Sunday, July 14, 2013

Where we live, our roots, our commitments

I live in Grenoble, France.  I am doing my best to build a life here.
At the same time, I keep up my connections to my friends and family in the US.

I realized that if I stay in France and keep up visits to the US, these visits must involve the west coast, the east coast, and in between as well.  I come from California, and will probably always maintain the strongest sense of belonging there.  At the same time I spent three years in New York, and have relatives and a few friends there, so I will probably maintain a connection and visits to that area as well.  My US driver's license for now is in New York, so I ought to think of myself as at least somewhat connected to the place.  Finally, my mother lives in Fairfield, Iowa, and asks me regularly to visit her more often.  Its not so easy to get to where she lives, multiple flights involved and then some driving at the end.  The biggest city nearby is Chicago, and so I think of Chicago as the place to base visits to my mother out of.

This summer is a trip to California.  Just saying that is not adequate, though because California is such a big state.  My visit will involve three distinct regions: south, central and north.  I'll visit my uncle and other relatives in San Diego and Los Angeles (south).  I visit friends and a few relatives around San Francisco and Santa Cruz area (central), and finally family in Petrolia in Humboldt county (north).

I'd like to have been able to build my life out of a smaller geographical base, but this is where life has taken me.  I didn't ask for family and friends to move, although I'm the worst offender of all, having relocated first across the country, and then across an ocean.

There are lots of considerations as for how to build a life out of these places which span three US states and two countries.  There is one's relation to formalized nations and systems of rules of law.  Taxes, for example.  Bank accounts and credit cards.  Driver's license.  Passport.  Residency card.  Belonging to health care systems. 

Then there are ethical and social considerations.  To which nation do I owe my time and allegiance?  If I am this spread out, can I possibly be a responsible citizen, supporting a sustainable lifestyle that doesn't use more resources than the earth can support?

In any case, there are times for expansion in life, and times for consolidation.  I am trying to consolidate and build something with what I have now, rather than doing further expansion.

What helps me in this process is to try to see my life and places I live and visit as a part of a larger whole.  I think back to the movings of my recent ancestors from the Pale of Settlement between Europe and Russia to Europe and Canada, and ultimately the US, mostly during the early 20th century.  Seeing the history of my own relatives in a larger context allows me to feel a part of the big story of human life, change, and development.

From a different perspective, the natural world is a unifying factor for me.  Finding some of the same species of plants in Grenoble and California is satisfying and grounding to me.  The health of an ecosystem and the dynamics of chemistry, biology and ecology working together in different areas around the world is a resting point to come back to and relate oneself to. I feel at home in a forest, wherever it is on the earth.

Monday, July 08, 2013

My Grenoble apartments thus far

I've lived in three different apartments so far in Grenoble.  The first was found by an agency that my work helped me with.  It was in the San Bruno district, on the top floor of the building(4th, I believe, which would be 5th in US).  It was furnished, and not so bad, but it got extremely hot in the summer, and the pipes froze in the winter, leaving me without water for a few days here and there.  Also, the neighborhood was not so great, being regularly checked out to see what drugs I might be interested in.  And notes were placed in the entry corridor requesting people to not dispose of their hypodermic needles in the main garbage area.  I felt isolated there and was not able to meet many people in my apartment building.  So after a year of this place, I decided to try to find a shared apartment (colocation in French).

I responded to an ad for a shared apartment with four renters total, and set up a meeting with the landlord ('propriataire').  The apartment was just north of Villeneuve, on Rue Le Notre. He told me that three women lived there (two French and one Spanish), and after hearing I had a decent salary, accepted me immediately.  I was glad to live with women, and thought that I'd be a decent, respectful flatmate.  At the same time, it seemed strange that the landlord put so little effort into checking with the people living there whether they agreed to have me living with them.  It turned out that at a later time, I would be on the other end of this uncomfortable situation, but I'll have to tell that story another day.  In any case, I lived at this place for another year before getting completely fed up with it, and looking for another place to live.

My second colocation was in a better location, right near the downtown, on the other side of the Isére river, on Rue Saint Laurent.  It is the oldest part of town, and is next the longest line of Italian restaurants I've ever seen anywhere.  This place was convenient because everything was included in the rent, along with someone who would clean the common areas once a week.  It was a little small, though.  70 square meters with four people, even though one was only there a few days a week.

In any case, the time has come to try to find something a little better, and I'm in the process of searching for a new apartment for myself.

One challenge is that rental agencies sometimes require a guarantie of some kind.  If you have family in France, you can have a family member sign for you.  The main rule is just that your monthly salary should be three times the cost of the rental each month.  This is fine for me, but the additional guarantee is not so easy.  (I can get something called LocaPass, though it appears I have to pay a substantial amount for this coverage.  I'm trying to understand this point, and have heard mixed things so far.) This creates an additional uncertainty because I may think I can rent an apartment, give notice to my current apartment, and then be told that I don't have this document, and so they give the apartment to someone else.

So far I've looked at three or so apartments, and I liked one of them a lot.  I have two more to look at before deciding to go with this one.  But this added uncertainty of not knowing if I will get the apartment due to my poor French, or some issue with paperwork makes it more challenging.

learning French, reading material

Since I mostly speak English at work, and I find it rather hard to escape from the French people who want to improve their English, and the English speakers who have little interest in speaking (and reading/writing) French, I have to find my own ways to motivate myself to continue ahead in deepening my French.

One approach is reading.  I picked out some topics of interest, found books that I hoped to not be too difficult, and try to learn all the words in the books.  I have a book of Jewish stories: "Contes Juifs" by Leo Pavlat.  I have "Le Petit Prince" by Antoine de Sainte-Exupery.  I have a book on avalanches: "Avalanches, Connaître et comprendre pour limiter le risque" by François Sivariére (the former director the the synchrotron Pascal Elleaume was killed in an avalanche 2 years ago, and it is in general a relevant topic for this region of the world).  I have "3 Contes D'Afrique" in the series of Père Castor, a book on Californie, "Le Petit Nicolas" by Sempé and Goscinny, "L'homme qui plantait des arbres" by Jean Ciomo, a book on Biodiversite (I. Aublin and M. Boulavant), some comics (BD, or bande designe) such as Tin Tin and Asterix et Obelix, and others.  Also, recently my mom sent me two short stories, "La Derniere Classe" by Alphonse Daudet and "Le grand Michu" by Émile Zola.

I also have a lot of books on grammar, (the series is Grammaire Progressive du Français by CLE International.  I have Niveau intermédiare, with the Corrigés.  Together with this is Communication Progressive du Français and Phonétique Progressive du Français) I have "501 French Verbs" by Barron's, I have a French-French dictionary, (mini Larousse, and a larger one) and a French-English dictionary (also Larousse, "Anglais").  I have a visual dictionary, "Dictionnaire visuel" by Nathan publishers (actually its French, English, German, Spanish and Italien).

Saturday, July 06, 2013

French Driver's license

I want to be able to drive in France, and unfortunately, this means that after one year, I am supposed to pass through the entire driver's license process as if I were French, starting from scratch.
Those with licenses from certain US states can indeed transfer their license:
From here

États-Unis d'Amérique (échange limité à certains États : Arkansas (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Caroline du Sud, Colorado (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Connecticut (échange limité aux permis de catégories A et B), Delaware (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Floride (échange limité aux permis de catégories A et B), Illinois, Iowa (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Maryland, New Hampshire, Ohio (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Pennsylvanie (échange limité aux permis de catégories A et B), Texas (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Virginie (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Wisconsin 

I have a New York driver's license, so I am not eligible.  Ok, so I have to first pass the code de la route (see here).  To do this, I have to join an ecole de conduit.  I joined this one called CERI in Grenoble.  I paid them around 1300€, and now I have to learn the material.  I spent around 40 hours in their website so far, and I went through all the material.  Now I have to pass the timed test.  There are 40 questions, and after the question is read, one has 15 seconds to answer each question.  Each question has 4 possible answers, and anywhere from 1 to 4 of them can be correct.  So, it is multiple choice, but more difficult than the standard meaning of this term in the US.

Ok, for the material, there are 11 different categories of topics to learn:

Signalisation  (signs and indications)
Arrèts et stationnements  (stopping and parking)
Priorités et intersections  (Priorities and intersections)
Croisements et dépassements  (Crossings and passing)
Règles de circulation  (rules of circulation)
Tunnels et passages à niveau  (tunnels and rail road crossing)
Visibilité, éclairage et avertissements  (visibility, lighting and signalling)
Divers: Véhicule et réglementation   (taking care of your vehicle)
Écomobilité et éco-conduite   (driving in an ecologically friendly way)
Usagers vulnérables et partage de la route   (vulnerable people and sharing the road)
Prise de conscience des risques   (considering risks)

In addition to the language difficulty of the test and material itself, there is also the difficulty of understanding the procedures.  When do I go to the school?  What are its hours?
I understand my next step after completing the web material is to take a practice test at the school and do well enough.  After this, I can schedule a test.  Where is this?  How do I get there?  I think it is in Meylan, which is not so close.  Also, I find the school to be sometimes "exceptionally closed".  I take an afternoon off work.  I walk all the way over there, and then they are closed.  I expect to encounter several more unknown issues like this in the whole process.   I could get angry about this, but by this point, I try to just factor that into the time required to do all of this.  I expect it to take maybe two times as long as I would have thought due to my misunderstandings of procedures, opening hours and other such things.

The last time I tried the practice test, I missed 10.  I need to miss less than 5.
So, I'm getting there.... 5 more study hours before I can do well enough? 
Then comes the understanding of how to do the driver's training.  (I've already driven in France for almost 3 years, with no accidents)