Friday, February 4, 2011

"Wait till after Paris"--A Love Story

today it's two weeks, exactly, since we arrived at the castle. i'm over the jetlag, but not my usual insomnia, so am very sleepy and very busy. and very happy. some of us who have been at the castle for several years have a saying when the students seem great: "Wait till after paris." we still use the phrase, though the last group trip to paris was five years ago. at the time, we had 2 required trips, of which paris was the first. after paris, they had their first weeklong break, and when they returned, their week of freedom had affected them in several ways. if anyone was going to start acting up, either in terms of their classwork or tehir personal behavior, it would begin after that break.

now, in a tighter semeseter, we have one break, a real 'midterm' break, which begins with a required trip to prague. whenever faculy and staff are chatting about the group, and praising it, someone will look grimmer than the others and ominously remark, "wait til after paris."...and we sigh.

the past three or four semesters, 'after paris' has been uniformly good. the students aren't angels, but their infractions have been small, relatively few, and bearable. nothing that changes the feel of the group, which is mega important. in a small community [80 students] living together, even a castle is tight quarters, and a couple of acting-out students can sour the whole group.

once again, i think we've got a stellar crew. in the classroom they're pretty aamazing--at least in my classes.they seem to care about the material, to work with it beyond getting today's assignment in on time. i always get some of those kids, but so far, in my 3 classes, it's been most of them. this past wednesday, when i gave them the usual mid-class short recess, two of them sat together fiercely huddled over the odyssey, discussing one of the things we'd been talking about, flipping pages to back up their thoughts. later another student came over to me in the courtyard to talk about the book, laughing. she had been prepared to learn what she had to about the classics, she said, but not for this. her roommate was also in the class. 'we sit there and gossip about these people--like they're friends we  hang out with." i have similar reactions in the European Literature class, except here they're unhappy with the second book, and are ready to argue with me about it. They don't want to read the Dumas novel; they don't get, or like, the first part. 'didn't you tell us you used a different book before?' one says. they want me to dump dumas and go back to the other one. i don't, but normally such a request would sound like a whiney 'make it easy for us.' not now: we've already finished one book, and their enthusiasm was intense. so we work on the dumas: no, i won't changae it, but i'll spend more time than i might normally use in it helping them figure out the confusing beginning, promising it will get better [it does, in fact: the first four chapters are dense, and when that part of the plot is resolved, it gets easier and to me at least, more fun.] so far, that's going well; they work with me, and they challenge me.

out of the classroom, they're just as delightful. fun, funny, sharp. courtious to all of the techers and staff, as far as i can tell. [and in this small a community, you pretty much know what's going on from everyone's perspective]. a couple of them have asked me to go to the thermal baths with them on sunday. how many students actively want to hang out with their teachers on the weekends? [yes, of course i'm going! did you think i might not?]

the castle--living here and working here--could never pall on me, even in a problematic semester. i have come here every spring for more than 20 years, and if i live another 20 years, i hope i come back for every one of them. they'd have to turn it into a Tea Party convention to keep me away. but with kids like these, and the kids from recent years [that's awkward construction but it's true, and i know some of them will be reading this so i'd better say it], it's the icing on the cake--or maybe the icing on and layered throughout the cake.

every year it seems to get better--not just the students but the whole experience. if i ever write an autobiographical love story, it won't be about a romance or a sexual relationship; it will be about this place, and my 20-year affair with it.

this feeling is hard to convey, and yet i know i'm not the only one. i talk to students from years past, and they still miss the castle. we joke about me bringing them back in my suitcase. i wish i could. each term i fall in love with a new group; it's interesting to watch my own falling-in-love process. right now is the excited beginning, and the feeling will either grow or, with some students or some situations, cool  or possibly stagnate. but it won't go away, ever. i haven't stopped loving the old kids--even those i have forgotten individually. the whole 20 years worth of them are woven so deeply into the fabric of my self that they are part of every other joy in my life. they enrich even the times i'm not thinking about them or about the castle.

three weeks, and we'll be off to prague together. then they go on their long trips, and i go back with my wonderful colleagues, and enjoy the quiet of the rest of the week. and i wonder who the kids will be when they come back.

 when they come back, after paris.


metromoiselle said...

Karen, I love this! As a former student / resident I can attest to the transformative power of that place and its people. You've been going there for twenty years...and I was there nearly twenty years ago, as a twenty-year-old (with a much smaller group than 80, thank goodness)! Mais oui, Paris certainly changed me. But so did the Vink, the thermal baths, the trains on which I filled my journals...Hope to see you next spring when I'm back in Holland. - Kelly Callahan

Brian said...

hm! i had never thought about what all of your perspective must be on this kind of thing. it's so funny how it sort of mirrors our/the student's experiences, at least as far as i recall them. in the same way you feel like it's been a 20-year love affair, it's like all of us had the briefest of 100-day flings, and yet it's all the same emotion, just condensed into as small of a time period as possible.

i would love to go to the thermal baths. ah, now i'm missing it! would love to see you at the lyric again when you return - or outside of it, even.

xo, brian dudley

Ken Goldstein said...

If my memory serves, my group when to Paris right from Boston, before we ever got to the Castle, our mid-semester trip was to the Black Forest, and we all hit London together on our way home.

And a group of 80! I know my group was one of the smaller ones, but I can't imagine 80 living together there.

Someday, maybe I'll return just to say hello...

karen lindsey said...

your memory is right. yours was the smallest group ever--and included a few of the nastiest students ever!bad combo--no escaping each other.

the dynamics with the much larger groups are of course quite different. i think in general healthier; more crowded but more flexible. you should indeed visit sometime--big big changes!