Thursday, June 27, 2013

Parting from Parthenay

This, without a doubt, is going to be my final blog entry in France.
This, without a doubt, is going to be my final day in Parthenay.

Before I even talk about how I feel, let me just give you a brief update.

So on Saturday the 22nd, the Rotary club of Parthenay had its annual "passation du pouvoir," where the entire club goes on an outing together. They have lunch, and then pass the role of club president to the current president's successor.
For this year's outing, we first visited a little elementary school in the countryside, a school for farm kids. This was the school the author Ernest Pérochon (the man my high school here is named after) attended. To start off, we got to do a little role play: everyone put on the black school robes, except I put on an instructor's robe.

You can find me to the left, standing next to the furthest left seated  person. I'm crossing my arms in a strict manner. 
We got to try our hand at writing like kids during that epoch, with calligraphy pens dipped in ink. Which I really did quite enjoy, despite my left hand smudging the pages terribly. (If you were left-handed at the time they tied your left hand behind your back and forced you to write with your write hand. I, however, do not live in such oppressive times and chose instead to suffer the inconveniences of writing with my left hand in the manner that suited me best.)
In one of the display rooms, I found this riddle that I find quite quaint.

"Le phare du bout du monde de Jules Vernes."
"Jules Vernes' lighthouse at the end of the world."
After our visit was done, we went to this lovely, typical medieval-themed French restaurant. (Knowing France, the building probably was medieval.) Outside, the menu was already tempting me...

Everything was DELICIOUS. In every sense of the word.
Inside, we had entertainment while feasting at our tables.

This pair spoke old French during their little acts. I managed to understand a bit of it, but like old English, I wouldn't say I had a complete grasp on what they were saying.
A candlelit meal within stone brick walls.
François, my counselor.
The then-president of the Parthenay Rotary handed out gifts and awards to certain members of the club, and I am very proud to say that my counselor received a Paul Harris Fellow award, a very prestigious and selective award!

" recognition of his generous help and his support in favor of a better understanding and good relations between the people of the world."
I really cannot thank him enough for everything he has done for me this year; finding me host families, permitting me to travel off by myself, understanding that I am young and crazy, needing to take full advantage of the fact that I am in France. All the work he has put into the exchange program has promoted him to be a part of the district team. Considering his easygoing and often sarcastic personality, I figure it's all the time he spends with exchange students that keeps him young!
After that very satisfying repast, we visited the nearby castle, Bellay-Montreuil. At this point, I have lost track of how many castles I have seen, but I will never be able to get rid of the feeling of awe whenever I find myself at the base of one, staring up at it.

An aerial view from the castle (no, I am incapable of flying, so I took this picture off of Google Images.)
At the end of that day, I said good-bye to my Rotary club. They, like many people, told me I would always be welcome in France when I choose to return.

The next day, a week before my departure, I chose to finally get around to packing. However, I didn't only have packing on my mind; I also had the oral examination for the French bac. To familiarize with the process, read this blog entry
I'm not usually one to stress, being very down-to-earth, but the combination of having to pack up my year and study the 22 texts we took up in class throughout the school year was extremely overwhelming. Even though the bac doesn't count, I didn't want to go in and make a fool of myself. And my crazy mind, influenced by the constant heckling of my French teacher, kept on repeating that I was capable, and I might as well prepare for it. 

For the oral, I had the stack of papers on the left to review. Did it intimidate me? Of course it did.
I spent about two hours each on Sunday and Monday scrutinizing texts that would have been difficult enough to understand in English, reviewing the literary procedures I had learned about. The 22 texts were categorized into either of the following: an excerpt from Si c'est un homme, a book that is a Holocaust survivor's testimony, a Baudelaire poem (which is what I would have wanted...), an excerpt from the novel Bel-Ami (which I didn't want, and I'll explain why), or an excerpt from the French version of the play Antigone. Now I did not want Bel-Ami for various reasons. I just wasn't interested in reading about how a guy rises to power using women, and I wasn't in class most of the time they studied it, being on visit with my parents. I did receive the copies of the texts and their correction sheets (to better understand everything about them), but instead of studying them on the bus rides to and from Poland, I chucked them to the side. So essentially, on Monday, I spent the afternoon learning these 6 texts I was unfamiliar with and reading their correction sheets, excerpts from a novel I barely knew the plot and only read the first chapter of. 

My "I am so sick of this §!&@%$#\" face, taken the very moment I was feeling it.
However, when I got to the final excerpt, the 6th, I realized I didn't have the correction sheet. I read through it once, decided I had done more than enough work for the day, and told myself, "It's one out of twenty-two. I'm not gonna get it. My luck isn't that bad."


The next day, I was unimaginably nervous going up to the high school for the last time. Not as nervous as when I had to take the practice test, but nervous nonetheless. I had to be there at about 7h40. I was third to go, and as I waited with the 7 hour kids outside room 104, I looked in my bag and realized I had forgotten my pencil case. Wow. So I walked back outside to breathe some fresh air, went back to my house, retrieved it, then biked back to the school. At 9 am I entered the room, still feeling nervous, and the examiner told me to take a seat in the back. Unlike the practice test, he didn't hand me my text right away, so I just sat there for a few painstaking moments before he told me:

"You will be working on the last text of Bel-Ami."

At that moment, my face probably looked something like this.

(Now I'm wondering why I never did this in other entries, this picture of my face cracks me up.)
But really, what could I do but laugh at my terrible, terrible luck?
After scribbling obscenities on the back of my draft paper, I actually got to work and tried my best to understand it.

My draft paper
My notes on the text.
I walked up to the examiner and gave my best shot at presenting it. I doubt I spoke ten minutes, but I did speak a lot. He then asked me questions about the excerpt, and I was able to answer them. However, I was kind of screwed when he asked me questions about the book. I did not know the main character was married two times prior to marrying the first woman he takes advantage of. Nor did I know that his mistress, who he cheats on his first wife (in the book) with, was one of his ex-wives. When the examiner asked how he ended up with Suzanne (his wife in the end of the book, their marriage is discussed in this excerpt), I said he divorced Madeleine. And then he asked how he divorced Madeleine, and since I didn't read the book, I couldn't come up with an answer. The examiner prodded, "What, at the time, was the only way a man could divorce a woman?" My mind was in disarray (like it has been this last week), so I speculated, "...he killed her?" 
NOOOOOO she got caught cheating on him, apparently.
It lasted twenty minutes like it was supposed to. The examiner told me, "I know it's more difficult for you, but overall, you did fine." 
I thanked him and left, ELATED.

Aaaand ladies and gentlemen, that is the last thing I will ever have to do in that high school!! I'm FREEEEEEE

Not really, though. Once I was done with that, it was imperative I had to focus on packing.

All my clothes which, compared to other packing pictures I've seen  from other exchangers, aren't too numerous.
I set aside clothes to give away. Yesterday, Claire my newbie and Aurélie (an outbound to Taiwan who is mentioned here) came over to my house. They were happy to receive some of my clothes, and I was even happier to give them away. They helped me pack and kept me company.
With them, I went on my last walk around Parthenay and its medieval quarter, showing Aurélie my host town that I had shown to so many other people before throughout this year.

Parthenay, Poitou-Charentes, France. My home for my junior year.
Later that evening, I had to say good-bye to them. But I didn't cry.
That's the thing...
This past week, I've just been bracing myself for my departure. I almost broke down after saying good-bye to my French teacher on the 19th when she told me it was really nice to have me in class, but I managed to stop myself saying, "No. It's not the end yet." And contrary to my expectations, I have not had any breakdowns lately. Not even after saying good-bye to Brooke, not even after saying good-bye to Claire. Not while packing my bags, not during my last dinner with my host family last night. Tonight, I will have kebab with my school friends, and it will be the last time I see them. And then I will stop by my first host family's house to tell them good-bye one last time. And I figure that's where the tears will start.
I leave Parthenay tomorrow morning at around 8:30. What will happen after for another blog entry ;)

As for Parthenay.
Living in a countryside town has not been the most pleasing or easy thing, but what this quaint, 1000-year-old settlement has taught me was to learn to love my surroundings, no matter what they are, and that it is possible to succeed and integrate myself anywhere. Now that it's my last day here, I ask myself... When will I get to meander through cobblestone streets lined by half-timbered houses again? When will I be able to stroll through the little shopping quarter, today's hits blaring out through the speakers above my head again? When will I be able to climb up the narrow spiral staircase of the tower to look out over the river and into the distance? When will I hear the church bells chiming on my way to school in the morning? When will I go to the pâtisserie to treat myself to a tasty French dessert?  When will I be able to reflect on life while looking out of a window on a bus going somewhere, looking out at the view of the vast fields of the French countryside?
I don't know.
Sometime in the future. (Except for the part about school because I'm absolutely finished with French school.)
All those nostalgic elements aside, this city girl is happy to get rid of her little town blues. She will forever be thankful to them, however, for showing her life as she would never have chosen to live it, and for helping her discover things about herself she never would have known had she not been here, in the middle of nowhere. In an obscure French town named Parthenay.

But for now, I must continue to finalize my packing. 

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