St. Genies de Comolas, France – French Immersion Course, Part I


The very first thing I decided to do with my gardening leave was to take an immersion language class.

I wisely chose a program surrounded by vineyards,

It is something I’ve always wanted to do, and as it can be called a CV builder, I’m hoping to include it into a tax write-off.

After much web research, I selected a program at Millefeuille in St Genies de Comolas. A number of things about their programs appealed to me, including the very small class size (2-4 people) and the option to live at the school, a former wine estate, rather than doing a home stay. It isn’t that I dislike the idea of a home stay, but I read a few too many discouraging stories to want to do it without a bit more planning time.

Getting to Avignon from London was pretty straight forward; Eurostar to Paris, TGV to Avignon, and then a taxi ride to the school.  Getting there was likely the easiest part.

Up until being collected by the taxi, I had been feeling pretty good about all this. I don’t  think I’ve spoken a word of French in ten years, but I managed to buy a book and a sandwich, find my train, etc.

Then I arrived at school and felt a bit daunted!

Upon arrival, I checked in, and had a bit of time before dinner at eight, when I met the other six students for the week.  We were all bit a quiet that first evening, which was a bit of a relief for me. Left to my own insecurities, this had every opportunity to be my most silent week, ever; however, for every ounce of insecurity, I’ve one of stubbornness.  I did come here to learn, after all!

After an excellent night’s sleep, the program began…

The schedule is demanding, as promised:

The view from my bedroom window.

  • Breakfast: 0830-0900 (cereal, fruit, yogurt, bread, cheese, happiness)
  • Lesson I: 0900-1030
  • Coffee/Tea: 1030-1100 (always with cookies and fruit)
  • Lesson II: 1100-1230
  • Lunch and Coffee/Tea: 1245-1400 (salad, quiche, and of course, cheese for afterwards!)
  • Lesson III: 1400-1500
  • Lesson IV: 1500-1600
  • Coffee/ Tea: 1600-1630
  • Lesson V: 1630-1730 (writing- based exercises, thus far)
  • Break: 1730-1930
  • Dinner and Post-Dinner Socializing: 1930->

The other students are of varied backgrounds, which makes for interesting dinner conversations. Among them are people who work for government ministries (Lithuania and Guinea Bissau), an Engineering PhD Candidate, a couple (he has a corporate job, she teaches piano) from Germany, and a Canadian woman who works in Afghanistan with Francophone Canadian military personnel.  The students range from beginner to advanced, and there are two others at my competency level.

My room was very comfortable, and yes, I did my homework at the desk.

The first day of study, Monday,  the first lesson period consisted of a placement exam, after which the rest of the day’s sessions focused on grammar, specifically verb tenses, one my two big weaknesses. By the end of the day, my brain felt full, as did my stomach, following several simple but excellent meals prepared by Marie, one of the two chefs. I used my breaks for homework and practice exercises, and I ended the day around ten o’clock.

The second day, Tuesday,  was a bit harder, as I had a lot of difficulty sleeping, possibly because my brain was full and I was excited. Despite my room and bed being very comfortable, I woke up many times and struggled to fall asleep; thus, i felt a bit like the living dead all day. The morning was packed with revision and practice around verb tenses and usage, reinforcing Monday’s material, and towards the end, pronoun usage (my other big weakness) was introduced. After a  lunch of tomato salad and a savory tart with tuna and my failed attempt at a nap, there were further lessons on pronouns, and a session to practice writing.

A view of the chateau from the side yard.

During the evening break, I joined two other students on a walk around the village of Saint Genies des Comolas. The village is tiny and quiet. It is, from what I can gather, home to one small market, a pharmacy, a pizzeria (closed on Friday nights, supposedly), a hair salon, and a chocolate shop. It seems like a very nice place to live, albeit very, very calm.

After the break, we enjoyed an excellent dinner of cous- cous with a beef stew of sorts containing beef vegetables, and chickpeas, cheese (of course), sorbet,  and the company of a local woman who I believe is an economics professor. I’m not completely certain because I was late to dinner due to my relying on the clock on this laptop, which is set to UK time. The school periodically has local people join the students for dinner for conversational practice and for educational presentations. I’ve been advised that there will be on one wines next week, and I am  quite disappointed that I will miss it.

Thus far, I’m very much enjoying the experience.  I think I’d like to come back for another week, later in the fall. We’ll see how I feel later in the week, after even more grammar lessons!

Getting a UK Provisional Driving License


As Learner Driver, you must display these on your car so people know you suck.

Recently, I kicked off the process to get my UK driving license.

The first question I’m typically asked when I mention this to others is, “Doesn’t your American driving license carry over?

I can assure you, it most definitely does not. One can drive on a US license for one year only. After that, you need to apply and take all of the exams for a UK license.

First things first, you need to apply for a Provisional License  from the DVLA (that’s British for DMV!). It’s pretty straight forward and you don’t even need to go to DVLA to do it. There’s an online application to be filled out, after which you need to provide pictures. If you’re not an EU citizen, you must have your pictures signed off by someone who has held a license for more than three years and you need to provide your passport. It sounds crazy, but this is how DVLA ensures that the person in the photographs provided is actually the applicant… or someone who resembles their passport photo. If you provide a special delivery envelope with your application, they’ll send back your Passport as soon as it has been verified. I had mine back within a few days and a colleague had hers back within the week, so it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated.  There’s not much point in calling and trying to argue this, as I found when I did, I was told that I could either send the document and get my license or not.

A few weeks later, my Provisional License arrived.

The license has two parts: One Photocard and one Paper License. The photocard is much like what I had been issued by New York State, a card you keep in your wallet. The paper license is used to record offenses and the like. You are supposed to carry both.

Back when I did this in 2008, I wasn’t taking driving lessons yet, so I put my paper license somewhere safe. It was never seen again. As a result, I had to report my whole license lost and request a new one when I decided I should finally get licensed at the end of August.

Once you have your provisional license, you are allowed to drive (excluding motorways)  if supervised by a driver who has held a licence for at least three years on the sort of car you are driving (automatic only v automatic/manual licenses are issued). All that separates one from a full license is a written, theory test and a practical, road examination.

Off the Leash


I've always loved this cartoon. The sentiment rings so true.

I was recently advised by my new-ish manager that he would like my role relocated to New York.

As I’m not ready to leave London yet, I left my office yesterday with a severance package and the sort of joy that comes with not having an office blackberry about to ring at any given time.

It’s been a long time since I haven’t had a job. The last time was at the end of 2001, following massive post September 11th cuts at my Firm. I remember being shattered by the news. I had loved my job and had only recently begun my career.  It took me nearly a year and much of savings at the time before I found another job.

This time, the circumstance is a bit different. I’ve been considering a career path change for quite some time, only the next step has been one I’ve yet to determine. While the last days at work felt strange and sad, I was thrilled at the prospect of a bit of time off and a fresh start.

All those things I’ve said I’ll do when I have a bit more time are actually an option now, from the practical (a CV building, week long immersion French course) to the more frivolous (building a model of the Cutty Sark in a bottle). I’m looking forward to all of it!

Migrating from Blogspot


Having just migrated this blog over from Blogger to WordPress, I can say it was quite easy thanks to the import/export tool.

I still need to fix how some of the photos are arranged, so if something looks a bit wrong, it’s because I haven’t gotten around to fixing it.

The move does end my procrastination streak, brought on my a lot of recent layout frustration.