Saturday, January 22, 2011

my weekly check-up and prescription

Part of the benefits of singing with my choir is that I am entitled to a half-hour of voice lessons every week. Every Monday at 5pm I have a lesson with Vincent, a bass who also sings in the Paris opera in addition to other freelance work. I have to admit that Vincent is the first voice teacher, in a long list of teachers, whose explanations make complete sense to me. Talking about the voice is difficult and usually relies on imagery, and in the past I never quite understood or "got" the images or the language of other teachers. With Vincent, it all seems so clear.

We start with some vocalises and he listens and analyzes as I sing, much as a doctor would analyze a person's heartbeat or breathing. At the end, he makes his diagnosis and gives me some exercises to try at home in order to work on the particular things that he hears. I call this my prescription. He writes the exercises in my cahier (I love it - it reminds me of piano lessons when I was a child) and then we go on to the pieces I have been working on.

I wish the lessons were longer - 30 minutes is quite short to work on exercises and pieces - but I'm thankful for the free lessons that would otherwise cost at least 40€/hour. At this point, it's one of the few carrots keeping me in this large (75-voice) choir!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

favourite things: 35-cent coffee

You'll have to use your imagination here because I don't have a camera, other than the built-in one in my computer. Cafés in France are quite different from ones in North America; coffee is served in real cups, there are usually no goodies to accompany the coffee, and people tend to sit down to enjoy their cuppa (if they're in a hurry, they stand at the bar and drink up fast). Although Starbucks has made it into Paris, and perhaps other large cities, it - and anything like it - has not entered my part of Province (anywhere outside of Paris). No large to-go cups anywhere to be seen! French people say it's something they see in movies and on tv, but you'd never see someone sipping a coffee while walking down the street. In most institutions and places of work, however, there are coffee machines that serve up espresso, café crème and cappuccino for quite cheap. At the schools where I work, the price is set at 35 cents and the coffee is even fair trade! The cups are small - maybe 2-3 tiny espresso cups large (a dixie cup size?) - and you can choose how much sugar, if any, you want. It's somewhat refreshing to be presented with reasonably-sized amounts of coffee, especially after being immersed in Starbucks culture where a tall (the smallest cup on the menu, even though they do offer a smaller short) means 1.5 cups of liquid and a grande is a full two cups. All for the low price of $3-5! It's amazing what we come to accept as normal with portion sizes. I'm happy to have access to my little 35-cent lattés at work. I just wish they would make it possible to use a real cup instead of a plastic one that is automatically dispensed.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

the forgotten pears

When we were at the farmhouse over the holidays, Jean-Marc made a discovery in the garden. Underneath our little pear tree there was a huge amount of fallen pears hidden in the grass. To his surprise they weren't rotten! It seems that the grass had protected them from whatever nasty weather had hit and they were just waiting to be found. There were so many that we came home with a large bag full that we split with our friends.

Even though the pears were in good shape, there were too many to eat raw, so we decided to make some pear sauce by cooking up the fruit by itself. We ended up with four jam pots full that we are keeping frozen until we're ready to use it. Personally I like it in my morning oatmeal (it replaces the sugar I would normally use) and added to plain yogurt for dessert. It's nice to have a little taste of summer/fall in the middle of winter.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

ringing in the new year

After spending Christmas with Jean-Marc's family, we headed down to the Auvergne to see our friends and check up on the farmhouse. Since there is no heating in the farmhouse, staying there was out of the question, but we were lucky enough to be able to stay with friends a few kilometres away. We took our cat Domino with us and he had fun staying at our friends' place with two other cats and a dog (!). It was a very relaxing week, with lazy mornings, excellent meals, afternoon strolls, and a warm fire to sit by at night. There were no firm plans for New Year's Eve, but at the last minute we were invited to a couple's house with a number of other people. In the end there were about fourteen of us and we all shared a delicious meal that went on until about 2pm. For me the real treat was seeing the inside of this house that once had nuns living in it. The couple bought and renovated the place ten years ago and it has been beautifully restored. I had the best seat in the house at the dining room table because I was directly in front of a window that looked over the village's lit up church and prieuré. 

Even though Jean-Marc is officially on holiday until tomorrow we had to come back early so that I could teach on January 3. A new year, an unsolicited pay raise at work and new classes await! Happy New Year to you all.