Charlie Hebdo

We found out about the attacks while ice skating. It wasn’t obvious at first the extent or how it would continue. Some people gathered in my city, Clermont-Ferrand (about 300km from Paris) out of tribute to those killed. The rest of us continued our lives. The next day was declared a National Day of mourning, I didn’t really know what that would mean. In effect flags were flown at half mast or tied with black ribbons and across the country people took part in a minute of silence, stopping work, school, the trams etc.

On the Thursday it was revealed that there were two separate groups of terrorists (and at this point they weren’t said to be related) and that the two original terrorists had held up a petrol station in Villers-Cottêret the small town where my friend and fellow assistant Laura teaches and lives. Of course I contacted her straight away and she confirmed saying that school had been cancelled and the kids sent home with their parents and the residents of the town were told to stay inside. Laura has previously made comments about how there is nothing to do or going on where she lives… Luckily for Laura the guys moved on and life could go back to normal but with an added celebrity status as she became the go to person for NZ media to interview on the matter.

After what seemed like a long time waiting for them to be caught the whole thing unfolded as you can read elsewhere online.

By this point news was out about those who had been killed and why. One person from my town was killed while he was visiting the Charlie Hebdo offices.

Vigils were held in cities across France.

By the Friday many businesses around the city had #jesuisCharlie signs out in support.

On the Saturday after the attacks my friends and I had tickets to the rugby, the local team was playing and the stadium was packed. A short speech about the attacks and listing the names of those killed (including local man Michel Renault), was followed by a minute of silence and the national anthem.

On the Sunday after the massacre I attended a march/rally in my city in support of freedom of speech and to remember those killed. Between 50 and 70,000 people turned out which is about 20% of the population of the city. I carried a sign that simply said “Unite” while others carried signs talking about freedom of expression (one read: Press liberty RIP with the date ending 2015) and in memory of those killed. It was peaceful and almost completely silent with occasional bouts of applause.

Despite the call for unity, the feeling in France is very divided. Muslims are feeling persecuted. This is an ongoing image issue in the minds of some French people that was in the process of changing prior to the attacks. My kids asked me things like “Are you Charlie?” And “what do you think a terrorist looks like?” In school. I hopefully answered those questions appropriately.

The whole of Europe is crawling with police and military now. In my city there is added security on public transport and military personnel walking around the city in full kit with their machine guns and helmets at the ready. Even in Luxembourg where I was this weekend Amélie (my friend that lives there), noted the additional police patrolling the streets.

Today I was in Paris and walked past Place de la Republic and the Liberation newspaper offices (another media outlet). The square is still filled with tributes to those killed but mostly messages in support of freedom of speech. The offices were guarded by private security and police and barriers were put up to stop anyone from getting close to the building. Tensions are high.


Nudity at the theatre

So far this year I’ve been busy with a French road trip and a visit to a new country. France has also been hit by one of the biggest acts of terrorism in recent time with the Charlie Hebdo massacre, more in another post.

Last weekend Dom, Jon, Nigel and I rented a car and spent the weekend exploring the Loire Valley: Tours, Blois, Amboise, a creepy empty church and a couple of Chateaux. We had a great time and managed to fit in plenty of wine drinking and cheese eating as well as an adventure to get a selfie with a cow, you really had to be there.

This weekend I went to Luxembourg to visit Amélie who I met in Lisbon. Luxembourg is beautiful if very small. The beauty of the place was increased after some snow on the first night I was there and we spent the next day checking out all the beautiful snowy sights and MUDAM the modern art museum.

Other monthly highlights include: seeing an ASM rugby game at the stadium (with a minute silence for the Charlie Hebdo massacre victims), meeting some of the Kiwi players in the ASM team, attending the rally for #JeSuisCharlie with an estimated 50-70k others, an afternoon at the Louvre, a catch up in Paris with a kiwi assistant, teaching the kids kiwi slang (we love the word ‘piss’ don’t we?! To get pissed, to be pissed off, to go to a piss up and isn’t it pissing down outside?), tutoring and going on field trip with my school to see The Taming of the Shrew (in French of course).

This last highlight was an extremely odd experience for me. Firstly the performance was in French which meant I understood maybe 10% but also it was a crazy 21st century adaptation that included so much nudity that I’d feel uncomfortable seeing it with my mother let alone a couple dozen of my students! For the record I saw two sets of breasts (one set within the first minutes of the play and then repeatedly for the next two hours), and three penises. France…

Until next time,

Amanda xx

What’s that? Another holiday?!

Since I last wrote I have had nearly two weeks off travelling. I wrapped up classes with a relaxing class where we watched Alice in Wonderland and I had my last night out with my friends before heading to Paris. In Paris I did a little sight seeing and went to a museum and on the Saturday night two other kiwis and I found an underground live music club and had a fantastic night dancing and meeting new friends while listening to some awesome beats.

After Paris I headed to London and picked up a rental car (yes I drove in Central London!) and clocked up quite a few miles on my UK road trip. I saw friends/family in Cambridge, Leicester, Yorkshire, London and Oxford. The highlight of the sightseeing was visiting Fountain’s Abbey in Yorkshire. Christmas was spent in Oxford/London with Clare and her husband and dinner with their friends. I ate way too much food and the evening was wrapped with some Cards Against Humanity which was great fun. In London I saw old friends and my good friend Fiona who has just moved there for work. We checked out the Camden markets and on the Monday I went to the British Museum and to the Christmas Markets.

Next stop was Brussels for three days with another assistant, Ruth. We did some sightseeing, waffle eating, beer drinking and celebrated the new year in a big square full with people, music and some amazing fireworks! Way to go Brussels, such a great city. I also managed to get some relaxing in and TWO baths.

Now we are in Bruges for the last night before we go back to France (and back to work on Monday). We arrived this morning on the train and spent the day checking out the canals and the sights. We ate some more food and drank more beer, bit of a theme there! Tomorrow we are back to France with a stop for a station change and some lunch in Paris. The holiday is over for another few weeks.

Amanda xx