots de la Semaine: Words of the Week

It’s Friday! Which means it’s time for:petit-francais

As I said before, these are words I’ve picked up from conversation, job applications, language exchanges, newspapers, or even just listening to my surroundings. Every Friday I will post Words of the Week to reinforce my French learning, and hopefully additionally educate/entertain/interest people in random French vocabulary. So enjoy!(Note- pronunciation is a little wonky- some of it is my own pronunciation, and some of it is phonetic- so bear with me as I get a system down).

Voila, Les Mots:

1. Maladroit (mal-ah-drwa)- literally meaning ‘bad on the right’, this translates to clumsy

2. Vieillards (vyeh-yar)- old men specifically, whereas old people is personnes âgées

3. Allonger (al-on-jay)- to lengthen, however I learned this in the context of to spread or lay on something, (ex: tu es allongé sur le canapé, you are spread out on the couch, you lie down on the couch)

4. Ceinture (sɛtyr)- belt, and ceinture de sécurité is a seatbelt

5. Klaxonner (klax-oh-neh)- to honk a car horn, car horn being klaxon

6. Louper (loo-pay), Rater (rah-tey)– to miss, to miss out on, this is used more in the context of transportation or an exam, ex: j’ai raté mon vol (I missed my flight). Louper means the same thing, but is apparently more of a slang word

7. Fiche de poste (fee-sh de poh-st)- a job description

8. Postuler (poh-stu-leh) to apply for job, whereas appliquer (ah-plea-kay) is used in the context of applying a bandaid

9. Au noir (oh-nwar)- literally in black, this is similar to working under the table, working illegally

10. Guet-apens (get-ah-paw)- an ambush. Of course this is used in cowboy movies, but I heard this in the context of my boyfriend wanting to avoid a dinner that he knew would turn into a party.

Happy Friday and Happy Valentines Day! I know it’s an overly commercialized holiday, but I personally enjoy an excuse for creativity, candy, and letting the people in my life know I care!  

Sunday Marché: Hello again old friend

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Dear Marché,

It’s been a while. I’ve missed you old friend. You bring back such sweet memories.

Memories of my first time in this foreign land, when I was a child both intimidated and intrigued by things outside of my element. So much has changed, and yet so much has stayed the same.

The first time my mother wove us through your crowds of interesting people, my nostrils filled with your array of new smells, and my ears submerged in sounds of French. You embraced my family into your welcome arms; you provided that first space where I felt I belonged in this new unknown place.

And as I walked once again among patterned cloths blowing in the wind, as fruits and flowers sprung to life in the sunlight, I thought of you. As smells of strong cheese, old diesel trucks, and rotisserie chickens unleashed memories of my mother’s market cooking, of new-found independence, and youthful exploratory boldness, I smiled. 

With mud on my hands from fresh spinach, winter sun warming my cheeks, and my ears once again wrapped up in sounds of French, I became entranced by the visual feast you displayed. A painters dream unveiled before me in colors, shapes, and patters, both foreign and familiar.

So I wanted to say thank you Marché. For the reminders of my wonderful, fortunate past, and for reminding me that I live in an incredible place- that I live in France. 

Thank you for letting me be in this moment, reminding me to enjoy the simple things in life- like fresh food, and sunlit colors, fond memories, and stopping to feel the moment, in a space that reminds me of, and almost feels like, home.

Always with love,

Anna

Les Mots de la Semaine: Words of the Week

In an effort to keep up with my resolution of being more proactive with my French comprehension, I’ve started learning a word a day. Whether it’s from conversation, job applications, language exchanges, newspapers, or even just overhearing, I’ve been tuning into my surroundings, and capturing vocabulary by documenting new words in a notebook or my phone. And in an effort to further reinforce my French learning (and educate/entertain/interest people in random French vocabulary), I’ve decided that every Friday I shall post the Words of the Week- just a minimum of 5 words, their pronunciation, and meaning and/or context. (Note- pronunciation is a little wonky- some of it is my own pronunciation, and some of it is phonetic- so bear with me as I get a system down).

So Voilà- I present the first installment of:

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Here are Les Mots (2 weeks worth since I technically started this last week):

1. Bête de scène (bet də sɛN) literally beast of the stage- this a great performer, some one who has excellent stage presence, or who comes alive on the stage

2. Aquarelles (ah-kwah-rehL)- watercolors, enough said

3.Croquer (cro-kay)- to bite, hence dry cat food being called croquettes (cro-keT)

4. Bénédiction (bene-dikt-cion)- a god send, aka something of great use and usually provides some sort of wonderful help (ex: ce petit vide est une bénédiction; this tiny vacuum is a godsend)

5. Rayures (rɛjyr) stripes, easy peasy

6.  Une pelle (pɛl), Pelleter (pɛl-tay) a shovel, to shovel (ex: Je pellette la neige avec ma pelle; I shovel the snow with my shovel) 

7.  Pleuvioter (plø-vjɔ-te)- sprinkling, drizzling, or raining lightly (had to go with fancy phonetics here; I recommend listening to this word on google translate)

8.Séance- unlike the spooky American usage for summoning of the dead, this means session or performance depending on the context

9. Encadrement (jeunesse)- supervision or coaching (Note: this is used in context of working with kids/teens, ex: encadrement de jeunesse, otherwise it apparently means frame. Also recommend listening to this word on google translate)

10. Animateur (jeunesse) (anee-ma-tour)– facilitator, or youth worker, however animateur pour enfants means children’s entertainer

Bonus: Faux Amis Warning! Persévérant = persistent

Happy Friday!

On being broke and unemployed in France

When my TAPIF program ended 8 months ago, I looked ahead at my unemployment with wide eyes. I had a bit of savings left, a whole summer in Europe, and the world as my oyster.

…Until that oyster turned on me. A year after submitting my visa paperwork, and 8 months of waiting for the prefecture to grant me the right to work, and I could no longer deny it- Je suis a sec. I’m dry, or as we say in the States, I’m broke.

True, at times, being unemployed had its perks. I had the freedom, and flexibility (and privilege), to paint, to travel, to create my own schedule, to launch my website, take care of random tasks, wander the streets of Grenoble, and catch up on far too many American series. I was lucky to have a savings to fall back on. I lived like retirees- sitting in the park in the middle of the day; enjoying the sun as it warmed my skin, and smiling at the elderly women in their fancy coats. (I sound like an old bachelor). I verged ever so slightly on crazy catladydom as I snuggled up with my soft Sasquatch, and took far too many cat pictures. I read more. I cooked more. I did some yoga and generally failed at inner peace. But I also lived the life of a retiree- at 25– and there was something unsettling about that. Continue reading

Blogaloutions

Bonne année and happy 2014 to all! Are we really already a month into the new year? And has it really been almost 2 months since my last post??

I was partially MIA due to the fact that my long visit home was insanely busy (as home usually is), filled with a flurry of friends, family, much missed food, painting commissions and workshops, and a surprise trip to the arctic tundra that is the northeast (Boston was 4 fahking degrees!)

…but part of my lack of writing was due to the fact that I didn’t quite have the words. I know, I know. It might seem incroyable- Me, not have words?? But I was silently bottling up something I’ve been trying to hide for far too long. And this is my confession for the new year: in spite of all my denial- in spite of this very blogs title- I am… a little lost.

*Warning. This shits about to get personal and maybe a bit ranty so proceed with caution… Continue reading

Oh the Travel ‘Companions’ I’ve met

Most of the time I relish in flying alone. Despite the stress that usually accompanies flying- waking up at the ass crack of dawn, dealing with power drunk security officials, eating god awful food at jacked up prices- in spite of all of this, airports can actually provide a wonderful source of solitude, or much-needed space. I have time to write, ponder, read that book I’ve been dying to finish, observe the various interesting human interactions, and catch up on my latest trashy magazine (yes Cosomo is my guilty travel pleasure).

But then there are times when I wish to all-that-is-holy that I was traveling with a partner, or friend, or anyone who I could comfortably tell to “move their damn arm because it is popping my personal space bubble!!” On my way home this past Saturday, as I sat getting far too personal with the frosty airplane window, because Mr. ‘Unaware of His Surroundings’ just had to take up the entire arm rest, and even some of the skin between my ribs, I thought about the travel “companions” I’ve had the pleasure of knowing throughout the years.

I present to you only a few of the character’s I’ve met.

1. The Talker
This companion can actually be quite fun- if you’re in the right mood. Usually they’re excited about their destination, and want to hear all about yours. But mostly they want to tell you about their life’s story. I’m from Texas, so it’s kinda protocol to engage if someone talks to you. We’re talkers too. However, if I’m sleep deprived, or travel constipated, or still pissed off by the TSA jacking my favorite key chain, (true- it was a tiny pocket knife, but it’s honestly so small that even a fly would roll their eyes at it), then the last thing my sweaty, frazzled self wants to do is exchange in social pleasantries. Which leads me to #2. Continue reading

Time of Thanks

As I’ve said before about Living Abroad, I find that my holiday convictions are especially strong when I’m far away from home. This year has proved to be not much different from the last. I’ve planned with fellow Americans weeks in advance, scoured super marches for items that could be feastworthy, and even requested a care package from home- which turned out to be a fully stocked surprise. Moms are the best:

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So much deliciousness

It’s amazing how at times like these, the smallest things bring me joy. When I discovered Ritz crackers at Carrefour, I could barely contain my excitement, or avoid the awkward isle stares of, “C’est qui- this strange cracker enthused fille?” But I didn’t care. I was one step closer to creating a real green bean casserole.

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They actually exist in France!

When I finally baked the pumpkin bread yesterday, I was surprised by how a simple taste or smell could instantly transport me home. And by how much happiness the delightful taste of cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin could provide. This time of year Americans are inundated with pumpkin flavor and scents- pumpkin candles, lattes, breads, pies…I guess even commercial traditions work their way into your psyche. Because having pumpkin flavors and scents brought me far too much joy. I was happy to share with my student as we discussed thanksgiving traditions, and how the holiday has changed over time. And I was happy to come home to an apartment filled with the aroma of fresh-baked goods and spiced pumpkin. Oh the simple pleasures. Continue reading

Resistance is Futile- I am “a artist.”

Not too long ago, my mom and I rediscovered a film of my 7th birthday party. We watched as my mother interviewed each of my semi-toothless friends about their future aspirations- “a doctor, a mommy, a teacher, a vet”. As each little girl relayed their dreams with gap toothed smiles, I grew curious about what my own scrawny, short-haired, seven-year old self would say. And I was surprised by the answer.

“A artist”.

My mom and I turned to each other in awe. How could a seven-year old be so insightful?

I didn’t know much at that time, especially when it came to hairstyles, but I knew what I wanted, boy hair and all. If only I’d continued to carry the same confidence as that seven-year old. I’ve spent the past 15 years denying something that has been such an important part of my life for fear of- I don’t know what. Failure? Self-indulgence? Being too contrived? Taking a risk? Fear is a funny thing. It holds us back before we even know what it looks like, or what exactly it is that we’re afraid of.

The thing is, I like to create. I always have, in one way or another, whether it was hand sewing costumes for Halloween or plays, or crafting cards for any possible holiday or celebration. One summer, my friend and I spent hours making and delivering anonymous cards to the neighborhood that just read “have a nice day”. Each one was different.

And I don’t know who I was kidding. I had endless sketchbooks filled with doodles and costume designs, and journals embellished with ‘marginal’ drawings. When I went to a Fine Arts high school to study theater, I double majored in art with a passion for painting. And though I went to college for psychology, a serendipitous turn of events led me to studio work and to becoming an art teacher.

But I found that as I taught young artists to embrace their own creations, discover their personal marks, and celebrate the “happy accidents”, I struggled to do that for myself. It wasn’t until my semester abroad in Greece, where I realized how much I learned, how much I knew, and how much I truly loved to paint, that I finally allowed myself to acknowledge what that seven-year old did with such ease.

I am ‘a artist’.

I am an artist who loves to paint. Loves to capture the moments in life- the subtle connections, and the little things that make us smile or wonder. I am an artist who still uses that word with trepidation. Who just wants to create. To capture the magnificence of the ‘ordinary’ within the corners of canvas. I am an artist who finally took the plunge.

And created a website.

So fears aside, today I am admitting that I am an artist, and introducing a new chapter, a new part of my blogging experience, and a new website:

Annakotecki.com

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Happy Friday! This weekend- do something that scares you 🙂 

Pictures from Portugal

It’s especially cold and dreary outside today as winter (and a seasonal cold) are creeping up on me. But in an effort not to let this grey day get in my way, I thought I’d share some more Portugal pictures, because I took far too many, and plus they’re colorful and reminiscent of happy times. (Take that starter seasonal depression!)

Faro’s proximity to the lagoon made for some excellent bird sightings. Plus Lisbon was right by the coast, so here are a variety of birds- coastal birds, city birds, birds overtaking a statue and even birds trying to operate a boat…

I fell in love with the colorful and rustic doors in Portugal. Especially their knockers.

Sunny days

And finally some people (and a freaky mannequin).

Also- I officially have over 100 followers!! This is very exciting and much appreciated! Thanks to all of those who have followed, read, and shared words as I’ve gotten lost and explored.

Happy Hump Day! 

Time of Traditions

Happy (belated) Halloween!

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Though Spring takes the lead for my favorite season, I must say that this time of the year brings me immense joy. It’s the time of traditions.

First of all, there’s Halloween (which is then followed by Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years). And while I generally don’t like horror movies, gore and the whole being scared out of your mind thing (I have an overactive imagination ok?), I LOVE Halloween. And what’s not to love? Gore aside, there are friends, fun, decoration, candy, and above all creativity. I’ll take any excuse to exercise creativity, gather with friends, and don a costume

…and binge on succulent sweets (the chocolate addict in me cannot lie).

I usually start brainstorming somewhere around summer, using the following months to piece the costume together, and adding details only an OCD person would notice. I blame my mom with all her infinite creativity. I had a homemade costume almost every year, and by 4th grade, I was making my own. Plus, my neighborhood was THE neighborhood for trick or treating. Haunted sidewalks, spooky backyard mazes, and webbed front porches became the norm during the weeks before Halloween. The bar was set high and I wanted to keep it that way. Continue reading