Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The One Year Round-Up

They say that when you make a major move across many miles of land, water, and time zones, your body moves as fast as an airplane can carry you but your soul moves at the speed of someone paddling a canoe across the ocean and hiking across the land. Based on this and by my estimation, it would have taken just about a year to arrive in Paris from Oakland, or maybe a little less, but Ti likes to do a lot of sniffing which tends to slow things up a bit. So in many ways, we've only just arrived.

This time last year, we were packed tightly into a rental Peugeot, on our way from the airport to Normandy, working entirely on adrenaline. We had only what could fly with us, including Ti, whose little geriatric doggie world had just been turned upside down. All other important and/or sentimental possessions accumulated from our more than a decade in the Bay Area, were sitting on a ship in Oakland Port, with no clear idea when we would be reunited with them. The rest had been sold, donated, gifted, or dumped on the curb on 53rd Street in Oakland, in hopes some resourceful soul would come along and breathe life back into them before the trash truck arrived.

Beyond the basics of survival and legality, we had little idea what lay ahead. Thanks to Bill and Mimy we had a roof over our heads, wood in the cave, and a cozy fireplace. We were in the country under false pretenses and beholden to the immigration authorities in London and San Francisco. Greg knew he had a job to finish, and another one waiting for him at the end of a long road littered with French paperwork, all to be managed on a dial-up connection until further notice. I knew I did not have a job yet and could barely speak French, but come hell or high water, a yoga retreat would happen in the spring because I told my students it would. Nothing was in our names, therefore we were persona non grata as far as the banks, utility companies, and potential future landlords were concerned.

We also knew it was cold. Motherfucking COLD. It was the coldest French winter in 15 years. And we had limited fuel left in the ancient tank in the cave - and limited money left in the US bank accounts.

Everything was up for grabs and that's where we began. Since then, everyday has been a hustle; moving the boulder an inch along the never-ending path toward some sort of legitimacy in a never-ending bureaucratic process. Nothing has come easy, yet hard won battles are properly celebrated.

This is a sampling, a list of the little things; observations and direct experiences - what I've learned, loved, and loathed in our first year en France. I'm not delving into the big, heavy stuff here. This is not the place. If you're reading this, you're probably aware of a lot of those things anyway.

I couldn't bring myself to reduce the list down to distinct columns of "good, bad, and ugly." Life isn't that black and white. Even the things that were annoying, unjust, and painful, taught us a shitload of lessons. Not to mention that the opportunities to be properly awe-inspired in this amazing country, never end.

And that's how I hold it; this year of moving targets, contradictions, and extremes - from six dark, bleak hours of daylight to 16 glorious, spacious hours of daylight - and all the rest. You could live in constant duality, but it's just too exhausting. It's all just life. Our new life.

This is going out to a limited selection of people; people who have been a constant source of inspiration, support, and love from before and after our move - and who don't mind me being a little rough around the edges and swearing like a sailor. This is going out unedited and unfiltered, so forgive the grammatical errors and typos. I will send it now and probably add to it later. All the hyperlinks are to older posts I've written either on this or another blog.

Here goes: (in no particular order, just as it comes to me)

- Northern Europe is dark and cold in the winter, no two ways about it. Learn to deal with it and find the beauty or become a miserable boor.

- The holiday season wild boar hunt in Normandy does indeed look like a scene from Obelix and Asterix - or Rules of the Game - depends on when you're looking.

- I like fireplaces. I grow weary of fireplaces when they actually have to be started and stoked constantly for basic warmth, not just for xmas stockings and romantic ambiance.

- There's no denying that nuclear power is fucking efficient. However, knowing that every time I turn on a light I'm linked to those giant nuclear reactors, makes me nauseous.

- 11th century churches are beautiful and fun to do handstands against - pretending you are a Jean d'Arc super-hero. (Yes, I am six.)

- I have been known to go out of my way (read: hiding) to avoid deciphering senior citizen French.

- Crossing the border from the provinces into Ile de France, everything is 10-20% more expensive. Paris and the suburbs are giant energy and resource sucks, much to the chagrin of the Ch'ti (the hicks)

- The food. The local, seasonal, artisanal food. The dedication to quality and painstaking detail still remains a source of inspiration to me.

- Parisians know about as much about where their food comes from as your average San Franciscan, but likely more than much of the rest of the US. However, the urban-rural disconnect is growing, even if Parisians say it's not.

- Andrew Hussey says it well in Paris, The Secret History: "Paris is a beautiful woman, a sorceress, and a demon..."

- When frustrated by senseless bureaucracy, it is so not okay to jokingly utter to a French person: "Hehehe, we should have just let the Germans take over. They're so much more efficient."

- From a distance, the Eiffel Tower is the spine of Paris.

- The working class suburbs of Paris suffer identity crises and are wrought with xenophobia.

- Some days, I feel like Joni Mitchell just nailed it when she sang "'s too old, and cold, and settled in its ways here..."

- I have indeed roasted chestnuts on an open fire in Normandy and they are delicious.

- Being stared at like the side-show freak does get tiring. Ah, the French and their icy, unapproving stares.

- The French and their dog shit: same old story.

- Doing yoga on Omaha Beach will give you chills and bring you to tears. I don't care who you are. (Or maybe it was just me and the overwhelming feeling of seeing the ocean for the first time in six months.)

- Being landlocked is energetically repressive and I hate it.

- Try telling a Norman cook (an amazing one at that) that not every course for every meal at a yoga retreat needs to be soaked in cidre, Calvados, or Pommeau.

- Paris is awesome.

- Paris is awesome when you're a rich tourist and a real drag when you're poor residents.

- Paris is still awesome.

- Bad things can happen when a nearly 20-year vegetarian goes on a duck binge.

- I doubt, no matter how culturally nuanced the argument, there will ever be a time when I think consuming horse meat in this day and age is acceptable.

- So help me, the next person I hear say, "Oui mais, le probleme c'est..." Everything has a "Yes but..." and a problem and rarely is anything taken on faith. Faith? Goddess forbid.

- The Norman sky is stunning and dramatic, all year round. It makes my heart sing.

- Teaching yoga in a studio in an 18th century building, in the historically Jewish quarter of Paris, around the corner from the city's oldest synagogue, and with a commemorative plaque two doors down reminding us that is the spot where the Gestapo killed members of the Resistance, brings a whole new meaning to the practice of Karma Yoga.

- When a drunk Portuguese man in a local bar declares loudly that he is - in all seriousness - the reincarnation of Che Guevara, do not laugh and attempt to engage him in conversation in Spanish. He will threaten your husband and then sob in his lap.

- "I hate Credit Agricole!" (our first French bank)

- "Credit Agricole rocks! I hate BNP! (our second French bank)

- French pharmacies are the best! They tend to put much of their holistic, eco-pure products up front, the pharmacists are as knowledgeable as doctors, and many carry the mid-to high end French cosmetics and toiletries. And, since 99% of the products are French, you have a no guilt carbon footprint.

- Mold will grow in your walls, in your closets and on your leather shoes. Calcium will build up in your hot water heater, giving you no water pressure. There will be a short in the electrical system, giving you no light in your bedroom. Giant trees will grow and block your neighbors' view of the garden. How much of this is your landlord's responsibility? Ne rien. How much is yours? Tous.

- Les Ticket Resto. Think FSA for meals at restaurants, for the daily inconvenience of not being able to go home for a proper lunch. They enable us to go out to dinner and without them that Patricia Wells restaurant guide to Paris would be never be used.

- The fabled French health care system is great - so we hear. We wouldn't know because there is such a backlog that after a year, we still don't have our social security cards.

- No matter how good your French is, you will often get the little-known foreigner surcharge in the market, at the dry cleaners, at the vet....

- I never thought I'd say this, but thank god for Sarkozy.

- If it hadn't been for the good fate of ending up with fabulous neighbors (and others) in both Chantrigne and Creteil, we would probably have been back in the US before now.

- French sheep farmers are 1) crazy, 2) pedantic, and 3) awesome

- French apple farmers/cider and calvados makers are 1) long-winded

- Just because we like a particular tradition does not necessarily mean it's anything more than just another habitual behavior.

- Looking forward to lots and lots and LOTS of tubers this winter.

- The Paris yoga community - such that it is - is a direct reflection of the larger culture, ie, a little less than warm and fuzzy.

- The French don't apologize, heavily over-intellectualize, and rarely breathe.

- French wine we drink = low alcohol, reasonable price, and exquisite taste.
CA wine = high alcohol, over-priced, and mediocre taste. French wine is better and probably always will be. Due to circumstances beyond their control, CA wine makers will never be able to compete. There I said it.

- California doesn't recognize French drivers' licenses, therefore France doesn't recognize CA drivers' licenses. This tit for tat is creating quite a headache for us at the moment.

- Sometimes just walking through a Monoprix will soothe my nerves.

- Weak dollar, strong Euro = faint light at end of tunnel.

- Fete de la Musique in Paris on the summer solstice = Magic

- Every French person is smarter than you. Just ask them.

- To fit in, it is necessary to deflect responsibility whenever possible.

- Knowing you'll never fit in, it is necessary to be a little outrageous.

- Tradition dictates everything and so many traditions just beg to be challenged.

- Culinary tradition dictates everything and so many beg to be challenged.

- "Activists are in the fringe here. Activism isn't embedded in typical life like in San Francisco." (Uttered by a wealthy Parisian who was unaware of the three-month long dairy farmer strikes and protests happening all over France.)

- There is something simultaneously heartwarming and repressive about living in Creteil Village among the real French proletariat, card-carrying members of the communist party, and hard-core labor organizers who meet every Sunday am for their many rounds of cafe and cognac.

- I put one of the world's most famous perfume makers into downward facing dog twice/week. I use extra deodorant on those days.

- French parents do not speak to their toddlers in baby talk. Perhaps that's why I saw a 13-ish yr old reading Voltaire on the metro the other day.

- Parisian teenagers are - for the most part - incorrigible.

- When dogs are really cold, they don't shed. Imagine that! Ti didn't shed for nearly three months last winter. She was a powder puff.

- Warm nights are delightful. Warm nights where twilight doesn't begin until 10:30 pm are heartwarming. Warm nights in August where nothing is open, suck.

- How does one actually fall asleep - alone - in an 800 yr old house with common knowledge that a suicide occurred there a few centuries before? For the first week - you don't.

- Learning to talk to ghosts is a handy skill.

- Perhaps making light of the fact that the 400 yr old grainery where your US yoga students are living for a week is known to be haunted, is insensitive.

- Having guests less than three weeks after moving into a tiny apt in the banlieue is not a great idea.

- Don't challenge your husbands' CEO to a Tomales Bay vs. French oyster contest. The French take these things very seriously. You will be left at the table having to consume nearly 18 oysters on your own before anyone else can eat.

- Held down the fort at the yoga studio this summer while everyone else went on vacation. For six solid weeks, my students were 99.9% expats and tourists. Nothing interrupts the sacrosanct French summer holiday.

- Send emails to people in the French countryside, don't expect responses.

- Don't off-handedly mention that you're offering a Sunday early am community yoga class in Chantrigne and because no one confirmed think that Sunday early am knock on the door couldn't possibly be students showing up out of the blue, especially when you're still in bed - with a hangover.

- Spring in France is all you could ever imagine. Think hectares of rape (the first commercial crop to blossom in the spring) in bright golden yellow against a perfectly blue sky. Breathtaking.

- French appliances and home accessories: over designed, under functioning.

- Apparently the heavy burden of being French gets heavier in the countdown to the solstice. Here we go again.

- Some days I would do anything for a burrito. A burrito from Papalote to be exact.

- Some days I don't want cheese, or milk, or butter, or cafe, or wine, or chocolate, or bread or pastries...I want tofu, lentils, a nice vegetarian noodle soup, and tea. It's harder than you might think.

- The French are extremely helpful because no one wants to admit they don't know something.

- The French love to impress with their knowledge and their charming Frenchy-isms that they assume the entire world wants to consume. They will also be the first to renounce those things and tell you "it's all shit."

- Without asking we get baskets and bags of: vegetables, fruits, jams...just left on our doorstep. We are nourished by these little gifts.

- As tough as it might be to accept this bold statement, try it on for size: sustainable agriculture in France is about a decade behind the US. Try having that debate with a French person.

- We've enjoyed sharing a little glimpse of this new life with dear friends from the US. Those of you who have visited - thank you. Those of you who haven't, allons-y!

more to come I'm sure.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

In case you were wondering...

Capri pants and Man-Purses (or Murses) are still very much en vogue in France.
And I remain a non-fan.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Nice Things French People Do

Lest you think all I do is complain and seek out the worst in French people, I'm going to disavow you of that notion by acknowledging some of the wonderful things that have happened to us - and the kind French people who have made it happen - since we've been in the country.

Starting from the most recent, they are:
1) A woman in the RER who noticed that I was having a hard time getting my RER ticket to open the turn style, a problem that would normally result in a long debate with the agent in the office. She tapped me and asked if I'd like to sneak through her turn style on her ticket. Voila! I wasn't late to meet my new client.

2) Our new neighbors, the jolly M. and Mme Joly, who in the last five days and on different occasions have given us a tomato plant and a bouquet of forget-me-nots (May 1 tradition).

3) Our 90+ year old neighbors in Chantrigne, the amazing M. and Mme Millet, who invited us in on Sunday afternoon to eat multi-layered strawberry cake and drink Sauterne and coffee.

4) Our friends in Chantrigne, Cristal and Phillipe, who invited us in for a bottle of Bordeaux and gave us a lavender plant, two tomato plants, and some other pretty perennial I'm going to plant in our Creteil garden. They were all plants he had cultivated in his greenhouse.

5) Isabelle and Laurent continue to be sources of support and sustenance. Last Friday night, after the long drive to Chantrigne, they invited us in for "apertif", which I put in quotes only because it's never really just apertif. They make and serve enough to feed you the whole night.

6) The aforementioned Jolys' who have taken pity on us and both loaned us their garden tools indefinitely, and given us an old-timey manual push lawn mower. (This is after we were told that the guy who mows the big lawn won't let us borrow his mower because he doesn't like our landlords.)

7) The Angel de Creteil.
Our very first night at the new place in Creteil, Ti was attacked by another dog right on the pieton, in the center of the village. It ended up being okay - no big deal injuries - but I lost it.
The woman had no control of her dog. I didn't know the area yet so was entirely discombobulated. I was also exhausted from having moved all our stuff alone, because Greg was stuck at work until late. I was so upset that I couldn't find the French words to express it to her, so (like the crazy American) I started yelling obscenities in English, scooped up Ti and ran into the nearest parking lot, away from everyone, and started crying whilst looking Ti over for blood. A woman came out of nowhere and asked me if I was okay. She put her arm around me while I calmed down and could explain what happened. She was so kind and patient and seemingly concerned, assuring me that Ti was okay, that I was struck by her grace. I've never seen her again, so have decided she is the Angel de Creteil.

8) Various people who have accommodated my poor command of French more times that I can list here.

9) That random barrista in a cafe in the Marais. Before I had a fancy iPhone, I had a piece of shit phone which rarely worked. For months Greg and I had no way of getting a hold of each other on a regular basis, save for email, which required having computers with us at all times. One day when logistics could have gone horribly wrong, a nice man in a cafe in Paris kindly let me borrow his phone to get a hold of Greg. It changed the day entirely.

10) Les Noyalets. This is the family that made it possible for Greg and me to live together in their spacious condo in the suburbs for a month while we looked for a place to live. Not only did they give us a key to their place and free parking space, they told us to ignore the idiots from a previous post (Merde!) because they will deal with them when they get into town this summer. Yeah. Comme ca!

11) Pifka = Pifoo and Karine. Our friends in Paris who even in their too-full house (two kids) gave Greg a bed and dinner as often as he needed it during those few difficult first months.

12) The nice guy at the flower/plant stand at the bi-weekly market in Creteil who, after selling me a few pretty plants, saw me eyeing an additional one and then counting my euros and then eyeing the plant again dejected. He tossed it in gratis.

13) The yoga studio owner who has decided to take a chance on me even though, according to her count, she receives dozens of bios and CVs from English speaking yoga teachers every week.

14) The amazing new French Canadian acupuncturist friend I met at a yoga workshop, who recommended we do a work-trade. I think I'm getting the better deal ;-)

15) My new African-French hairdresser who brought us both to tears talking about her profound appreciation for everything Obama stands for and the American people who made, what she considered the impossible, happen.

16) 90+ yr old M. Millet who hand whittled a new handle for an antique garden tool, after my de-termite solutions proved worthless.

17) The same M. Millet who supplied me/us with turnips and other yummy tubers and the "chicken lettuce" all winter (ala an earlier post).

18) Isabelle and Laurent for bringing light and life into my otherwise fairly dark 39th b-day, by dropping off a beautiful window box full of blossoming tulip bulbs.

19) Les Maugers. The family in a village near Chantrigne who hosted a holiday dinner for us that was out of this world and shared some treasures from their cave that we otherwise would never have the opportunity (or luxury) to taste.

20) Every last restaurant, bistrot, cafe, etc owner who happily lets us bring Ti inside. I know it's the norm rather than the exception in France, but it never fails to warm my heart.

There are lots I'm forgetting and will remember later; invariably adding to the list. I'm sure Greg has many I haven't thought about or don't even know occurred.

It's been challenging, but the aforementioned has occasionally buffered the landing and made us smile.

Their worth is immeasurable.

Friday, April 17, 2009

First 100 Days - FAIL

Given that we're well past the 100 days mark and I have only managed to upload two marginally interesting posts with the latest being photos from December, it's unlikely this project will continue, even under a different theme. I simply do not have it in me.

Let's hope Obama has more fortitude than I do.

However, for anyone who is interested, I do manage to fairly regularly upload random photos of our day-to-day life here in Ile de France, to my Flickr account:

Le Petit: Less is More #3

Quite by accident, I have 100+ year old French wool string, from French sheep, holding up my sweet pea plants in the garden. I don't know if I have an appropriate appreciation for said string, since the woman who gave me this information also sold me the spool of wool for a measly 2 euros. And, we all know the way to a capitalists' grateful heart is through her wallet. Yet, it seems that any value the wool lady gained was simply in imparting this charming information and me expressing interest.

Oh, these wacky socialist ways.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Le Petit: Less is More #2

If you replace "Wisconsin" with another three syllable locale "Chantrigne", in the lyrics of the Bon Iver ballad, you pretty much have my life from 1/15/09 - 2/20/09.

You ride in the park and you're peeking
Piss pools in your seat
She's standing inside but you surely repeat
Oh God don't leave me here
I will freeze till the end
Love is loves reprieve

Winter is come and you're stuck here
Oh and so is she
Now when the wind blows you cover your teeth
I told you to shed away and trade in your blues
Love is loves sad news

That was Wisconsin that was yesterday
Now I have nothing that I can keep
Cause every place I go I take another place with me
Love is loves mystique

You're up on the bar and your shaking
With every grimy word
Who will love
What's love when you've hurt
Wherever is your scene the snow kissed the curb
Love is loves return

That was Wisconsin that was yesterday
Now I have nothing that I can keep
Cause every place I go I take another place with me
Love is loves critique

Le Petit: Less is More #1

Thank you mean, condescending, patronizing French person. Whenever someone says I can't do something, I tend to rise to the occasion. What a gift you just gave me.

Game on, bitch.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Merde! and Nimby-ism

Life is messy. It's full of chaos, complexities, contradictions, chewing gum on your ass, and dog shit on your shoes. There's nowhere in the world, where this is better illustrated than France.

There are three glaring contradictions about France: 1) a lot of French people have dogs, 2) French people are obsessed with cleanliness and order but won't clean up their dog's shit, and 3) at least on paper the French put emphasis on doing what's good for "the collective".

When I first visited France many years ago, it was nearly impossible to walk down the sidewalk and not step in dog shit. Apparently, the sheer volume and overall inconvenience began to affect the tourist industry enough that soon after Paris invested a small fortune in giant vacuum cleaners (with smiling cartoon dogs on the sides) that roll down the streets and boulevards sucking up the canine droppings. The next time I was in Paris, while far from pristine, there was indeed a noticeable difference in the amount of dog shit covering the streets and sidewalks.

However, that's Paris and I've learned that when someone is making a grand generalization about France, if you follow it up with "if by France you mean Paris", more often than not you would be correct. The rest of the country's sidewalks, for the most part, are still layered in dog shit.

And, I'll go a step further to clarify that even in Paris, once you step off the well worn pedestrian paths, there is a veritable mine field of fresh and dried dog shit in the playgrounds, parks, and along the rivers. If the giant shit vacuum can't reach it, it either decomposes or ends up on someones tread.

Coming from the SF Bay Area where not cleaning up after your dog in any public space could result in a $250 fine and a whole lot of hassle, it is ingrained in us to scoop the poop. We don't leave the house with Ti without being equipped with her leash and two sturdy (ideally biodegradable) bags. She does her business and we dutifully do ours - putting the bag on like a glove and scooping up the steamy pile, closing the bag and looking for the nearest trash can.

In the entire time I've been in France (a little over three months), I have been out with Ti at least twice/day and during that time have seen exactly two people clean up after their dogs. Let me add that even in the public green spaces in and around Paris that have been equipped with 1) signage encouraging people to scoop, 2) plenty of bags, and 3) conveniently located trash cans, people blatantly and un-apologetically stand there and watch their dogs shit and then move on. They don't even do the guilt-ridden-stealth-glance-over-the-shoulder move to see if anyone caught them. They literally give a shit and don't give a shit.

This is frustrating and reinforces so many stereotypes I don't even know where to begin.

And, if evidenced by what the state smoking ban has done to lower the number of smokers in this country, I would assume that until there is a legal mandate, no one is going to willingly change their behavior with regard to this particular issue.

Now, I can let go of my righteous indignation about it all, chalk it up as merely a silly Frenchism, watch my step and move on, until and unless this particular cultural difference gets real personal, like it just did...

The context: Until we sign our new apartment lease next week, we're currently living in a borrowed flat in a fairly nice suburb of Paris. The apartment is in a typical modern condo complex. The average age of the condo owners is probably 55. The apartment is on the fourth floor so every time Ti has to go out, we schlep up and down four flights. There are other dogs in the complex. For Ti's daily walks, we make sure to go outside of the complex, along the river, or to a public green space.

Last week Ti was sick; diarrhea, vomiting, excessive panting, lethargy, etc. After one particularly difficult and sleepless night, we decided to take her to the vet the next morning.

The vet's diagnosis was that Ti had worms and parasites. Really? What from? She had ingested too much particulate matter from other dogs' feces. Dog's familiarize themselves with their surroundings with their noses. Sometimes that means sticking their noses in gross places. Since those gross places exist EVERYWHERE it is nearly impossible to avoid. The vet went on to acknowledge that it's a well-known fact that in the US people clean up after their dogs, "but (chuckling) that doesn't happen here." No shit.

For the last week, my awesome Mexi-Cali girl has been loaded up on antibiotics and supplements. She's getting better; her energy level is improving.

This morning, on our way out, we found a note taped to the door. It was from the building manager reminding us that it is not appropriate to allow our dog to relieve herself on the complex property, in the grass, or near the flowers "for the health and well-being of the collective." It's true that a few times, when she was sick, she had urgent needs that had to be taken care of before we could get off the grounds, but we immediately cleaned up the evidence so as not to inconvenience anyone. Apparently, someone saw and for the sake of the "collective" turned us in.

I found this both absurd and amusing. The dog owners in the complex do not let their dogs relieve themselves on the property, but take them to the nearest public green space (which is equipped with bags and trash cans), let them shit anywhere they want and don't clean it up, resulting in my dog getting sick, having a few bad nights, and us getting the hand slap suggesting we're not doing our part for the collective?

Brilliant irony, you fucking self-righteous misanthropes.

NIMBY-ism is alive and well here in France and this whole socialism facade is crumbling as my rose colored sunglasses fall off my face into a steaming pile of French dog shit.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Perils of the Gastronomy (3rd Installment)

One word: Bread

The average French person eats one baguette traditionnale/day. French law dictates that baguettes must be at least 80 cm in length and 5 - 6 cm in diameter. That, quite simply, is a lot of bread for a single person over the course of a week.

And of course, that's only the baguette consumption. There are plenty of other kinds of breads available at any one of the four bazillion boulangeries in the country: multi grain, whole wheat, unleavened, stale (just for soup croutons), round, square; pain de this, pain de that, etc. etc. It's astounding. They all taste the same, and different.

France (being a highly protectionist state) prides itself on producing all the wheat necessary for said bazillion boulangerie; no more, no less. In the countryside, whole families participate in the annual wheat harvest (whether they are wheat producers or not) partly for a bit of extra money, but mostly to fulfill their civic duty to their country. Wheat is as important to the French gastronomy and domestic economy as the vine, and to think otherwise is an insult and to not consume your minimum daily bread allotment is downright unpatriotic. A boulangere considers it a personal failure if they have bread left-over at the end of the day. (The politics of the baguette are fascinating and too multi-layered to get into here.)

Tradition dictates all in France gastronomy. No one questions whether or not that much bread is actually nourishing them or if they really need it. They just consume an heroic amount of bread because that's what they've done for generations. And this brings me to my theory (which admittedly may be one of the more ridiculous generalizations ever made, but hey, it's my blog) : I think France just may be one big gluten allergy.

Wheat, while a beautiful grain, is not for everyone. For example, one of the most obvious long-term results of an unchecked gluten allergy is osteoporosis. For all of the milk consumed out here in France's giant dairy barn, Normandy, I actually see of a lot people over 60 with the tell-tale signs of osteoporosis. (Our 85+ year old neighbor, Madame Hibou, is stooped over like a candy cane and always wonders why her back hurts, but I'll be damned if she doesn't make it to the boulangerie everyday.) Gluten intolerance can also result in irritability, depression, melancholy, and declined dental health. Uh, check, check, check AND check.

Now, I'm mostly just bringing this up because I'm realizing there are a lot of reasons why I'll never be French, and one of those is that I'll never, ever be able to eat that much bread. I don't think I have a serious gluten allergy, but I do know that when I consume too many crusty baguettes in a week my body responds fairly quickly and I know that if I don't back off, it won't be good.

In fact, upon arriving in France, Greg and I wanted to fit into this little town so badly we made our daily trip to the local boulangerie for the obligatory crusty baguette and other wheat laden goodies. Even after exercising all the numerous multi-uses for stale bread, half-eaten baguettes started to accumulate so quickly in our kitchen that it was ridiculous. We placed a moratorium on daily baguette purchases and just yesterday finally brought ourselves to dispose of the large bag of two-month old bread bits, admitting that despite best intentions, bread pudding just will not happen and another jar of bread crumbs is just not necessary.

I wholeheartedly apologize to all the wheat producers, millers, and bakers out there. I am yet another obnoxious immigrant with unreasonable body awareness issues and an innate desire to challenge tradition. Don't hate me. I have every intention to do my part by making up for it in wine consumption. Deal?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The First 100 Days II - Holidays w/the Beuthins

Lots of fun and also lots of consumption.

These are, indeed, chestnuts roasting over an open fire.

This is a fine xmas eve Bordeaux - a gift from Les Maugers.

Xmas morning petit dejeuner -sugar, sugar, and plus...

The xmas dinner feast, six courses: apertif (including pheasant rillette), lentil soup, roasted duck stew, parsley mashed potatoes, chestnut stuffing, cauliflower souffle, frisee salad, cheese course, ....

and the traditional Buche de Noel, made to order by our local boulangerie/patisserie...

followed by truffles made by our local chocolatier!

Monday, February 9, 2009

The First 100 Days I - Cold and Tired

The First 100 Days category will be brief photo installments showcasing bits and pieces of our new French life. At the completion of this era (on or around March 12), I will evaluate our performance and determine if the show should go on.

W/out further ado...
an illustration of the first few days tackling jetlag, six hours (or less) of daylight, and extremity numbing cold head-on:

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lighten Up, Frenchies!

I don't know if it's the crushing feeling of living in a place defined by thousands of years of history, accompanied by the heavy burden of their own self-importance in the world, but whatever it is and thus far to me, the French are utterly humorless and lacking in the "joie de vivre" department.
(And this is coming from someone who can, with complete self honesty, safely say that none of you, when you think of me let the words "funny" or "light-hearted", pop to mind.)

As I've reminded a few people, there are no famous French comedians (that I know of) and there is good reason for that - they anatomically lack a funny bone. (Perhaps something genetically irreversible happened during the Dark Ages. Je ne sais pas.) Ironically, one of the French words for actor or actress is "comedienne". Funny, I don't find Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, or Belmondo to be comedic in the least.

When the French do make themselves or others chuckle (you'll never witness a full-on gut-grabbing, tear-jerking, nearly urinating, "Oh my god, I can't breathe", from-the-toes-laugh- fest coming from a French person), it's in that under-the-breath jab of sarcasm and/or cynical sort of way. And/or, it comes accompanied with a general complaint about something or somebody.

In this small village, I've taken on the utterly obnoxious role of forcing people to offer up a smile. I make it my personal daily goal of working over at least one person to momentarily break through their self imposed morosity, make eye contact with me, and SMILE. Usually when I do this, they've caught me doing cartwheels or handstands on the football field and very likely I'm dressed like a California-hippie clown in my striped tights showing from under my yoga pants, a pair of goofy red flowered rainboots, a thick bright green fleece, and a Peruvian alpaca hat with tassels. (All the while Ti is hiding her head in embarrassment, pretending she doesn't know me.)

Sometimes I achieve my goal, sometimes I don't. But one thing is for sure, they know I'm not like them.

I've craved light-hearted giddiness and just plain silly banter so much, I've taken to listening to at least 1-2 episodes of The Bugle on my iPod daily. I even had a mildly PG-rated dream about John Oliver (sorry Greg), who I don't find attractive in the least, but who had me laughing so hard whilst sleeping, I woke myself and was still giggling.

I don't feel like psycho-analyzing the reason they are the way they are, but very often I just want to run down the street and scream, "Lighten the fuck up! You have an extraordinary quality of life. Enjoy it. For crying out loud, you invented the phrase "joie de vivre", whose pronounciation gets massacred the world over but everyone loves to use it in the spirit it was intended. You have no reason to be so bloody serious, dour, or cynical all the time. In the words of Woody Guthrie, go ahead and " a goofy dance...". It'll feel good and I'll be sure to laugh at you AND with you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Perils of the Gastronomy (2nd Installment)

Bottomless Bag of Turnips: BAMFs

It's Northern Europe in winter.
It's cold, dark, and heavy.
You know what these conditions are good for?
SHIT-ALL except for the over-zealous production of root vegetables, tubers, and nightshades. Potatoes, Carrots, Turnips, Parsnips, and Leeks, and...still more Potatoes, Carrots, Turnips...and so forth.

These vegetables are BAMFs. They can withstand bitter cold temps, frozen soil, screaming winds, snow, hail, sleet, rain, etc. and still survive to provide you with your daily supply of flavonoids, carbs, betacarotene, potassium.... They can be roasted, mashed, baked, fried, souped and pureed.

The BAMFs are grown in winter gardens all over this region where the even bigger BAMFs, the caretakers of these gardens, happily share their winter bounty with their ill-equipped, American city-slicker neighbors who are clearly struggling with the harsh realities of a true winter.

One BAMF in particular, our 91 year old neighbor - M. Millet - is most generous.
The first week we arrived, we found a small bag of turnips on our back porch. We were overjoyed by this simple gift and proceeded to enjoy a few of those turnips here and there, in their yummy cruciferousness. Not too many days had gone by before we found another bag of turnips, and this time a few parsnips, on our back porch...

Well, you see where this is going. We couldn't finish the previous bag before we received another, and another, and another... so the bag just kept growing as our creativity and desire for said winter veg began to wane.

Not being one to turn away seasonal, locally grown produce, given to us by the most adorable French farmer you've ever seen (who survived the occupation of his village and farm by the Nazis, raised 12 children, and produced more food for this country that I could in ten lifetimes), I think I've led him to believe that we're actually consuming the turnips and parsnips as fast as he is willing to give them to us. This is a tremendous lie as the bag sits in the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, staring at me whenever I open the door.

This is where the guilt sets in and also why these veggies are so completely BAD ASS - they don't spoil, thereby nagging at my inherently ingrained sense of frugality and responsibility (I was raised on a farm after all). They are genetically designed to live in cold, dark places all winter long. If I were so inclined, there are few places in a fucking frigid 800 year-old house where I could find to put them where they would begin to rot.

So, unlike the oh so lovely spring, summer, and fall produce which has a shelf-life of a week or two (occasionally giving me momentary guilt pangs for not prioritizing its use earlier ((instead of ordering that sushi, for example)), I can quietly utter, "in the compost bin ya go" and my conscience is numbed with the simple out-of-sight-out-of-mind delusion) these BAMFs haunt you.

Every time I open the fridge they're just staring at me as if to say, "Don't tell us you've exhausted your culinary capacity for what we got! It's only January 25. Bitch, you got two more long months and we ain't goin' away!" Or even more condescendingly, "Oh, who's the sanctimonious local, seasonal, organic hippie now? Spirit broken after a measly 7 weeks? Not so easy when you don't live in California, hmm?"

No, you won't win you arrogant French winter turnips. Your cold insides, dark souls, and thick skins will not break me! I have a will like iron. Just because occasionally (read: everyday) I crave an IV drip of SoCal clementines and...light, just a little bit of light and maybe even a touch of sunny warmth on my pallid skin - does NOT mean I'm weak.

Not scurvy, S.A.D, or excessive diarrhea from the over consumption of fibrous tubers will make me waste you and purchase those lovely, plump, brightly colored grapefruit from CA that I saw in the produce section of the Hypermarche. It won't happen.
(The clementines from Spain are a different story entirely.)

I will get through this winter with my health and spirit intact, having eaten every last one of you!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obamix in the Land of Asterix

(Oh, I know I'll get shit for the obvious choices and the clunky sequencing, but out here in middle of nowhere, in my little party of one, I'm digging it.)

You Are My Sunshine - Aretha Franklin
Amazing Grace - Willie Nelson
Drown Out - Glen Hansard
I Shall Be Released - Wilco w/Fleet Foxes
Have We Lost Our Dream? - Trilok Gurtu
Road To Peace - Tom Waits
Modern Love - The Last Town Chorus
City of Blinding Lights - U2
We're An American Band - Yo La Tengo
If It Be Your Will - Antony (Leonard Cohen)
Resurrection Song - Mark Lanegan
Come A Long Way - Loudon Wainwright III
Perfect And True - Ryan Adams
Carry Me Ohio - Mark Kozelek
I've Been Everywhere - Johnny Cash
Mad Mission - Patty Griffin
Democracy - Leonard Cohen
Little Trip to Heaven - Tom Waits
Blind Hope - Son Volt
Freely - Devendra Banhart
Pride (In the Name of Love) - U2
Redemption - Johnny Cash
World Keeps Turning - Tom Waits
Higher Ground - Stevie Wonder
Feeling Good - Muse
Sun = So Bright - Park Avenue Music
Bulletproof - Los Lobos
Boy Moves the Sun - Michael Andrews
Rusty Cage - Johnny Cash
Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood (Live) - Nina Simone
What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding - Steve Earle
Lives in the Balance - Richie Havens
Wisconsin - Bon Iver
Anthem - Julie Christensen & Perla Batalla (L. Cohen)
There's a World - Neil Young
For All We Know - Nina Simone

Perils of the Gastronomy (1st Installment)

A New Condition: Bowel Labor

is what happens when a 20-year vegetarian decides to eat roasted duck, duck stew, leftover duck stew, and duck fat soup for well over a week straight, within her first 3 weeks of arriving in France.

I'll spare you most of the details. However, I will tell you that over the course of that five hour period, my yogic breathing came in good and handy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

You're in Good Hands

Like well-behaved party guests and unlike missionaries and GW Bush, we know not to overstay our welcome.

We sleep sound with the knowledge that you're now in very, very good hands:

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama danc... (Alex Brandon / AP)
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama appe... (Charles Dharapak / AP)

While we might be leaving right when the party is getting good, we'd rather be blown across the Altantic to the land of Gauls by the winds of change, rather than run away in fear.

It feels good to be an ambassador. The French can say what they want about everything wrong with US, the bleak truth is that under present conditions they would never elect a black man as their President.

For the first time in my life, I am sincerely proud of where I come from and per usual, intend to push my ideals on my new neighbors.