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.