(james benedict brown) on the road

Sunshine

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 13 April, 2007

My tutor is wearing a t-shirt today with a white and red message on the front. In big, white and slightly manic letters are the words “Let’s try it my way.” Underneath, in a smaller red version of the same typeface are the words “Then we can try it my way.”

I don’t know if the other students in my class realise why I find this amusing.

On Monday I’m going back to England for the easter break. Easter has, indeed, already been and gone, but French academic institutions seem to have enough problems getting tutors and students into the same place at the same time (and making sure that place isn’t double booked with another class) so I won’t complain too much.

Unusually, I am taking two design classes. Students in the quatrième normally only take one ten credit design course per semester, and then make up the remaining twenty credits with ‘lighter’ classes in theory, technique or art. By taking two design classes I am able to compare and contrast not only the differences in teaching between here and my home university, but also between different profs (tutors). There are many differences, and some of these continue to bother me.

But the two-and-a-half week congés (vacation) is almost here, and the atmosphere is relaxed. A generous lunch break of at least one full hour can be expected, usually a bit more. In my other design class yesterday we celebrated the break by lifting three tables and a dozen or so chairs from the stuffy and decrepit seminar room, and arranging them outside on the little square just behind the school of architecture’s annex. Herman Hertzberger would have had a field day. It took some persuading to get everyone behind the idea, but once the tables had been arranged and food had been laid out, the sunshine served it’s warmth upon us, and we remembered what it feels like to not be cold outside. In fact it was so warm that two of the three tables migrated across the square during the course of our leisurely two hour lunch break, so that we could sit in the shade of the building across the street. The one table that remained in the bright sunshine was principally occupied by a group of Spanish Erasmus students, who saw no problem spending two hours in direct sunlight.

I had one close shave with a French exchange student when I was much younger. Let’s just say that after his visit to the UK, that it was fairly evident that it wasn’t going to work. Luckily I rediscovered my love of French language and culture later on. One abiding memory of his visit was his love of McDonald’s fast food. We were essentially perplexed as to how a young French person could possibly enjoy American fast food, coming from a country with such a strong reputation for fine cuisine, and its place at the heart of French life.

And to this day, I remain confused. Amongst the fifteen or so students who brought food to the table yesterday to eat, five bought McDonald’s lunch boxes. I was of only two people to have brought a home made salad (the others brought food that they had bought that morning from other local outlet). I had hoped that my worst fears about the decline of French culture I would be disproved, but at the end of the meal when someone suggested coffee, I had in mind the beautiful strong espresso that you can get in a corner café near by. But no… those who took coffee fetched it from the bright red ‘Selecta’ coffee machine in the foyer of the architecture school annex. This machine produces little plastic cups filled with a powdry brown liquid that is either strangely salty or strangely sweet (depending probably on whether the last person who used the machine ordered a cup of bouillon or a sugared cappocino). These beverages seem to be the drink of choice in the school. For once I actually miss the coffee bar in the basement of my school back home.

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