Monday, January 31, 2005

never thought I'd say this: TGIM!

Man, this weekend was torture. I don't think I've ever been so happy to see a weekend end.

Yesterday, we met at 3:00 to rehearse for the performance, which started at 6:30. We were in a small hall, maybe 200 seats, with a lovely stage with the obligatory red curtain at the back. It was the perfect size for this small show.

The Vocal Ensemble of the Conservatory (that's my group) performed with the Youth Choir of the Conservatory, both under the direction of the same professor, whom I admire very much. She is the sort of demanding director who commands respect. She expects a lot, which only makes you want to work harder, and I like that kind of mindset in my vocal directors.

Click "Tell me more" to continue!

Unfortunately, I didn't get a program, so I can't tell you what the Youth Choir sang, but here's what we did:

"April is in My Mistress' Face," Thomas Morley
"Weep, O Mine Eyes," John Bennet
"Kyrie" and "Gloria" from Messe Pour le Samedi De Paques, M.-A. Charpentier

I love, love, love to sing madrigals, so imagine my happiness in finding a director in France who loves them too! The Kyrie features a small trio imbedded in the piece, and the alto part was assigned to me. This was cause for a lot of panic on my part yesterday, as I couldn't breathe through my nose at all.

I have learned this weekend that there is no drug that can replace adreneline. Each time we stepped on stage, for those five minutes my nose was clear, I could breathe, and while I am not entirely pleased with the sound that came out, I was able to sing, and was on pitch, to boot. Then we'd leave the stage and I was back where I started.

After the concert, Steph and I picked up food from Quick (Thanks Squishy, the chicken curry sandwich is my favorite now!) and went home, and fell apart.

As for today, I slept until 11:00, I called the mom of the kids I babysit to warn her that I'm sick but I'll still be happy to pick up the kids - she declined - and now I've got to try to pick up a little around here before I allow myself to take another nap. The stuffiness is a little better today (but of course, just after I typed that, it started to stuff up again) but now my head is foggy and I've got a little cough. Luckily, we're planning a visit to the doctor this week for something else, so if the cold isn't gone by then at least I'll be able to beg for good drugs.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

in which vivi's head explodes

Seriously, is my brain melting and pouring out my nose? It simply will not stop! The damn nasal spray lasts exactly five minutes and 32 seconds, and I can only take it every three hours. I've drunk enough tea to save the Boston Tea Party a trip to the docks, my nose is so red it looks like I've tippled several bottles of champagne, and I sound like a frog.

I survived the concert last night. We only sang six songs (from the repetoire I posted a few days ago) and I got through it without honking like a goose, so that's good news.

Today is going to be more of a challenge. It's the concert at the Conservatoire, and I have a little trio to sing, in the middle of a song. However bad I felt yesterday, today is worse. There's not a damn thing I can do about it except work with what I've got, since all the pharmacies are closed on Sundays. I think adreneline got me through last night, but it's going to take a miracle to get through today. As far as I can see, the best case scenario is that my nose suddenly sees the error of its ways and dries up like a desert, and I go on as normally. The worse case scenario is that the prof tells me what I already know in the back of my head: that I have no business trying to sing with this cold and go the hell home. I'm hoping for something in between, in which I sing with the choir, but my little solo is reassigned to someone else (which is fine, I'd rather someone else sing it well than me try to sing it with a cold and sound like an idiot).

If you'll excuse me, it's time for the steam treatment...

Saturday, January 29, 2005

goodies from japan!

I did manage to crawl down the street to get my box, and it was my prize from Alex in Japan!

I was absolutely knocked over by all the stuff she managed to pack away into this box - and that's not just the cold medicine talkin' either; look!

Steph: "Are you setting up for a vide grenier?"

I had the best time going through these things and discovering all the cool stuff she sent. And as far as I can tell, the only thing that broke was the butterfly thingie, which I think can be repaired with a little wood glue. So, here's some examples of what I got:

Click "Tell me more" to continue!

If I remember well, this is candy. It seems kinda dirty, tho, doesn't it? Well, to give you an idea of size, here is the candy next to some melon-flavored condoms that managed to get shipped:

Yeah. That's candy. suuuuuuuuuure it is. *wink*

I am so so excited about getting real chopsticks (shown here, appropriately, with some wind-up sushi toys)! It's going to make eating our new recipe, Dijon Stirfry, that much more fun to eat.

Me: "Aw look, Steph, she sent something for you too eat!"
Um, Alex, are these supposed to be dried fishie snacks? 'Cause, erm.... ew. But yeah, I bet Steph will try them, since he likes sardines and anchovies and stuff.

The calandar (on the left) is so gorgeous I almost don't want to use it, as it requires ripping off the previous pages to hang it up. Although, I could save the paper to make some kind of thing with the pictures....
Also, there's a beautiful tin, adorable shoes, and the picture thing folds in half to make a sort of purse. Lovely.

I'm assuming these are origami. I'm not sure if I have the patience to make origami. But maybe one of these days when I'm feeling artsy-fartsy I'll try.

I am totally in love with my new change purse!!

Alex? How does one go about eating these?

And last but not least:

I have my very own tiny zen garden! How cool is that?

This was so exciting, I have to tell you. This was the inspiration for starting the blog exchange, so Alex, thank you many many times over, you are one in a million. And I mean that. ;)

Friday, January 28, 2005

the bad news and the good news

The bad news is that Steph brought back from the pharmacie a nasal spray. I hate nasal sprays. I can breathe now, but I still feel like crap.

The good news is that I got a note in my mailbox that I have a package for me at the post office! Could it be from Japan? I will try to crawl to the post office soon to see.

Someone pointed out that it seems like the Blog Exchange is only for ex-pats. Not at all! You don't have to be away from your home country to participate. In fact, many ex-pats are expressing interest in items from home (wherever their home might be) and for helping out an ex-pat, you'll get some cool goodies in return.

just my luck

I'm sick again. Stuffy nose, sore throat, yadda yadda yadda. Except I have to sing tomorrow and Sunday night. I swear it never fails. Steph is on his way to the pharmacie for me, so hopefully I can knock this out quick. I'd give anything for a bottle of NyQuil right about now.

Speaking of Steph, he so completely grossed me out last night. He's been suffering from tooth problems - in fact, he's been seeing the dentist every week for months now. Instead of the dentist setting aside a couple of hours to completely rework teeth, she sees him about a half hour at a time. The most amazing thing is, insurance covered 100% of all the work done so far. Absolutely amazing to me! But last night, he decided to do a little surgery on his own. One of his teeth had broken again, so he ripped the offending piece out of his gums and showed it to me, in all its bloody glory. He feels better but I've got the heebie-jeebies.

Meanwhile, it seems the Blog Exchange is off and running to a fine start. If I counted well, nine different countries are already represented. This is gonna be fun!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

maybe it's time for plan b

Last week I was turned down for a(nother) job teaching English, as I have no teaching experience. This bothered me mostly because of the age-old saying, "how can I get experience without a job?" I mean, I'm half-way there, being fluent in the language and all.

So, we've had to do a little reevaluating around here. Clearly the biggest stumbling block right now is not being anywhere near proficient in French. The government offers free French courses for immigrants, but those who have completed a university-level degree do not qualify. I guess the thinking here is, well you managed to get through college, surely a pesky little language shouldn't be too difficult. We're not suffering living on one salary, but you may have noticed that we're not traveling or going out like we did five months ago, and the expense of French courses just aren't in the budget right now. When it comes to learning French, I've just been winging it.

Click "Tell me more" to continue.

Don't get me wrong. The best thing I've done is join not one but two choirs. This forces me to use French, and the job I was turned down for last week? It was a tip from someone in one of the choirs. They are marvelous for networking.

Steph has been half-joking about my looking for work in Paris, and commuting on the train, which is not at all unheard of around here. As exciting as that sounds, I can't help but feel that surely Anglephones in Paris are a dime a dozen, aren't they? Even if we do decide to go down that path, my French needs quite a boost first.

In the meantime, it's back to my CE2 (for 8-9 year olds) French grammar books to practice my French...

I forgot to mention in my non-post yesterday that more photos have been added to the photoblog. Also, the cool audience participation thingie? Plans are moving along between me and my blogger-in-crime. Watch this space!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

this is not a real post

Today it's a lovely 59F degrees. In my apartment. Seriously, my fingertips are turning blue. It seems the proprietors either have the radiators set way too high when it's warm and way too low when it's actually cold. I am really not looking forward to walking across town this afternoon to pick up the kids I babysit.

There is something brewing that will appear on this blog very soon I think that will be very cool and will involve audience participation and will be a cooridinated effort with another blogger and I am really excited about it. That being said, can someone explain to me how to do the "hide the post" thingie so it doesn't take up too much space? I tend to ramble on anyway, so this might be a handy tool for me to use.

letters! we have letters!

Proko left this interesting question in my comments box the other day:

I have a quizz for you.

I've just discover a crockpot recipe to use with
Italian sausages. Since I don't know what exact
kind these are, I've used this recipe with
common-found-in-France 'chair à saucisse'
(sausage stuffing). The result was good indeed,
but still, I'm wondering what it would taste like
with real Italian sausage as you can find in the
US. Could you tell me, among the kind of sausages
we can find here, what is the one closest to
Italian sausage ?

Thanks !

I have to confess that I am not exactly a sausage lover. I would throw a fit if the main dish was kielbasa, which I'm sure had my Polish ancestors turning in their graves, and I always picked out the Italian sausage in my tomato sauce (which my Italian grandfather still calls gravy), much to the dismay of the Italian side of the family. So I'm not exactly your go-to-gal on this particular subject.

Therefore, I'm opening this subject up to my fellow Americans in France. If you're looking for something close to Italian sausage (as we know it in the states, anyway) in France, what would you choose?

Monday, January 24, 2005

vivi's first concert

Last night was the first concert with choir #2. Honestly, after our final rehearsal last Wednesday, I was a little worried, but thanks to the universal superstition, a bad dress rehearsal did indeed make a great openning night.

We sang in a small church in Troyes, and like all the others is made of stone and it was unbelieveably cold upon arrival. Luckily, there was a heating vent going full speed at the back (one of my cronies accidentally did a "Marilyn Monroe" by standing on top of it) and once the place filled up it really wasn't that bad, except there's nothing you can do to keep your feet warm.

First to perform was a huge youth choir called Petits Chanteurs de Champagne (Little Singers of Champagne - remember, it's not just a tasty drink, it's where we live!). If I had to guess, I'd say they ranged in age from ten up through high school. They produced a fantastic sound. For me, the highlight was the last song, when a quartet sang a "call and response" with the choir from the back of the church. The accoustics were perfect for this, and it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It occurred to me that we were all singing songs in the setting in which they were meant to be heard, and that sudden illumination still has a profound impact on me.

Then the twelve of us (including our director) took the stage. The ladies were tres chic in our long black skirts, white blouses, and black jackets, and the men were very dapper in their black suits complete with formal black bow ties. I know some of my musically inclined friends will be interested to know what we sang, so here's our set list (I'm so rock-n-roll), all sang in their original languages as noted:

Razboinica (traditional Russian hymn)
Cantate Domino, Hans Leo Hassler (Latin)
Ave Maria, Mozart (Latin)
Ecco Quel Fiero Istante, from Nocturnes, Mozart (Italian)
Mi Lagnero Tacendo, from Nocturnes, Mozart (Italian)
Wie Kann Ich Froh Und Lustig Sein?, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (German)
Abschiedslied der Zugvogel, Hoffmann von Fallersleben (German)
Zigeunerleben, Robert Schumann (German)
La Carita, Gioacchino Rossini (Italian)

This repetoire has been something of a challenge to me, as I hadn't sung any of these before. At least I had heard Mozart's Ave Maria before, but that was it. So, it's been a stressful month to try to get these under my belt. I've had a real hell of a time trying to learn the German ones, as German does not fall trippingly off this tongue. Zigeunerleben was especially hard for me, because it is both fast and German. I don't like the be the singer on stage with her nose buried in her music, but that was me during the German ones.

The finale with the Petits Chantuers was Cantique de Jean Racine by Gabriel Faure. I have a very long history with this piece of music. I first learned it when I was 16 for the occassion of my high school choir singing in Paris. We learned it in the original French, and while I know now our pronounciation wasn't so hot, I think we did rather well with it. It has since become a favorite of mine, and I sang it again with my church back home in English, and now full circle. Last night was fantastic, with such a huge choir, it was hard to stay in the moment, when I thought of my first performance of this song in France all the way to now, suddenly all the stress of the last week fell away and I felt that everything is going to be ok, because in some surreal way the universe and Faure have been conspiring to get me to this point all along.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

cookin' with gas

I was really intimated in the beginning at the prospect of having to cook on a regular basis for French people. I lived on a staple of microwavable dinners and Hamburger Helper in my single life and the idea of cooking an actual piece of meat without microwaveable directions had me all a flutter. On top of that is the fact that we don't know it as "Paris Cuisine," but as "French Cuisine." It seems everyone here instinctively knows their way around a kitchen.

So yeah, in the beginning, it was a little rough, but now I've grown comfortable with some standards and I'm ready to expand a bit. When we get tired of the same old thing, Steph usually makes a suggestion for a new dish and I do my best to recreate it. We've had some suprising success with this. In fact, he complimented me the other day by telling me that he thinks I may have surpassed him in the actual cooking department, as I seem to have found the delicate balance between food being under/over cooked. (High praise from a Frenchman, indeed!)

For stocking up the freezer, about once every other month or so, we visit the butcher at Ed, which is a discount grocery like Lidl and Aldi, so I don't really like to shop there for everyday stuff, but their butcher is excellent. They have a great package of a variety of fresh cut meat for around 30€. You get a kilo of steaks, a kilo of pork chops, a kilo of sausage (the house sausage and marguez), a generous portion of pate, and this stuff:

That's about half a kilo right there. Looks like bacon, doesn't it? Well, it would be bacon, if it were cured like bacon. But this is plain old pork. Since we cook a lot with lardons we thought we could just chop it up in little pieces and carry on. Oooooooh no you don't. Since I don't think the proprietor of the apartment would appreciate me adding a smokehouse on to the side, we had to come up with another solution of how to eat these things.

The first thing we tried was smothering them in mustard and cooking them in a skillet. This came out tasty, almost like mustard-base BBQ from back home, but awfully fatty.

The next idea was a winner: Steph suggested cutting off all the fat and cooking it up with some onions and serve over rice. I mixed the meat up with a secret sauce and voila! Dijon Stirfry (oops I think I gave away the secret)!

Friday, January 21, 2005

vivi and squishy do pere lachaise, part deux

We were five minutes too late. We were locked in.

Squishy and I looked at each other. Then we looked over the wall. Nope, too far to jump. Huh.

We tried to hightail it to the next entrance. After walking for two days, this was getting to be something of a painful task. Poor Squishy was limping mightily. As for me, I was Not. Going. To Panic. We followed the outside wall of the cemetary to get to the next entrance (which I believe is the main entrance; the one you see when you click here). That gate was firmly closed too. The guard was probably half way home.

Hoo boy.

Squishy stopped to look at the map. I walked up the avenue.

"Where are you going?" she called.

"I see cars parked! Surely they can't stay overnight!"

We wobbled up the avenue to the next intersection. Cars were parked all along this road. Off to the right, a guard was yelling out at somebody. It looked suspiciously like cars leaving. We hobbled in that direction.

There was a gate, still open. FREEDOM!

As we walked by the guard, I said, "Desole!"

"Pourquoi?" he asked.

"On est en tard!" I replied.

He looked at his watch. "C'est pas mauvais," he answered.

I looked at my watch as we sailed out the exit. Don't ask me how, but we managed to get to this entrance in less than three minutes.

we interrupt this story for real life

I had a... challenging day yesterday. I wrote a blistering post about it, but Blogger was hiccuping, so I saved it for today. I just read it again, and well, I wanted to slap myself and tell myself to get over it, it was so whiney.

I know I'll be alone in this, but I'd like to thank Blogger for hiccuping last night, which saved me from posting another boo-hoo about learning French, finding a job, and not being a size 8. Honestly, I'm rolling my eyes at my own reflection. Today is another day, and it's time to get on with it.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of "Vivi and Squishy do Pere Lachaise."

That sounds a bit kinky, doesn't it?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

ViVi and Squishy do Pere Lachaise

It was just after 4:00 when we arrived to the gates of Pere Lachaise. Not really having a list of tombs we wanted to see, we glanced at a map, decided we go say hi to Jim (come on, you know who I'm talkin' about) and then wander around and take some pictures. I did want to end up at the columbarium to see the two hands that Auntie M posted once, but other than that, no real plan. Oh, and we had about an hour and a half. No pressure!

So we're wandering to the general area of Jim's final place of rest, and a crazy looking guy walked by us. He seemed to be in a bit of a hurry.

"Jeem Mooreesohn? You want to see Jeem Mooreesohn?"

Er, yeah, actually. So we followed him. I'm kind of glad we did, because, while I had a general idea of where Jim was, I'm not sure we would have found him alone. He really is tucked in a corner.

The bust that sat on his grave was stolen about eight years ago. There are also chunks missing from the front of the tomb, where people have chipped away a piece for a momento. Now there are barracades and a guard on duty at all times. And they love this job. (Not.)

Now, here is where we should have dumped the wacky tour guide, but I stuck my foot in it, big time. He asked if we wanted to see some of the other luminaries: Wilde, Moliere, etc.

"Well, I would like to see the columbarium, please."

"Ah! The columbarium! Yes, you want to see the BBQ! OK! Follow me!"

And off he went.

Suddenly I realized we weren't going anywhere near the columbarium. He decided to take us the long way. And while we did see some interesting things, and learn some interesting facts (all of which can be quickly found by looking around google, so I won't bore you with them here), the light was quickly fading.

On the way, we saw Moliere, Oscar Wilde, and this guy:

Victor Noir was shot dead at the age of 22, the day before his wedding. The legend says that rubbing his extra-large groin area brings good orgasms, while rubbing one foot will bring you a child, and rubbing both feet will bring you twins. I rubbed something, but I'm not telling what.

We were finally approaching the columbarium, but the light was really fading fast. We flew through the lower level of the columbarium, stopping to see a few famous names, but we were both getting really antsy.

Finally I said, "Look, do you know where the hands are or not?" He looked a little dumbfounded and just nodded and took us straight there.

So, I finally got my picture:

We emptied our pockets and handed over whatever cash we had (which only totalled about 10€) and lost the guy. We had fifteen minutes before the cemetary closed.

Squishy had a specific photo in mind, and off we went to find it. I did manage to take a few photos as we skulked across the cemetary.

Squishy found her photo, and off we raced to the exit.

We were five minutes too late. We were locked in.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

why i love my husband

Him: So Thursday we'll go shopping for the clothes you need for the concert.

Me: OK. I'm just a little nervous that I won't find anything in my size, 'cause, you know... I'm fat.

Him: Where?!

It should be duly noted that, unlike some size 6 girls who gain 2 pounds an immediately cry "I'm fat!" and you don't know what the hell they're talking about because either a) they look exactly the same or b) they have indeed gained two pounds and actually look better for it, I am, indeed, fat. Making this story even more gooey and pukey. Tee hee.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Dining in the Latin Quarter

After a day of wandering around Paris, lugging around ungainly luggage and climbing all over the Eiffel Tower, Squishy and I felt like we deserved something of an interesting dinner. Since we were heading to Shakespeare and Co. anyway, we thought we'd poke around the Latin Quarter to find some grub.

The narrow lanes that make up the Latin Quarter are now stuffed to the gills with souvenir shops and ethnic restaurants, with doormen cajoling passersby to dine in their establishment. Since all restaurants are required to post a menu outside, if you so much as pause in front of a menu, the doorman immediately jumps on you to tell you how wonderful you are and how fantastic his menu is. We found ourselves in front of a Greek restaurant called Mythos, and enticed by the menu and the promise of a free kir, we shrugged and went inside. The doorman celebrated by tossing a saucer on the ground. "It's tradition!" he explained. The cobblestones in front of the door were already littered with a handful of broken saucers.

We were the first diners of the evening, but our waiter was quick to explain that it's always a bit slow before 8:00 (it was about 15 minutes before) and soon the live music would start. We sipped our kirs and poured over the menu.

The ambiance of this little place was fantastic - the low ceiling was packed with herbs hanging down, and once the music started - one guy on a traditional Bouzouki accompanied by another on guitar - the place came alive, with the waitstaff singing and clapping along.

Our appetizers were tremendous; my tzatziki was oustanding, and Squishy had a sampler of different Greek sauces. A few more people started to arrive as our main dishes arrived. My beef kabob was perfect, and Squishy's lamb was so tender she could cut it with a fork. We washed it all down with Greek beer.

Meanwhile, the action outside is starting to heat up. It seems the Greek place across the lane is in hot competition with our guy out front. The door swings open to invite passersby in as the musicians smile and animate themselves, until the door is unceremoniously slammed back shut and the musicians turn their attention back to the diners. Stacks of saucers are brought up to the door from the kitchen, and every once in a while there is a resounding crash! as another saucer bites the dust.

Back inside, a woman is dancing along with the music. This seems to be her only job; I never saw her lift a finger, other than to bring a cigarette to her lips. She looks just slightly bored, in fact. But things are about to get a bit more interesting.

An American woman who was dining with her teenaged son was invited to join the dancing lady on the "dance floor" (a small area in front of the bar), and suddenly it became clear that we would have to join her - our desserts were held ransom. Squishy and I looked each other in the eye, and smirks appeared. Yeah, we'll play your games, Mr. Greek, you just hang on to that Baklava!

After an intermidably long song, during which American Woman lost all sense of propriety and rushed out the door to tell passersby what fun she was having, Squishy was attacked by the Dancing Lady. I was about to go back to the table when I noticed they had locked arms and Dancing Lady was motioning me to do the same with Squishy. Uh oh. I know what this means. I locked my other arm with American Woman, and off we went, starting off slowly, and finally increasing with such speed that American Woman had to drop out and I ended up dizzy and sweaty.

We fumbled our way back to our table where I was awarded with my Baklava and Squishy enjoyed her yogurt and honey.

My only complaint about the whole thing is that they were overly reluctant to let us leave. They tried to ply us with more drinks if we'd only dance one more time, but after two hours (which, admittedly, is the normal amount of dining out) we were ready to head on. Though our waiter teased us (Him:"Why won't you stay?" Me: "We have somewhere to go!" Him: "WHERE?!") and the place really was just beginning to rock, we got a little annoyed that it took someone fifteen minutes to come run my card after we'd received the check.

So, yeah, Mythos, Latin Quarter, highly recommended. Oh - and if you live in Paris, I should tell you that I was pleasantly surprised to find a few natives lurking around, so don't be put off by the tourists dominating the Latin Quarter - it can't be that bad if we found a few French eating there!

Monday, January 17, 2005

tranquil weekend

It was a nice, calm weekend. Saturday we did a little shopping and after dinner we met some friends downtown for a drink. Eric presented me with a dvd of the first season of The West Wing ("A La Maison Blanche" here in France) which had me bouncing up and down like a fool, and I had an interesting conversation with Christophane, who, while "practicing his English" on me, told me that he feels that the French are lazy and are always on vacation or on strike. I countered that I feel that Americans work too hard and when they are on vacation, rush through the little time they have so fast to "make the most of their vacation" that they come back more tired than when they left. Too bad they can't meet in the middle, eh?

Yesterday was a very lazy day. I lolled about reading a book (oh sweet luxury, reading all day knowing I don't have to make this book last!) and watching the first four episodes of The West Wing.

Apparently, Squishy took all the warm back to the states, because the very next day the temperature dropped, and it hasn't gotten over 40 degrees since. Which is fine; I prefer that winter actually feel like winter, instead of the freakish "Global Warming? Wha?" thing that was happening the last couple of weeks. Although it was nice while doing touristy things.

Anyway, I do intend to blog about a couple of things that happened in Paris, particularly the story of the Greek restaurant and the wacky tour guide from Pere Lachaise, but the apartment is in desperate need of attention. In the meantime, the pictures from the Musuem of the Middle Ages are up on the Photoblog, and to intice you, here's a sneak peek:

These heads were once on statues that graced Notre Dame de Paris, to give you an idea of how huge they are.

Friday, January 14, 2005

stop the presses!

We interrupt stories from Paris to give you this late breaking news: ViVi has received a box!

I received in the mailbox this morning a notice that said that I had a package waiting for me at the post office down the street. I knew it could be one of two things: a package from Carrie in Boston full of books, or my prize from Japan. So, this afternoon, Steph and I wandered down to the post office to see what it was.

Turns out it was a ginormous bag from Boston! Steph slung it over his shoulder and we laughed about looking like bank robbers waltzing down the street.

How excited am I that Carrie sent me twenty-four books?! This will last me at least, oh, a month? (kidding. slightly.)

Oh, and the little envelopes in the front? Those are cards and envelopes that Carrie decorated herself with a Japanese silk screening machine and they are unbelieveably beautiful. I would love to show you a close up, but it's, you know, our names and address and stuff. But you would be stunned by how amazingly gorgeous they are.

Thank you thank you thank you, my beautiful angel in Boston!

And as soon as I receive a package from Japan, you know I'll show you all the goodies that the very fabulous Alex sent me!

vivi and squishy do paris

After three days of frenzied tourism, I am back, and Squishy should be safe in her bed back in the states by now. I've got over 60 pictures in my camera to wade through, and plenty of stories to bore you with about all the stuff we did. Instead of one long windy post, I'll do a synopsis, and will expand on a lot of these in the next few days. So, without further ado, Dispatches From France presents What I Did on My Parisian Vacation:

  • Arrived by train to Gare de l'Est. Struggled through two metro stops to our hostel in the 12 arrondessment
  • A Little Research Goes A Long Way: found out the hard way that the Catacombs are closed until May and the Museum of the Middle Ages is closed on Tuesdays
  • Spent two hours playing on the Eiffel Tower; discovered batteries in camera are dead and will have to wait for nighttime to recharge
  • Back to the hostel, dragged the luggage up four flights of stairs (there's a reason it's called a YOUTH hostel)
  • Dinner in "Little Athens" aka the Latin Quarter
  • Picked up a couple of books at Shakespeare and Co.
  • Moseyed over to the Hotel de Ville to gawk at the neon before heading back to the hostel
  • Stayed up late chatting with Mark (Boston), Nik (most recently London), Kate (Oz) and Alex (New Zealand) before retiring to our room, shared by an Argentinian and a Taiwanese
  • After a breakfast of hard rolls and cafe au lait, head back out into the world
  • Spent a couple of hours at National Museum of the Middle Ages, home of The Lady and the Unicorn, dodging school groups at every turn
  • Back to the Latin Quarter to eat lunch at "Au Bon Couscous," where we didn't eat couscous
  • Visited the very interesting archeological crypt at Notre Dame
  • Scooted up to Pere Lachaise, where we were dragged around by a very strange tour guide and were nearly locked in
  • looked at the funky fountains at the Pompidou Center and popped inside for a quick meal at the cafe on the first floor
  • took our time heading back to the hostel, where Squishy repacked and I hung out with the aforementioned folks whilst sipping on a beer bought from a coke machine since the shop on the corner was closed before heading up to find two new roommates, both from Japan

  • dragged all our luggage down to the "secure luggage room" (the basement), as we had to be out of the room by 10am
  • window shopped around the 12th before meeting Auntie M and Jason for an early lunch (which was really really lovely - thanks for coming over you two!)
  • Having learned from our mistakes, we'd hired a taxi to come take us to the airport
  • While waiting for Squishy to check in, asked a nearby security guy (in French, thankyouverymuch) how to get to the train, who in turn asked how much blue jeans are in the states (I said $30 - $40, but really, hell if I know)
  • Hugged on Squishy (that'll be Southern for "embraced warmly") and wished her a safe trip, and headed on to the train, back to Gare de l'est, and made it in time for the 3:15 back to Troyes
I'm very sorry to report that we didn't do any shopping for the soldes, as we were far too into tourist mode to try to tackle hoards of fighting women over shoes. Sorry I let you down, Coquette.

More details and pictures to come....

Monday, January 10, 2005

the return of squishy

Squishy came back last night from roaming the countryside, and had loads of stories of visiting cool places and pictures. She hasn't uploaded them yet, but you can get her take on New Year's Eve by visiting her blog, A Blythe Epiphany.

We all headed over to the in-laws' for a dinner of escargot (miam miam! as they say here) and rabbit stew, and had a good little visit.

Today, Steph's back to work, and Squishy and I headed over the Intermarche to pick up some lunch and dinner, and she picked up a few more little thingies to take back with her, like chocolates and candies. We're gonna have an interesting time shoving stuff into her suitcases tonight!

We made an awesome salad for lunch, which has totally inspired me to do more in the salad realm. We've been more of a meat and potatoes kind of household, and I am really starting to feel the effects. I'm determined to start eating healthier this year!

This afternoon we'll wander around town a little bit before going to get the kids. Then early tomorrow, we're heading into Paris for a couple of days, before Squishy heads back to the states (sniff!). I'm looking forward to giving my camera a little more exercise, and I hope the weather holds - it's gorgeous here today, with sunny skies and mild temperatures. I'll be back Thursday just in time for choir rehearsal, so I'll be blogging again on Friday.

So! Have a great week everybody, and I'll be regaling you with more stories of Paris very soon!

Sunday, January 09, 2005

gone to carolina in my mind

I found this photoblog today. It's everything I miss (well, after the people, obviously) about the Carolinas. For some reason, this picture hit me particularly hard, even more than the gorgeous pictures of the Blue Ridge mountains:

It's on Hwy 194 in the community of Matney. The sign over the door reads, "Matney Mall." Yes friends, it ain't the big city, but by golly the sense of humor is just as powerful.

If you'd like a peek of the Carolinas I miss, please visit the wonderful Blue Ridge blog.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

silly conversations that happen in my head, vol 1

Why, hello there. Can I give you a lift?

Thanks awfully, but I have my sleigh. Ciao!

See more new photos added to my Photoblog today!

my brain hurts

Yesterday afternoon, we went back to the prefecture again, and got the sticker placed in my passport (titre de sejour) that says I can live and work here. Now I'm good until September, when we'll have to go back and have it renewed again for one year. After that, I have the option of having it renewed for ten years, or applying for French citizenship. As I've been told that applying for French citizenship means relinquishing my American citizenship, I'll be opting for the ten year plan, but that's not for another year and a half, so right now I'm more preoccupied with looking for work.

I've had the right to work since I got here - well since two days after I got here when we started the titre de sejour process - but it's been very slow going. Obviously the thing holding me up is the fact that I'm not fluent in French (yet, she added hopefully). I've applied to two companies, one of which didn't even bother to send back a rejection letter. The next step is to register with an employment agency.

Unfortunately, I'm growing more and more frustrated with my poor French and not really knowing what's going on around me, despite the encouragement I get from my extended family and those I communicate with regularly in the two choirs I sing in. If you've never been in this situation, it may sound ridiculous, but just sitting in a room where people are speaking a different language and you're struggling to understand and always having to be "on" is extremely exhausting. It seems like I'm always tired, and I'm constantly asking myself, "Why? I haven't really done anything today." Unless you count sitting through a two hour rehearsal and trying to understand instructions of upcoming rehearsals and details about upcoming concerts. I'm finding myself turning my brain "off" (meaning, letting my mind wander or not concentrating so hard) more and more in the middle of conversations, which I hate because, not only is it rude, it's dangerous, since I could be missing important information.

Oh, please, understand, I'm not complaining (well, trying not to). I know it's going to get better. Conversation is becoming slightly easier. I'm making a more concentrated effort to study more. I really need a break. Luckily, Squishy is coming back tomorrow from her travels in the country, and I can rattle off in English as fast as I like for a couple of days. I can't even tell you how fantastic it was to have her here last weekend, not only to catch up with one of my dearest friends, but I felt so much better having let my brain relax for a change!

Thursday, January 06, 2005

if i see one more galette de roi...

...I'm sure I will be sick. I'm sure I've eaten the equivilent of two whole galettes over the course of the last week.

Galettes de roi (King cakes) are traditionally eaten on Epiphany, which falls on January 6. The cake is cut up and everyone receives a slice. Whoever finds the fève (favor) baked inside is the king/queen and gets to wear the paper crown (think old-school Burger King crowns for the full effect). It's a flaky, sweet cake, and comes is a variety of styles including filled with creme or fruit, but usually just plain flaky sweet goodness.

We bought one Saturday from the boulangerie (which was amazingly open all New Year's Day) so Squishy could participate in this ritual - woo! she won! Then we went to my in-laws' on Sunday for coffee and had another one (where my two youngest nieces joined in - one of them would take a slice, open it up, find it empty, and try to exchange it). Monday night found me at choir rehearsal and toasting in the New Year with another one. Yesterday we picked one up at the grocery since they were already on sale. Steph and I had a piece for a snack. Then I went to practice some music at the home of another choir member and we had yet another one (I finally won a favor last night). By the time I was finishing up that slice I was practically choking on it. I know fully understand the phrase "too much of a good thing."

Speaking of food, however, I do need to mention and publicly thank Squishy for all the American junk food she brought me! This week I've been gorging on peanut butter, Velveeta shells & cheese, and POPCORN (oooh how I missed your sweet buttery kernels!). She even brought me peanut m&m's, which was so thoughtful, even though we have them here. She even remembered my wish for a green bean casserole for Thanksgiving and brought me some fried onions and cream of mushroom soup (reckon they'll keep for November? No? Guess I'll have to make that soon! bwahahahahha).

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

new year's eve revisited, part two

So, it's 8:00 on New Year's Eve, we've been walking around all day (and really starting to feel it), and we've still got four hours to kill before midnight. We all agreed that it would be nice to jump on one of the boats that tour the Seine, which would be interesting and relaxing at the same time, and we had seen a dock for the boat tour very close to Notre Dame, so we headed back to Ile de Paris by metro.

About 45 minutes later, we found the tour stop, all closed up. We figured from the sign that the tour was still running, since it was a holiday (and indeed, we watched boat after boat pass us on the Seine), but it was only running from the Eiffel Tower. Since that was our final destination anyway, we trudged on to the next metro stop.

By this time the metro was really starting to get crowded (helped, no doubt, by the fact that the metro had been free all evening and would be free until noon the next day). It seemed everyone was heading in the direction of the Eiffel Tower.

When we got to our stop, we headed back to the Seine, and took the steps down to where all the boats dock, and walked in the direction of the Tower. There were plenty of party boats and restaurant boats docked, but no river tour boats. By the time we arrived to the Eiffel Tower, it seemed clear that we'd have to kiss our boat ride goodbye.

But the people! I can't remember the last time I saw a crowd like this! They were all over the place! It was 10:30, and people where already lining the streets, gathering on sidewalks, and the steps of local buildings were packed with people. Strangely enough, the area across the street from the tower, down by the water, had no people sitting there. We couldn't figure out why, and we thought that it would be a cool place to sit and watch the Tower, so we slowly made our way across the bridge and down the steps to the water.

So, this was our vantage point:

Not bad, eh?

It felt so good to sit down I could have cried. It was pretty cold, and sitting on cold stone didn't help, but we passed the time taking pictures and watching fireworks go off around us - it seemed everyone had a roman candle they were shooting off. People were setting off fireworks under the Tower and when they exploded they were so loud, they sounded like cannons. Boats would go by and people would wave and scream at the crowds.

Finally at midnight, the Tower went all sparkly again, and the crowds went wild. Steph popped the cork of the champagne (right into the Seine, I might add), roman candles and whizbangs went off all around us, and we saw really big fireworks off in the distance - the big ones were going off at (I think) Place de la Concorde. After 10 minutes, the Eiffel Tower went dark - we think in tribute to the victims of the tsunami (anyone know for sure?).

With the Tower dark, the pictures taken, and numb toes, it was time to head back to the car. This was to be another adventure in and of itself. We arrived to the first metro stop, and there were easily five hundred people crowding around the entrance, trying to get in. After a couple of guys next us decided to walk on to the next stop, we decided to do the same thing. When we arrived to the next stop, it was not so crowded, but there were still security guards trying to prevent the crowds from going up to the platform, as it was already full. When we were finally released to go up to the platform, we literally watched five trains go by us, packed to the gills. Three Japanese tourists literally crammed themselves into a car, to the horror of the other passengers. The last guy's coat got caught in the door. It was nearly his head.

Finally a car stopped in front of us that Steph thought we could fit into. We climbed on, and it was so crowded I didn't even need the pole for balance. Squishy made friends with the Italians, Argentinian and Turk while we all laughed at the little girl who, when the train had been sitting a minute too long at the next station, exclaimed in French, "So is the train going? Yes or no?!"

We fell out of the train at Place d'Italie at 2am. We got home just after 4am. I slept in the car. Squishy didn't.

That's it! You've got the whole scoop now. More stories of having Squishy in town are forthcoming, plus pictures are slowly being added to the photoblog.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

new year's eve revisited

Man, the last few days have been crazy! I've got tons of things to blog about, but for now let's go to the way-back machine to last friday...

(To get the full effect of how insane our day was, find a good map of Paris and follow along!)

Steph and I arrived at Charles de Gaulle at 9am, which ended up being perfect, as Squishy was just emerging from baggage claim. From there we drove to Place d'Italie, figuring that parking as far south in Paris as possible would save us some time after midnight. From there we jumped on the metro and headed to Notre Dame de Paris. We passed an American Dixieland jazz band playing in the middle of the street (now that was head-swiveling!), took some pictures of the back of Notre Dame and walked around to the chaos that was the courtyard in front. The line to go in easily covered the whole courtyard (Steph said that the line to get in Notre Dame must have met the line going up the Eiffel Tower!) so we decided to look for some lunch.

We walked across the river, stopping to buy some postcards from the bouquinists, when Squishy said the most beautiful thing: "Look, it's Shakespeare and Co.!" We walked in to the famous English-book store and my brain went into overdrive. Seriously. There was so many books (oh man, soooo many), all in English, I couldn't process the information! I finally chose one, with the idea to be better prepared when Squishy and I return to Paris next week, and we moved on.

We ate at the cafe on the corner, and made ready for our next plan of attack. From there we strolled through Ile de St. Louis and then doubled back to head to the the Louvre by way of La Marais. On the way, we stopped for Squishy to buy her very own Parisien scarf.

Unfortunately, we only had an hour in the Louvre, as they were closing at 5:00 for New Year's, and we didn't make it to the Mona Lisa, but we got awfully close (I think Squishy and I may try again next week).

The next point of interest on Squishy's list was Montemarte and Sacre Coeur, so we jumped on the metro and stopped first to look at the lights on the Galleries Lafayette, which really were gorgeous. Then it was back on the metro to do a little mountain climbing.

We climbed the three insanely steep sets of stairs to get up to Sacre Coeur, to be rewarded with seeing the Eiffel Tower go all sparkly at 7:00 (which it does every hour on the hour after dark for ten minutes). Then we went into Sacre Coeur. Mass was in progress, but it is not unusual (especially in the bigger cathedrals and basillicas) for people to continue to walk around the perimeter while mass goes on - either to do the Stations of the Cross or to simply look. Squishy walked around and took it all in while Steph and I took advantage of the opportunity to sit down for a few minutes.

On our way back to the metro, we stopped in a Champion grocery for a bottle of champagne to pop at midnight. Unfortunately, everyone else was doing their last minute shopping too, so that held us up for a little bit. By this time it was getting to be dinner time, so we stopped in at the local Quick to grab a bite to eat.

At this point, all of us were getting to be a bit worse for the wear. Instead of crawling under the booths for a nap, we decided to see if we could get on one of the boats touring the Seine, which was be Something to Do and relaxing at the same time.

Uh-oh! It seems our heroes are getting tired fast, and it's still four hours to midnight! Will they catch the boat? Will they make it through the festivities unscathed? And how the hell are they going to get home? Tune in next time, for "New Year's Eve Revisited, part two!"

Saturday, January 01, 2005

we all made it in one piece

Happy New Year everybody! I'm happy to report that we made it back from Paris all in one piece, although it was nearly twenty-four hours after Steph and I started out, so we're still a little pooped. Squishy will be with us until Monday, when she goes to visit friends in the countryside, so I probably won't post too much until next week, but I have tons of stuff to share with you - we managed to do quite a lot in one day (my aching hips and knees and back can you tell all about that) and I took a lot of pictures, which I have to go through and make ready to add to the photoblog.

I also found out this morning (er, it's not exactly morning, is it?) that I've been named a finalist for Best New Blog over at the Best of Blog Awards! Again, I want to thank those of you that nominated me, and to the jury for choosing my little outpost on the interweb. If you would like to check out some really cool blogs, or even throw my name in the ballot box (voting begins today), please follow the links.

I hope everyone has a nice, relaxing New Year's Day, and I'll be catching up with posting and emailing very soon!