All people are born good. This is what a day with small children, big wonderful groups of small children, makes you realize. Maybe just the one day (maybe after 10 days there would be a different conclusion) - but no, being around kids and seeing their triumphs and needs first-hand definitely confirms my faith in humanity's goodness. It's the openness of kids, whether it's about their joy or their woes, that makes me say that. Today, I was also thinking that it might be their lack of self consciousness (for with consciousness of self, comes preservation of the self, and a whole host of ethical dilemmas that close us more and more onto our own subjectivity). In any case, today was a beautiful, bolstering day. We were very kindly invited by Iris and Eleanor's teachers to join them on their field trip (field trip! the highlights of school!) to Séné, a lovely beach right near Vannes. Here is the lovely Élodie, getting her class of 29 students ready to go - that little girl with the fresh ponytail sitting with her back against the glass paying careful attention is Iris.
The pedagogical goal was a discovery of the little creatures who live or are washed ashore by the tide, and are then visible when the tide pulls out. But there were aesthetic and ludic goals as well: it was a great day at the beach. So there was plenty of burying feet in sands, and castle building, and bucket filling at first. And what a setting to do it in! Before you, the cool variations in landscape of the Golfe of the Morbihan (the sea weaves its way in to the land through a series of small passages of water). That's actually Eleanor's group which dear Mac was in all day - valiant, wonderful Mac, there's no greater test of one's French than being surrounded by twenty-five 3-4 year olds all day. He thrived and loved it. And I love you, man!
Look at some of the things we found just by turning over a rock! (granted, a big one)! Starfish (really nice starfish), algae of all kinds, and, I don't know that you can see him here, a fish, too!
Here was the little group with whom I tromped around for about an hour. They were such sweethearts. That's Floriane, Valentin, Océane, Erwan, Courtney, and Iris. See how almost all of the names end in some kind of -n sound? very Breton!
We had spent the morning building sand castles, then had our nice, big lunch break (and I watched and listened with great interests, as the teachers made the kids slow down and enjoy their food, and definitely everybody had to clear their plate. Iris tells me that that's a necessity in the restaurant scolaire as well. And I have indeed seen a teacher report to a mom after school that her kid hadn't eaten her entire lunch. A culture that cares about food is a great hope for humanity. But more on that in a bit. Meanwhile, the afternoon consisted of learning from Ludovic, the totally hot "animateur" (indeed). He's the one we followed out into low tide and who told us to look for crabs, fishes, starfish, eels, and the inevitable water snail. Above, we had regathered again, and Ludovic was showing the kids the eel that one of the boys had found. The reactions of the kids are hilarious - some of them had already gotten up to the out of the eel's way! But Ludovic knew what he was doing, and so we went back to school with a bucket-full of low-tide sea life to be put in the classroom aquarium.
Almost as soon as we'd gotten back, it was Portes Ouvertes (Open Doors) at the école maternelle, and here are Iris and Eleanor looking at a map that highlights all of the countries they studied this year. There was the North Pole, Africa, and Australia. Travel to far countries still triggers imagination, and lots of it. I hope that we could keep that imagination going - geography can be quite amazing!
Here's Iris reading me a book about a little Chinese girl named "Soeur Li" - too cute. And Oliver is completely engrossed in these great rhyming books. The Open Doors event was set up in the space where Motricité (awesome little obstacle courses) takes place. I realized with a start this afternoon just how familiar this building is to me, and all of the emotions of letting the kids go for the day, and then the happiness of knowing they're having a blast and the still-guilty-but-good feeling that we'll be able to work work work. I'm going to miss Thinking Bench with Iris, and giving her kisses in her pockets that she can take out whenever she needs to later that day, and picking up all the kids at the end of the day in all of their joy. I think that the kids are going to miss being in the same school and seeing each other throughout the day for recess. They'll be going to three separate schools in the fall (and organization challenge, to say the least) - but I'm hoping that we can pick up little rituals and fall into habits like we did here.
Elodie told us again how well Iris was doing with the French. She said (and I'm still marveling at this) that she'd rarely seen a child pick up the language this fast, nor be so determined to do so. The determined part, I get (that's 100% Iris), but the rapidity part surprises me a little, since I'd always thought that kids "pick up" a language effortlessly. I can now say from the experience of the past 6 months, that that isn't actually the case. Bottom line: it's hard work for a kid to learn a language. Eleanor flows seamlessly in and out of a kind of babble French and excellent English, and she understands everything, so in some ways I would say that she's had it the "easiest," but nor would I call her fluent in French - still, she can definitely make herself understood if needed!; Iris has worked and worked, practised and practised and can understand everything and is now working to express herself on really complicated stuff (feelings, etc.); Oliver understands most things (I'm still surprised at what he doesn't understand that the girls do) and speaks very little French (short phrases, things pulled from movies, but never entire conversations like you can have with the girls). It's hard work. And I would guess that Elodie being in the trenches with the kids, and having taught several Anglophone kids would know. The part that filled me with the greatest wonder was that she said that Iris will speak in front of the entire class in French - this is shy, retiring Iris (only in public is she that way, but that's how she is) we're talking about it here. There's definitely been some "coming into her own" for her here. And I don't even know yet the kinds of seeds that have been planted for the kids here - where the French they've picked up will lead them at other points in their lives. Surprises await, I'm sure.
After all this, what was there to do but go get beautiful Breton fish at the supermarket, eat dinner, look at various bento boxes sites, some quite awesome (my complete fantasy of being able to make food like this for the children's lunches - complete. fantasy - just dreaming here, folks), leave Mac to put the kids to bed, and go out to see my last movie in Josselin, Solutions Locales pour un Désordre Global. The trailer will tell you a lot, and I want to write and write about this, but now it is really rather late (time! ugh!) so I think that I'd just want to say that, like with global warming, the science of the food crisis in in: we eat wildly bizarrely made foods with great consequences to our planet, bodies, and I would even add ethics. The film is incredibly smart, brings in discussions from people who have been working at local solutions for years, and shares the consciousness-raising spirit (but with greater political acumen, scientific knowledge, and a much more in-depth look at the econimics of the multi-national food corporations themselves) of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. The biggest surprise, however, did not come from the film itself, but rather from the discussion that ensued afterwards. It was an announced discussion, led by people who were practising some of the local solutions discussed in the film (food co-ops, here called AMAPs and original (non-hybrid) seed distributors, and going organic, etc.). I had been quietly aware that almost everyone in the room was 50 and over, which gave me pause (since most food movement discussions in the States attract only really young people - or maybe that's just me living on the college campus, but let's just say that none of the farmers from around Greencastle (and there are many) come to the environmental or food discussions at DePauw). The real surprise came when I slowly realized that almost everyone in the room was somehow involved in farming. Conventional farmers who had gone "biologique" (organic), people who grew some of their own stuff and also helped organized AMAPs, people who were starting to feed livestock grass and natural foods instead of processed cornmeal, people who had decided to become organic farmers 13 years ago and who were just now seeing the fruits of their labors (financially more than literally), and many more. There were two cool language moments: all of them referred to themselves pointedly not as "agriculteurs" (the modern French word for farmer), but rather as "paysans" (which is not exactly "peasant" but has an older ring to it, and also comes with some old-age defiance: the "paysan" culture being one of its own traditions and ways of doing things, thank you very much - quite present in Breton culture of the 19th century, and clearly today!). The other was the wordplay "consom-acteur" - a play on "consommateur" (consumer) and acteur (actor). It's really too bad that we can't do the same wordplay in English (consumactor doesn't really have any ring or sense to it), because I think that the word gets at the gulf that needs to be bridged, the one between food producer and food consumer, one that's particularly enormous in the States. We're members of a food co-op in the States, and not particularly ideological about any of this (friends were doing it, we joined, we loved it). But the more I learn, the more absurd some of the scientific and economic moves are (this is what I wish I could go on about, but will instead hope that you'll read Pollan or see this movie someday if you haven't already), and the more convinced I am that, while absolutely not being able to take on the big multi-national food companies, we can certainly tend our own gardens (more or less figuratively), and feed our children well. And I once again admire Brittany: this land that has had to re-invent its agricultural role and function several times already, I got the sense tonight that there are more of the "local solutions" happening here than elsewhere in France. I would not be surprised if that's the case: Bretons' historical record of endless resourcefulness and reinvention rising to the occasion again. The discussion (people laying out what they've done) and debate (how to get through French bureaucracy which is right up there with global bureaucracy according to the audience) was lively and at the end, I somehow felt compelled to thank people for the conversation and say just a tiny something about the little pockets of local solutions in the States and that there was so much I had learned tonight that I would take back to my friends there (including the challenge of coming up with the equivalent of "consum-acteur"!). My voice was shaking pathetically the whole time, but if not now, when? This was a unique moment. I'm embarassed to tell you that the comments received applause, because they were completely unworthy of such a show of good will. But that is the generosity of spirit that we have been surrounded by these past six months and I will not soon forget this film, and this conversation, and all of its socio-ethico-economic-scientific intricacies or the people trying help us see them to a better tomorrow. I can't.
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