Grand Trianon - Les jardins de Versailles
I'm coming to the end of Day 11 in France. I decided that it was time to write a decent update now that I have had a little bit of time to settle in!
Jet lag hit me quite hard. I was fine on the day I arrived, and slept well that night. But it was all downhill from there for a few days. I had an audition for the studio of the Opéra de Paris the day after I arrived. I had tried to keep hydrated and had taken "No-jet-lag" tablets, and was feeling okay. My rehearsal went very well. However, when I got out onto the stage, my voice was quite hoarse and my brain a muddle. I was very pleased with how I coped technically and stagecraft-wise considering, but I knew that I wouldn't get a callback. I was pleased to just be offered an audition in the first place! In hindsight, should I have cancelled? I don't think so. It was good for me to have that experience. Now I know what to expect after 29 hours of flying (not including the time spent waiting at airports).
The winter temperatures have also been a little difficult to deal with, as I left New Zealand summer for a French winter, influenced upon my arrival by a Siberian wind. The coldest it has been is -8°. As far as I remember it hasn't been any warmer than 5°. Luckily, the scenery and architecture are beautiful. It has snowed a little, but it hasn't stayed. Many bodies of water have frozen over, however, and I'm sure that my hands nearly did a few days ago! I live in a small town outside Paris, and the temperatures tend to be a couple of degrees lower here because of the pollution in Paris city which keeps it warmer.
The family I am living with and working for as an au pair are great. The three children are all wonderful, though, like many children, they certainly try to push the boundaries! It has been a difficult few years for everyone, with a sick father, many nurses around, and a new au pair coming in every so often. The father cannot move or speak, but he can understand perfectly well and mouths the words and letters he needs in French or English. The mother, oldest son, and the nurses are quite proficient at interpreting. He also has a computer which he sometimes uses for writing longer messages - I think by using his eyes. He even works from home with his computer! The mother works full time and is the central figure in the household, of course. She is lovely and patient as I am learning about France and my role within the family. The eldest child is very focused and well-behaved on the whole; I get on well with him. The middle child is very headstrong, but she is also affectionate and sweet. The youngest is cheeky and is learning a lot from her siblings - for better or worse! The transition from the previous au pair to me was a little difficult for them, but having us both there at the same time for a few days helped, I think!
I attend French classes near Notre Dame twice per week, which so far are great. I am in the B2 level class (upper intermediate). My speaking is not quite at that level yet, but my comprehension is. I'm not struggling; I think it is a good level for me as it challenges me, whilst not being too overwhelming. I have two full classes each week and a conference once per week. The topic for the conferences varies depending on the time slot; mine is art, so each week I learn about French artworks. Every day I am learning new words and phrases in French, and my comprehension is definitely improving. As for my speaking, I'm not sure yet! I speak English with the children I work with, and mostly English with the parents. However, I have been able to communicate reasonably in shops, cafés, and with the various people I have come into contact with so far. At first I was very scared, and would freeze up when I didn't understand. Now, I'm pushing myself to remember to say something like "j'ai pas compris, je ne parle pas bien français, répétez/plus lentement, s'il vous plaît?" so I don't just stand there looking like an idiot. In my local Carrefour supermarket (yes, basically like Four Square), I overheard them discussing me (I think) and they thought I was German - I'll have to clarify at some point! I have had two meals with my host family's extended family members, where the conversations were almost exclusively in French, so that has been good for my speaking. I think I will improve very quickly.
I am slowly becoming familiar with my area of the country - my little town is pretty easy to get to know, as there is only one main road and only a couple of places I need to go to. I've seen the main sights in Paris, thanks to my personal French tour guide/friend who came to visit me there for my first weekend. I have also visited the gardens of Versailles, but am yet to see the inside of the palace! Today I visited an outlet mall in another small town area - I was happy to find out about that! For those who are Facebook friends with me, I have posted quite a few things on there, and for those who are not, you can follow my Instagram on @kaylacollingwood. I will be visiting many more towns, cities, monuments, etc.!
Singing-wise, I haven't done a lot yet, other than my audition and an impromptu (still hoarse and jetlagged) performance for the extended family. I have some good contacts, and this coming week I will be organising lessons and starting to work on music. Now that I am a little familiar with my routine as an au pair, I can work on my singing where possible. The children, of course, come first for the next few months. It's nice to be able to be a little relaxed while I start slowly spreading my wings over here and figuring out the path that I need to take in order to reach my goals.
I have probably forgotten things, so questions are welcome! I apologise in advance for delayed responses - I will get to them when I have the time and energy!