Wednesday, August 31, 2005

vivi's first year in france

It was one year ago today that I stumbled off a plane in Paris with my newly-minted husband and began my life as an immigrant.

Naturally, I celebrated by going to the gynecologist.

More about that in another post. In retrospect, I suppose this year has passed rather quickly, though I didn't realize it at the time. I kind of feel I'm no better off than when I started, but Steph assures me that I'm doing better than I think I am. Seeing the doctor alone this morning and holding my own in a conversation is not something I could have done last year, that's for sure. I've come a long way, but I still feel like I have a long way to go. I'm so looking forward to the time when I'm past this awkward learning phase and I can look back and laugh about how hard and frustrating it was, but I'm not there yet.

Obviously, the hardest thing I've endured all year was losing my mother in May. I knew from the outset that being so far away from family would be the most difficult aspect of this journey, but I never imagined something like this would happen so soon after my departure. All I can do is take comfort in the fact that she at least knew and genuinely liked my husband, and she knew how happy I was. It's small comfort, but it's something.

As for Franco-American relations, I can happily report that everything is going just fine. Any frustrations I feel are those I put on myself - I'm not patient and I want to speak fluently now, but I don't feel too much pressure from outside sources. What I predicted a year ago has come to fruition: I have always known that for the rest of my life, I would be Steph's "American wife," and that suits me just fine. I kind of like the fact that it gives me a pass to ask questions that others take for granted. I don't feel pressure to conform, or "be more French," and that's probably the best gift the French could give me.

Well, that about sums it up. In just two days I'll celebrate the first anniversary of this jumble of words. I'm sure I'll be gushing all over again.

PS I received a postcard from Eastern Europe today, written in French, and I can't read the name. Anyone know anything about this?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

little pink houses

Well, we've gone and done it. As soon as we arrived, I knew we'd be moving house. Because who can resist the siren call of a recently renovated half-timbered house? Even if it's pink?

I am not a big fan of pink. I can't wear it (it clashes with my pink skin and reddish hair) and if I could wear it, even to be ironic, I wouldn't. Pink makes me think of frothy, giggly air-headed girls I went to high school with that I despised for making the rest of us look like idiots. (Obviously, friends made more recently are exempt from this.) And can I just say Pepto-Bismol? K, thanks.

I would never volunteer to paint my half-timbered (rented, so I don't really have a choice anyway) house pink, but it works surprisingly well, and I'm looking forward to the spring, when I can have loads of pink and violet flowers tumbling outside of windows in the French tradition.

Oh, and the inside is just as good, really. There's huge kitchen and dining area with loads of storage space. There's a little living room, separated by the kitchen with some timber support beams which will make a very cozy place for watching tv. Upstairs, there's a nice sized bedroom (which will only contain a bed and our clothes! I am beside myself with joy!), and a second bedroom which will make a perfect office/guest room. The bathroom is upstairs, and is big enough to put the washing machine in. There's even a cellar which can be accessed from the kitchen. We only need a throw rug to cover it up; the current family had it covered and you'd never know it was there.

The only bad part, as far as I can see, is the staircase, which is very steep and consists of planks of wood, instead of a solid staircase. I have a habit of falling down stairs (and breaking bones in the process) so it makes me a wee bit nervous. Also, as of right now, there isn't a phone jack in the "office," which we need for ADSL, and Steph made it perfectly clear that the landlord would have to install a second line up there or all bets are off. And finally, I will gain the new title of "Road Warrior," which means that I will be driving to Troyes three times a week for French classes and choir rehearsals (around a half-hour drive each way).

Well, there you have it. The landlord is sending over the paperwork, and if all goes well, we should be moving the first week of November. And best of all, it looks as though Dad will have a guest room, instead of a guest couch, when he arrives at the end of December. So... anyone got any cardboard boxes we can use?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

the waiting game

OK, here's the latest news on the Moving House Adventure: we've got an appointment to see the apartment on Saturday. After reviewing what we've seen so far on the market for buying a place in our price range, we're pretty convinced that renting for another year or so is probably the best idea. Unless the apartment has some serious problems, we're probably going to put ourselves in the temporary poor-house and go ahead and pay the deposit. I will be biting my fingers into bloody stumps for the next couple of days.

In other news...


*runs around in a circle and falls over dizzy and exhausted*

Well, I'm really looking forward to it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

happiness is....

....frying up chicken strips the old-fashioned way whilst listening to the dulcet sounds of Joan Jett's "I Hate Myself for Loving You." Ah, good times.

Just as we were getting in the swing with Plan B, Plan A reared its ugly head. My mother-in-law called this weekend to tell us that she found an ad for an apartment for rent in the town where Steph will teach this year. Steph called, and it sounds damn near perfect. There's only one problem (of course!).

The apartment is available the first of November, but we are required to give three month's notice here, unless our proprietors give us special permission to cut out early (or we can always pay rent anyway but by god, who wants to do that?). The proprietor over there tells us that if she finds someone who can take it on November 1st, she will give it to them, even though we're the first to call. To make it even worse, there is still a family living in the apartment, so we have to make an appointment to see it, which is being arranged by the proprietor, and every day that passes is another day we can't talk to our proprietors about what our options are (because we'd like to see the apartment first, to see if it's worth begging to leave in two months instead of three).

If you know me well, you know that I hate waiting. I am practically jumping out of my skin, and I would feel better if there was something I could do about the situation, but for the moment our fate is in other peoples' hands and it's driving me crazy. Hopefully a little walk around town will help take my mind off things for a while.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

an interlude

The scene: Vivi is flipping through the bi-weekly advertisements from the supermarket, as she and Steph enjoy their morning coffee.

Vivi: 40 euros for a keyboard! That's outrageous!

Steph: (glancing at the ad) Well, it does come with a moose.

Vivi: (cracking up) No, mouse, not moose! A moose is that big animal with the antlers...

Steph: Ah, yes! That's what I need! A moose will be an extra large mouse with antlers on it; it will be excellent for killing more elves!

...and scene.

In other news, we called about the apartment on the 4th floor, only to learn that the last owner was a woman who lived there for 40 years. To say it's a fixer-upper is quite an understatement. We are ok with minor touching up over the next few years, but rewiring the electricity does not fall under those guidelines. We put a call in to another agent regarding another interesting apartment, but he hasn't called back yet. The search continues...

Friday, August 19, 2005

the big plan

I have been suspiciously quiet this week, because I've had my nose shoved in a couple of books. Last time I saw Doc, she lent me her Harry Potter set, including the new book, so I've been catching up. This week I read books 4, 5 and 6 (and I'm scandalized!), having just finished a few hours ago. Normally I try to make books last, as books in English here are few and far between, but I gulped these down like water in the desert. Doesn't make for good blogging, but I enjoyed it.

We've also implemented the Secret Plan, which isn't really a secret, but I wanted to be sure we were going to move ahead with the Plan before I said anything, and now it can be told: we are looking to buy an apartment.

The original plan was to wait until I found work to buy a place, as we would have the relative comfort and buying power of a double income, but I'm afraid I was a bit over-confident in my ability to join the workforce this soon. Nevertheless, a few weeks ago I confessed to Steph that, while this place is certainly a swingin' bachelor pad, it is just a bit cramped for two people and all their stuff and I am quietly going insane. Usually I wouldn't mind a small space (god knows I've lived in smaller places on my own), but with the bedroom containing the computers, the tv, and the clothes dryer, we spend the vast majority of our time in here and I desperately need a quiet space to lay my head at night. Shortly after that, we implemented Plan A.

Plan A was to move to the town where Steph will be teaching this year, about a half an hour north of Troyes. It's a quiet town, quite a bit smaller than Troyes but no village, either. We figured we could find a bigger apartment or house to rent for around what we're paying now, and instead of Steph driving to work everyday, I'd drive to Troyes when the need arose (French lessons, choir rehearsal, etc.). Unfortunately, that proved fruitless. Not one dang apartment or house for sale in the town or surrounding area. It was then that we moved swiftly on to Plan B.

Plan B is to actually purchase an apartment here in Troyes. We figure we can kill two birds with one stone: find a place just a little bigger than this one, and actually start investing and stop throwing away money on rent. After a visit to the bank to work out the financial bits, we started our search today with a place that was too good to be true. Well, you know what they say about something that's too good to be true...

The lowest price going, three bedrooms (one more than we are looking for) and right in the middle of downtown. The only problems were the distinct lack of parking, the view (right down in the the garbage in the stanky courtyard), the windows (which would need to be replaced), the heating (which was electric and therefore very expensive) and the ceiling (which was wet and coming down in places)... you know, little stuff. *snort*

And so it begins. We'll have another one to check out tomorrow. This one's on the fourth (fifth for the Americans) floor. Can't wait!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

summer draws to a close

It may be the middle of August, but it's becoming more and more apparent that summer is on the way out the door. The most obvious difference is that the weather is starting to change. We've had something of a cold snap, for August anyway, and it's been in the 70's during the day and getting down to the 50's at night. It's getting dangerously close to the time when we have to close the windows at night.

Another obvious sign is that the stores are doing a brisk business on what they call the rentrée, or the return to school (and work, for those who are taking the month of August for vacation). The supermarkets are filled with kids dashing around with their newly chosen backpacks on, and the lines at the cashier are full of moms buying paper, pencils, crayons, notebooks and all the other goodies you need to get back to school. I had heard that a lot of schools back home are already back in session (particularly in the south), and I admit that it struck me as odd. I've already taken for granted that school will start after September 1st here, and anything earlier already seems strange. Pretty soon I'll be sending Steph off to school everyday and I'll be playing the roll of placid housewife (please try not to laugh so loud!) once again.

Speaking of that, in a couple of weeks I'll be heading back to the classroom myself. Once again I'll be studying French twice a week, and going to the Conservatory once a week, and in the meantime I'll be scouring the want-ads in the vain hope that something perfect will come along. I don't think I'll be tearing my hair out, however, as I've got some small projects scattered around the place to keep me occupied.

The end of summer also brings me to the end of my first year in the blogosphere. Anyone have any suggestions on how I should celebrate?

Sunday, August 14, 2005

a night with the caped crusaders

Earlier this week, Doc invited us to join her in Langres, a medieval fortified town about an hour southeast by autoroute, for checking out La Compagnie des Hallebardiers de Langres. We were not quite sure what to expect, though we had the vague idea that it was some kind of show about the history of Langres.

After a bite to eat downtown, we headed toward the College Diderot for the presentation. There we found the courtyard packed, and everyone was wearing capes. Yeah, you read that right, capes. Black ones and red ones and maroon ones. After a few minutes of confusion, we learned that our 12 euros weren't going towards just any old show; those who arrive early are able to choose from three different walking tours of Langres, accompanied by three different acting troupes, designated by color. Since we were among the last to arrive, we didn't have any choice but to join the black-capes, and I'm not sorry we did.

After a couple of ancient guns fired to mark the beginning of the evening, the actors burst forth from inside the college, rounded us up by color, and we were off. After a brief presentation from our group (we got the very silly "modern" group; I know there was a "belle epoque" group and I don't remember what the third group was) we were off and running through the town. I have to confess that they spoke so quickly (and in some cases, with affected speech impediments for comedy) that I didn't understand most of what they said. I didn't realize my French was slipping so bad - happily school starts back in a couple of weeks. That being said, my favorite tableau was at the Renaissance house, where we stood outside and the troupe used the windows to appear and tell the story of allowing tourists to visit the stately home, to very silly results. As we walked from place to place, the actors kept us laughing and bouncing around by teaching us a song about how we love being tourists in Langres, or playing polka music and dancing through the town. Afterwards, we went back to the College Diderot courtyard to enjoy a free beverage.

If you are looking for something to do before the end of the month, and visiting Langres is not too far away to consider for a day or overnight trip, I highly recommend this. Shows are every Thursday, Friday and Saturday in August, and begin at 9:00pm (though I recommend getting there early for choosing your tour/cape).

Once again, I'm sorry I don't have pictures to show you, as they are still trapped in my old-school camera, so you'll just have to take my word for it. Good times!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


As I mentioned in my last post, I was recently tagged for another meme, which was extremely timely as there really isn't much going on right now apart from MMORPG marathons. Well, that's not exactly true; there is something interesting simmering in the background, but I'm holding off on blogging about it until more info comes to light.

Anyway, I was tagged by Kristin, who writes the wonderful French Word-A-Day.

"Name five foods, dishes or otherwise, that were a part of your childhood, and that you sometimes miss when nostalgia gets to you..."

1. The number one memory that stands out is my father's popcorn. Except for the brief moment where he was lead astray by the call of the air-popper, he has always made it the same way, in the same pot: on the stove with butter-flavored oil and lightly sprinkled with salt. I have spent many an evening watching tv scooping bowlfulls of his wonderful popcorn down my throat. I have tried, but have never been able to duplicate it.

2. Peanut butter and banana sandwiches. My god, I haven't eaten one of these in years. Hm, and I do have peanut butter hanging out in the pantry...

3. Carvel ice cream cakes. The absolute must-have at any birthday celebration. I was shocked when I went away to college, and nobody knew what Carvel was. Seems it's grown a bit since my childhood, at least covering the East Coast.

4. Dixie Crossroads restaurant, Titusville, Florida. Best known for their rock shrimp, this seafood restaurant somehow managed to become the most famous seafood restaurant in Central Florida. By the time I was a teenager, you were looking at up to an hour's wait with a reservation, two to three hours without one. Damn shame I hadn't discovered for myself the wonders of seafood before I moved away. Now I have an excuse to go back. Since this meme is about food and not restaurants, I will say that they have the best hush puppies I've ever eaten in my life.

5. Italian food! Spaghetti, lasagne, manicotti, baked ziti..... I could go on and on. Mom and Dad always made their own sauce - Ragu and all other pretenders were forbidden in our house! Making Sauce was an all day affair and filled the house with the promise of a delicious meal that night, as we tortured ourselves by eating as little as possible all day so we could reward ourselves with piles of pasta. Nobody can light a candle to the sauce my parents spent 35 years perfecting.

I confess that I am meant to tag four other people and ask them to fill this one out, but as it's summer and there seems to be a little less blogging going on these days (hope everyone's enjoying their vacations!) I'll leave it up to you. If you like it, please feel free to grab it and let me know if you use it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I feel another MMORPG marathon coming on....

Friday, August 05, 2005

2 memes

Because I am a procrastinator of the highest order, there are two memes I've been tagged for that have been languishing on the internets for some time now. (Freakishly, as I'm typing this, I've been tagged for a third, which I'm going to hold off on for the moment.) Therefore, we're going to take a pause from our regularly scheduled hilarity, so I can restore balance to the universe.

First up is a music meme from My Favorite Texan, Tracy at durteemartini. I am instructed to list my six favorite songs. Now, there is no way I can pick my six favorite songs Of All Time, as they change so frequently. What I can do, however, is list six songs I am digging on right now:

1. "What'd I Say," Ray Charles
Thank you, Dad, for teaching me what real music is.

2. "Daylight," Alison Krause & Union Station
I love love love Bluegrass music, and in my humble opinion, Alison Krause & Union Station are working wonders to keep it moving forward. This song simply soars.

3. "Birdhouse in Your Soul," They Might Be Giants
Bouncy bouncy happy happy music.

4. "Warning," Incubus
Number one song for inspiring me to get up off my butt and make stuff happen. "Don't ever let life pass you by." Please listen to this song and then go take over your world!

5. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies
Must be heard to be believed. Please go find and pogo furiously.

6. "Jealous of Your Cigarette," Hawksley Workman
I'm not as up on current music as I was before I moved here, but now I have my crack dealer music dealer in the form of our dear friend Eric, who makes me cd compilations of cool music. This song was on the most current compilation and I love it.

Bon, voila, quoi. Now it's taggin' time! Here's who I'm callin' out for this one:

Epiphany, because she is mah home skillet, and she probably has more music in her Media Player than anyone else I know.

Kim, because I know she knows her tunes as well, and maybe can help with my lack of cool tunes.

Last, but certainly not least, the super fabulous Lee, who can perhaps enlighten me as to what the super fabulous are listening to these days.

Moving swiftly forward to part two, which comes from the lovely Kinga at Kinuk in Poland, who wants to know five of my personal idiosyncrasies:

1. I need to eat something for breakfast. I've always been amazed at people who can skip this meal, because if I don't eat something in the morning, I will not only feel nauseous by 10:00, I turn into psycho-snappy woman. I don't require a huge American breakfast, just a bowl of cereal and maybe a cup of coffee or juice, but I must put something in the tummy.

2. I can only read one book at a time. Granted, I'll read that book pretty quick, but once I'm immersed in a good book, I want that story and only that story floating around my head.

3. I must fold the laundry as soon as the dryer is finished. I hate ironing. I'm going to do everything I can to avoid it, even if it means putting off going out until everything is folded. If I'm doing laundry, I'm home for the day, and that's all.

4. I can't go to sleep until I've made one last trip to the bathroom. This was most apparent when camping, as I made Steph escort me up the big scary pitch-black hill to find the bathroom facilities every night.

5. No matter how hot it is, I have to have some kind of cover when I go to sleep, even if it's just a sheet. Also, no matter how cold it is, I can't wear socks to bed, because you know at some point your body temperature will adjust and you'll just end up waking up at 3:00 in the morning to rip them off. Or maybe it's just me.

I'm going to pass the torch on to the following people:

My good friend Doc, who just made her blog, 10 rue de la charme, public.

The lovely and always effervescent ms.mac.

The very clever Peter at dot.bench, who may welcome a distraction from the 2500 emails waiting for him upon his return from vacation.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

vivi's helpful hints

  • If you're the conductor of a train traveling from Troyes to Paris, and the train, not in front of you, but the one in front of that, dies, please be kind to your passengers. Don't give them false hope that you will be only an hour late, when in fact you will be two hours late, significantly shortening the amount of time they will have to do lovely touristy things.
  • Please remember that once you set foot in the American Consulate, you are indeed now on American soil and not French, so when paying (the outrageous sum of) $30 to have something notorized (which is free if you're actually in the states) , please remember that using the bankcard with your husband's name on it and the signature wiped off just will not work. Also remember to stop at an ATM, because they do not accept checks.
  • Be sure to bring a friend with you who has the sense to travel with cash and is willing to spot you, so you don't have to go through the hassle of leaving the Consulate to look for an ATM and starting all over again. Make sure you thank her profusely and buy her lunch.
  • If you work at a restaurant in a touristy part of Paris, and your job is to intice passersby into dining in your establishment, it is not wise to yell "waassap homie!" to passersby you suspect are American, because they will only snigger as they walk away.
  • When dining in a very good Chinese restaurant with your friends, it is perfectly acceptable to celebrate the fact that you are eating very good Chinese food, which you haven't had in a very long time, with ecstatic moans and exclamations.
  • When visiting a Canadian bookstore, take care with your oversized bag, so you will not accidently topple over a tall pile of books, which would be very embarrassing indeed.
  • When strolling through Paris when you have a limited amount of time, be sure not to pass a church which is advertising that they will host a performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons that very evening, as you will be very sad and jealous.
  • When stopping for gelatto at a very lovely ice cream shop, please remember that your eyes are always bigger than your stomach, and take the smallest cup, instead of the next biggest one, even if you're taking sensible flavors like chocolate and mint, and not wacky (but perfectly tasty) combinations like pina collada with mint.
  • Upon leaving Paris, try not to be too sad that the day went by too quickly. Try to remember that you only live an hour and a half away by train (well, usually; see first item) and there will be plenty of opportunities to visit the City of Light in the future.

Monday, August 01, 2005

a trip up north

My in-laws grew up, met and married in the departement of Pas-de-Calais, which is the northernmost tip of France. Every year, they go back to their village for two weeks for visiting family and friends. Last week, Steph and I drove up to spend a few days there.

Now, I should say right up front that we didn't get as far north as Dunkerque or Calais; actually we did more visiting with family than we did touristy stuff, but I can tell you a little about what we did.

My first impression was that, even though we were only 40 kilometers from the sea (or the English Channel, if you want to be really technical), you would never, ever know it. Well, at least I wouldn't, having grown up only half an hour from the beach myself. Everywhere you look is just farmland, farmland, farmland, and then suddenly you catch a whiff of some salt air, you drive over a hill, and bam!, there's the sea.

Steph's brother, sister-in-law, 14 year old nephew (boy, he's gonna be a heartbreaker in a couple of years!) and mother went with us towards the sea on Wednesday. We spent the morning in Berck-sur-Mer. Actually, we spent the morning walking toward the sea. You see, we arrived just at low tide, and I am not kidding you when I say that we walked at least a mile to get from the street to the water, including doing some clever maneuvering to reach a little sand bar. In any case, it was really lovely to stick my feet in the sea again (even if it only was the English Channel!).

By the way, as a quick aside, I wouldn't recommend going around France calling it the English Channel. They call it "La Manche," which means "The Sleeve." Now that I think about it, it is rather odd that the English would name it after themselves, as it is shared with a couple of countries. Well, I don't want to start an international incident, so I'll move swiftly along....

After a lovely lunch of moules frites in a restaurant overlooking the sea, we jumped back in the car and we headed down the coast to a lovely little town called St. Valery. Here we walked along the river that comes off the sea and climbed up into the town to walk around a bit. In the rain. Yeah, it was a light rain, but it didn't stop us. Anyway, it was a lovely town to walk around and quite a lot of French luminaries took their vacations there, so there is a bit of history there as well.

Like I said before, most of the rest of the trip was visiting family or going fishing, so there really isn't that much more to report. I can gladly tell you that we did not sleep in a tent, which Steph threatened on me, because it was much too damp, due to days and days of rain. Instead, we crammed on the not-very-comfortable sofa-bed. Be careful what you wish for....

And finally, I don't have any pictures to show you, as once again I'm using a disposable camera and I haven't finished the roll yet. But! I did make my artistic impression of our day on the beach here (which I nicked from her), complete with cabines, sandbar, and threatening clouds.

Honestly, I don't think she's got any worries where competition is concerned...