One of the teachers at my high school has been plastering me to visit the Musée d’Art modern for two months. At the start of November, he was really excited because all museums in Troyes offer free entry in November. I reminded him that, as a long-stay visa holder, I get free access to national museums during any time of the year, so I was in no rush to visit the museum immediately. I chose instead to see the great museums of Paris and London and spend my time in Troyes doing very little culturally, other than eating and drinking. Towards the end of November while on a grey Sunday stroll, I casually stumbled upon the Musée d’Art moderne, which is tucked behind a large cathedral (this tends to happen in France.) I was at first upset because I did not have my passport with me to prove that I should get free entry to the museum, but then I remembered: it was November! Free entry for all!
Part of the reason I had not yet visited the Museum of Modern Art in Troyes was that, well, it’s in Troyes. I assumed that I had seen all the great French museums of Paris, and that an art museum in a smaller city would be more like an art gallery than anything a large city with richer investors could offer. The Office of Tourism of Troyes even states on its list of reasons for visiting the city, “You accidentally got on the wrong train.” Now, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I certainly was not expecting great revelations to come out of my visit to the local MOMA. One of the other reasons I had never visited the museum is that I hate modern art. I find it cold and graphic, too jarring for my classical eye. Wrong. The Musée d’Art modern de Troyes is, hands down, one of the best museums I have ever visited, and I have finally found a modern artist that, not only do I understand and admire, but love for his ability to make modern work warm andrelatable. It’s now December, so you can’t get into the MOMA for free, but the cost is small compared to your plane/train tickets over here, and I say it’s worth it. I’ll have a couch waiting for you.
My adventure to the MOMA was part of one of my frequent strolls through the city, one of the variety of hobbies I’ve developed in Troyes to help my days go by quickly. I read every night before bed; write every morning at 6am (I’m an insomniac now; I think it’s the chocolate); walk around downtown; take the ligne six to the Madagascar stop just to hear the automated bus voice say “Madagascar”; flash my visa at the woman who works at the MOMA; play in the kids corner at the MOMA (if I speak French like a child, I get to play in the kids’ corner, OK?); work on my yogi headstand. And somehow, thanks to all my hobbies and a few trips, the first three months of working here have gone by impeccably fast. It’s now the last day of school before the Christmas holidays, and while I’m happy vacation has arrived so that the kids can unwind for a few weeks and burn off their sugar highs, it’s also scary to think that May will probably come just as quickly.
I realized the other day that this is the first Christmas I will not be spending at home. I studied in Boston for three years, and in Strasbourg and Buenos Aires for another, but I always managed to make it home during the Christmas holidays. Luckily, having family nearby in Brussels (woot!) makes this event not as lonely as I thought it would be, and I’ve also grown so accustomed to life in Troyes that it does not feel as it did when I studied abroad; I am a resident here, now, and not just an obnoxiously American fly on the wall. Troyes, in fact, reminds me a little bit of home in its size and kid-friendly nature.
The other day, one of my favorite groups of students greeted me in class with unparalleled enthusiasm. I had permitted them to bring sweets for the last day of class before the holidays (clearly a rule they were dying to get the naïve assistant to break), and I was just beginning to regret that decision when they stood up and announced that they would be singing Hotel California. The only part they really knew was the chorus, and one boy had a snazzy routine going for the background line “such a lovely face”, but in all honesty they could have sang the Barney theme song and I would have been happy. They reminded me a bit of my own classes in high school (I am after all only 8 years older than them, and only a few years ahead of those who have been held back a lot in the professional school; one of my students is possibly older than I am.) Though many of my classes were overly frustrating this week due to the upcoming holidays and a general disinterest in English, this class went above and beyond to bring holiday cheer into the classroom, and to do so in English, as well. I didn’t want to lose any authority by informing them, but it was probably the most memorable gift I’ve received for Christmas in a long time.
Going into this year, I knew that there would be a lot of surprises ahead of me. Two I didn’t expect to find were a local modern artist who redefined my vision of modern art, and a group of French kids who reminded me what it was like to be thirteen and excited for Christmas. After a rough semester with some unruly and disobedient professional students, I certainly never expected to feel at home in a French classroom, and it turns out that all I needed was an accented and broken version of the Eagles reminding me that Hotel California is wherever I choose it to be (we ignored all other interpretations of the song, obviously; luckily those are hard to pick up on as a language learner!) I’m hoping there are more hidden cultural experiences awaiting me in my new city, and perhaps more students waiting for the right moment to surprise me, break cultural boundaries, and remind me that we’re more similar than perhaps any of us thought (just like modern art!)