Saturday, January 3, 2009
Sunday, December 21, 2008
- Stepping onto the sidewalk or train platform and being surrounded by a pea-soup-thick layer of cigarette smoke (though I'm assured that far fewer people smoke now, especially younger people...which is really sad, because it feels like GAGILLIONS of people smoke, so if this is a reduced amount, yikes).
- Stepping in dog crotte on the sidewalk.
- Men urinating in public. In three months, I’ve seen four men do this. Somehow, in this very private society, peeing on the sidewalk is okay. (Yet another item that points to the contradictory nature of the French, usually in relation to their fierce independant streak--there are so many aspects about their culture and habits that are vastly contradictory in nature.)
Honestly, that's about it. It's pretty much, well, fantastic here.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
- Picking up a phenomenal, still-warm baguette on my 6pm walk home.
- Knowing that out of 100 people who take a cell phone call in public, 97 will leave the room/train car, 2 will speak so softly I cannot hear them, and the other person will be glared or stared at because everyone else knows the deal.
- Knowing I can get 50 kinds of cheeses in even the crappiest corner grocery store.
- Exchanging formal greetings with shopkeepers. (I never thought I’d say that: I hate being formal just to put on a show—how dumb—but here they’re doing it to show respect and build relationships, which I appreciate.)
- Seeing women of all makes and models and ages walking arm-in-arm on the sidewalk—oddly, I find it charming.
- Happy, well-behaved dogs. They’re *all* happy…I think it’s because they are welcome in 95% of establishments here and are thus with their owners all day long (either at work or while doing errands).
- Having long lunches with dessert and coffee. (though my waistline will not miss the twice-daily desserts)
- Appreciating the details they have put into every shirt, building, and window display. The French are all about the details. (Except for Christmas decorations: Other than street lights, their decorations are rather uninspiring.)
Disclaimer: List is not all-inclusive. All thoughts expressed are the opinion of the author, not authorized Blogger officials, who would add that they miss the stinky cheese most of all. Author reserves the right to miss things not specifically listed in this post. You, the reader, may miss other things if you visit France.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Have I mentioned recently how insanely fortunate I am to have had these 89 days?
I have LIVED IN FRANCE for three months! It was truly an amazing experience, and Rotary International and the Rotary Foundation are responsible for my time here (especially the kind folks of District 7980).
My goals as a scholar were to learn the language (as much as possible) and the culture because Rotary thinks that knowing other cultures leads to understanding amongst different peoples and peace. I could not agree more.
During my time here, I have tried to accomplish the following (and have, with various degrees of success):
- dispel any incorrect myths about Americans
- help them understand why we do some of the things we do (when possible...some things, like why we elect certain people or chose certain people as our running mates, are inexplicable)
- understand some of the reasons behind particular habits, traits, and customs of the French
- ask lots of questions so I can understand the why of their habits, traits, and customs
- be an American who is appreciative and respectful of and curious about their culture versus an oblivious American who expects the French to know English, is uninformed about the way things work in France, and all the other things that annoy Americans about foreigners on our soil
- learn as much French language as possible
- take millions of pictures and videos and copious notes and simultaneously share with everyone back home who'll listen so more people can get a taste of what France is like beyond seeing the Eiffel Tower and Sarko every once in a while on TV
Sunday, December 14, 2008
I am a huge fan of the late, great artist Alexander Calder. (I even saved my pennies in 1998 when I was making no money to fly to DC and see the huge retrospective at the National Gallery.) Calder lived and worked in Saché, France (near Tours, where I'm living) for several decades prior to his death. His studio now hosts two artists' residencies each year, allowing creators to live and work in his space and take in the same breathtaking views.
The current artist, Briton Roger Hiorns, created several interesting pieces hanging from the studio's ceiling (for similar work of his, click the link and view the first picture in the last row), but the big news was outside: a huge vat that spewed large chunks of soap foam, which, sometimes, took to the wind, like this:
I don't have Mr. Hiorns' permission to post this, so if you want to share it, please just forward the link and don't repost...that way I'll get in less trouble. I hope. Thanks.
...so I parked and walked down.
In the past two weeks I've realized that *everyone* has a Christmas market or fair, and Artannes-sur-Indre, a town of probably 2,000 people, was no exception.
Never mind that the fair covered a space half the size of a high school gymnasium, or that the commerçantes (shopkeepers) under one tent were 8-year-old girls selling bad handmade cards: Everyone was having fun, chatting with their neighbors, and taking pictures of their kids riding a tiny merry-go-round. The whole town came out to celebrate, despite the rain. The scene was similar when I arrived back in Tours.
So much for rumors that the French are unhappy...I've yet to see it. Hope you're enjoying la saison de Noël so far too.
Friday, December 12, 2008
For only the second time in three months.
This is big: The driving gene is in my Midwestern DNA and a necessity for survival out there (other than Chicago), unless someone (cough Obama cough) comes up with a much-improved intra- and interstate train system and infrastructure and community-building support for rural towns.
But back to me. I rented this little doozie (a Citroën) in Avignon and had a ball. Don't know if it was the stick shift or just being away from it for two months, but driving was *fun* again. This weekend, I'm renting (something) to meander around the Loire Valley, visit a few châteaux, and enjoy the countryside.
Come January, I'm ditching the Pathfinder.
For dummies, or pour les nuls. Neither sounds great.
One of the many brands we share: the For Dummies series of books. Seen everywhere here, but this one was found at the Château d'Amboise, where Leonardo Da Vinci lived for a spell, did some work, and was buried.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Monday, December 8, 2008
Here's a little oompha band to get you in the mood. Hum this tune as you battle rude drivers in crowded parking lots or self-absorbed pedestrians and (hopefully) you won't hurt anyone.
It was only a few hours, but they were productive. We went to the Woolworth (a throw-back, for moi, to my childhood, as they used to pepper the Midwest), where I snapped this photo. The Germans are also interested in making sure that people with bad eyesight can ready their smoking warning labels. I'll need my German-speaking friend Alex to confirm Google's translation, but their "Smoking may be deadly" is a bit softer than the French version.
While in tiny village of Kehl, I also went (bien sûr) to a bar for a German beer and a game of darts and to a tiny Christmas market in their town square.
The French in Strasbourg speak with a very different accent than that of any other region in France I've visited. I'm pretty sure I heard some German (allemand) words thrown in with the French, and the accent sounds heavily Germanic. Everything reflects their closeness to Germany, from the architecture to the Alsacian food (holy cow...really good). I love the combo.
Example: flammeküeche. You can, and should, make this at home. Now. It is easy, and you will suck it down and wonder where it's been all your life. This recipe (recette) shows you how and also features a nice picture of Strasbourg's Marché de Noël (Christmas market), which has been going strong since 1570 and is a must-do if you're in France in December. I just uploaded some photos to Flickr featuring the Christmas market, a huge Christmas celebration in nearby Nancy (also beautiful), and some other lovely items (including a flammeküeche I ate at a homey Nancy tavern that was a taxidermist's showpiece).
Here in France, I have found the next best thing, given that I don't like the burning sensation that deep-frying onions leaves on my tender hands. I can get fresh fried onions in an easy-to-pour-directly-into-my-mouth container, no less! (Can you see the spout? I can just pop and pour. I'm sure that's to make garnishing a dish easier, but my use is more fun.)
Maybe we have this in the US--I don't know. If so, I guess I'll be lobbying Stop N Shop or someone to place an order.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
I'm not sure I can get the appropriate type of almond powder when I return to the states, so my ability to re-create it may be limited. There are two kinds of macarons: one with filling, and one that has fewer steps and ingredients (but mainly uses almond powder) and comes out very differently. I like 'em all. As previously reported, I'm on a macaron tasting binge; more flavors will be added if possible in the next
The French pronounce it mahw-kuh-rhon, while us Americans (used to the double O we use in the US) keep saying mack-a-roon, which really confuses them until we point and grunt to get what we want. Charming, eh?
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Seriously, they are, uh, serious about food, and it makes for some awesome meals. Everyone here is a foodie. They care deeply about the quality of the ingredients and know the cuisine story of every region in France: These regions are best for Emmental cheese, and this city has the best sausage. They want to know in what country the beef or clementines originated; not only is it on grocery store labels, but it’s also on menus in restaurants.
In short, they have a relationship with food. Actually, they have a relationship with everything, which makes the way they relate on a day-to-day basis a bit different than the American way.
Monday, December 1, 2008
I'm sure I sound about as fluent to the French as Sarah Palin sounds to Americans. (Actually, I hope I'm doing better than she is, also too.)
But while it may be hard, it's a beautiful language, and when I get it right, it sounds simply lyrical. I could sit in a cafe all day long and listen to native speakers: Even when they're going so fast I only get every fifth word, it's poetry.
There are plenty of words you'd recognize, and some are spelled exactly the same as in English but with different pronunciations: bandit, cul-de-sac, flash, poème. Because I like lists, I've of course got a word list going. Here are my favorite entries.
PRETTIEST WORD WITH UGLIEST MEANING
poubelle [pooh-bell], or trashcan
WORDS THAT MAKE ME GIGGLE WHEN I SAY THEM
pilote [pee-lot], or pilot
bougie [boo-jhzee], or candle
nerfs [nairf], or nerves
WORDS THAT SOUND (in English) LIKE THEY MIGHT MEAN SOMETHING ELSE
toiture [twah-tour], or roof
douche [doosh], or shower
fauteuil [fooh-tai], or armchair
WORDS I SIMPLY ENJOY SAYING
oiseau [wah-zoh], or bird
muguet [moo-gay], or lily of the valley
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
- a mixed green salad with rounds slices of warm goat cheese (chèvre) covered in honey and a drizzle of fig sauce
- hare stew (yes, the thing related to a rabbit only bigger and, unfortunately, usually uglier)
- macarons (chocolate, pistachio, raspberry, violet, and rose—not kidding)
- a baguette sandwich with salami, camembert cheese, and cornichons (little gherkin pickles)
- quail (caille) in a light apricot sauce
- pain du chèvre (a flatbread with chèvre rounds, ham, and onions)
- Jarret de porc (pork shank) braised in cider
- pear cooked in red wine with cinnamon ice cream and spun sugar
- Le Grand Chocolat CELAYA (liquid Valrhona chocolate served with warm milk—here, they call hot chocolate chocolat chaud) [the adjective following, in most cases, the noun it modifies is one of the less annoying rules of the French language]
- La Tartine Bergere: tomatoes, chèvre, and pesto on a thin slice of country bread
They put butter on their sandwiches (ham and cheese, cheese, etc.). While it sounds gross, it’s awesome. As much as they love mustard, they don't seem to put it on sandwiches. Odd.
I have a different pastry every other day and a different type of chocolate biscuit every week. (Gotta try 'em all...what if The One is in the next box?) Below is a sable (about 6" x 4") from the boulangerie and pâtisserie down the block. The strawberry confiture filling is between two thin, slightly crispy sable wafers.
In this cave lies the remains an ancient Gallo-Roman ampitheatre. (Yes, another one.) Descend the first set of stairs, then down the second set (built in the Middle Ages, so practically new, by French standards) to the gravel pit where you see the arches (bottom picture, near the floor) where observers entered and exited the ampitheatre.
The walls and ceiling are all original, as are the cobblestones you see at left, which form a unique and interesting cross pattern that you can't see. The house is near the city's cathedral and was built in the 1500s to house priests.
So if I believed in the supernatural (which I don't) I'd assume I'm living with the spirits of priests and ampitheatre guests from centuries past.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
Somewhere (I have no clue--I had no map) outside Avignon, I decided to take a bunch of backroads. I saw some great stuff, but here's the winner: A man, five dogs, and dozens of sheep, leisurely making their way...somewhere. I turned a corner, and there they were. A few times, he made a motion with his walking stick or made a sound, and one of the dogs would round up a sheep who'd fallen behind. Then, they went left, and I went right. We said "bonjour" (me and the guy, not the sheep). Listen for the faint ringing of the bells around their necks.
I'm so lucky.
Note: In planning my trip, I tried to find a schedule and locations for transhumance, the biannual moving of sheep up and down the mountain. I am here in the wrong season. Somehow, the sheep gods knew and send me this little gift.