Monday, June 30, 2008

one craving satiated

For about two months now I have been dealing with an embarrassing, not to mention impossible craving: Taco Bell bean burritos.

I mean, seriously, of all the things on this earth, I have to crave that??

Of course, Taco Bell does not exist here in good ole France, but this craving was ready to consume me. I was literally dreaming about it.

So my sister did the kindest thing ever performed for any pregnant woman with a craving - under the guise of my birthday present, she mailed me four cans of refried beans and a hefty bag full of Taco Bell mild sauce packets straight from the source. Combined with some finely chopped onion and cheddar on a flour tortilla, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that this is a very reasonable facsimile of the real thing.


Now if only I could curb my craving to eat these all day long...

Friday, June 27, 2008

summer jam!

We haven't had a song in a while, so here's my current favorite (and French Fry's too, as he always seems to dance a bit when this song comes on). It's called "Un rayon de soleil" (A Ray of Sun) by William Baldé and it's sure to be the party song of the summer!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

one more about Spain

On our last full day in Spain we visited the mountain town of (everybody get ready to roll your r's!)Rrrrrrrrrrrronda. Another reason I fell in love with this region of Spain is that an hour's drive away from the beach you find yourself getting nauseous thanks to the hairpin curves only found in the mountains. (Ok, maybe I didn't like the nausea part.) It felt strange to be bringing sweaters with us when it was so hot in Marbella but we found we really needed them once we stepped off the bus in Rrrrrrronda (no I can't stop!).

Rrrrrronda is located on a plateau and divided between "Old Ronda" and "New Ronda," but you can imagine that New Ronda wasn't exactly built last week. The town is surrounded on all sides by magnificent views, of which I only got a few because my camera battery refuses to stay charged for longer than six hours at a time.


Then we visited the bullfighting arena, which includes an interesting museum (with explications in both Spanish and English) and you can even cast a glance through the rest of the facility while you're there.



After lunch (taken jokingly at the heure française by our hosts; I reckon noon was closer to snack time for them) and another pause for dessert in a beautiful square, we began what I like to call Running the Ronda Gauntlet. First we went on a walk through the old part of town, through a gorgeous park that was at a forty-five degree angle with steps I can only compare to the steps leading to Sacre Coeur in Paris, and back to the square. Then we had a hour to do as we pleased before an actual tour guide took charge of us. (Stéph and I opted to sit down at a café, thankyouverymuch.)

The guide then took us through the highlights of town - in the "New Bridge" that connects Old Ronda and New Rhonda, a typical home of a Spanish aristocrat with the most amazing garden I've ever seen, a museum celebrating the town's Moorish roots, and the cathedral where a wedding was in full swing.

Of course, I don't have pictures of any of these things, as my camera died just before the tour started. Typical.

All in all, Ronda is a town I would love to visit again and see at a bit of a slower pace. Actually, the whole region of Costa del Sol is a place I'd like to revisit one day. Stéph and I are not beach bunnies in any stretch of the imagination, but we love that there are so many interesting places to visit and such a wide variety of things to see in such a close proximity. I do hope that someday we'll visit the region again.

Monday, June 23, 2008

in which vivi's husband one-ups her

So, I was going to write a post about how I got a nasty cold and was sick all week, without the benefits of coma-inducing drugs, as is my want when I am sick, but then Stéph had to come up behind me and steal my thunder.

But then, this is my blog and I'll whine if I want to.

I'm not sure if I picked something up in Paris or it was just my time, but I felt ye olde tickle in the back of my throat Tuesday and by Wednesday evening I was beyond miserable. Luckily, I had a doctor's appointment Wednesday morning (French Fry is doing just fine) and he did give me a little something something to ease the symptoms, but obviously no where near my beloved NyQuil. So I basically bitched and moaned and was generally pleasant to be around for several days.

The truth is, I am really a whiny baby when it comes to being sick. I don't think I'm generally a whiny person (see: getting a giant needle in my abdomen) but as soon as I get a sniffle it is all over. And here I thought that I'd gotten halfway through pregnancy without getting sick so maybe I'd go all the way. HA!

So I was being all sick and pitiful and then Stéph had his school's end of year festival on Saturday morning. I was going to go but I truly was still feeling pitiful and I ended up missing all the excitement. Around the time Stéph was supposed to come home for lunch, I hear him come in from upstairs but he's not alone. I made my excuses (I was still in pitiful sick mode) but soon I realized I had to let the drama go - Stéph had taken a champagne cork in the eye! It was all an accident (and you can imagine that it does happen from time to time in France with as much champagne they drink) and he seemed ok but we hopped in the car anyway and headed to the hospital. Thankfully there is no permanent damage but he does have a perforated cornea (the "skin" of the eye) so he was sent home with loads of drugs. He truly took that cork right in the eye because he has no bruising at all and only a couple of small marks on his eyelid.

So guess who got to be the drama queen for the rest of the weekend? Well, I guess it's alright really since the pain really kicked in by the time we got home. At least I can report that his bedside manner is improving, making it easer to tend to the wounded when it was his turn!

Monday, June 16, 2008


Today marks the beginning of my twentieth week of pregnancy, which is also known as "halfway" (though the French count 41 weeks but they are a bit masochistic, aren't they?). Despite the fact that I feel absolutely enormous (I've already been asked if I'm having twins), I'm feeling pretty alright, generally speaking. However, after spending the weekend in Paris with les filles on what is surely my last Lost Weekend, I have learned the following things:

1) I am not "making a pig of myself" for taking the last blini at lunch or having an extra slice of toast in the morning, as I was gently reminded by my hosts K & K

2) I can no longer keep up with the crowd and there is nothing wrong with that. Sitting on the ground for a few hours may be a bit uncomfortable but following it with walking at high speeds from the tippy tippy end of the Ile de la Cité to the middle of the Marais is an awfully good way to ensure a flare up of sciatica.

So I'm limping a little today, and catching up at home may take a little longer than usual, but I have to stop beating up myself for taking longer or moving slower than usual; there is a good reason for it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

meanwhile, back in Spain

Finally, some pictures! If you remember from my last post about Spain, we spent a day visiting schools and then saw a flamenco performance that night.

The next day, we took a tour of the old town of Marbella. Here are some of the highlights:


It is believed that this chapel, which sits on the main square, was once a mosque that was torn down once the Moors were driven out. The reasoning for this is that it does not line up squarely with the other buildings on the square and it seems to point in the direction of Mecca.

There are also loads of lovely little alleys to get lost in:


Here is a section of the old wall that protected the old town:


It is thought that is was built stones from old Roman buildings. Can you find the evidence?


We also visited the ruins of an old monastery that are being excavated:


They know it is a Christian site and not a Muslim one because they have found lots of bones. Muslims always carried their dead outside the town walls.

Finally, a picture or two of the rest of the old fortifications:



Then we met the mayor in the Town Hall, had (yet another) small lunch of tapas, and then we broke up for a couple of hours. First we did a little shopping - we came home with a couple of lovely flamenco fans - and then four of us headed down to the beach. The sand was scorching hot but the water was absolutely freezing! I couldn't get in past my knees, even though Stéph and his colleague managed to get all the way in. When I couldn't feel my feet, I suspected that perhaps the end of May is not quite the right time for swimming in the Mediterranean.

Once we'd had enough of gazing at the Rock of Gibraltar, we grabbed some ice cream and wandered back up the hill to our hotel. Once again reunited with the rest of the group, we made a brief visit to a local high school, had drinks in the apartment of our host and his wife, and went to the theatre, where we enjoyed a very special musical performed by some above-average high school aged actors (I feel I can can they were above average with some authority!).

Unfortunately, the long days with insufficient meals caught up with me after the show, and French Fry wasn't having any more nonsense and made his presence known (with me nearly being sick in the street!). Our Spanish hosts found a restaurant quickly where I could order a ginormous salad and side of the tastiest cheese bread I've ever had. I was quite embarrassed but I was actually thanked by some of the others, as we would have surely stood around watching our hosts meet and greet for an hour or more before we left the theatre. I don't think we were there long enough to adapt to eating à l'heure espagnole.

So anyway, yeah, that's how I spent my thirty-fifth birthday. Not bad, all told.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pregnancy - A French Male Perspective

Very late Saturday night, Stéph, his closest university buddies and I are seated around a table playing Uno. Doc has just stepped away to tend to her son, precipitating a break in the game.

S: (indicating my obvious roots growing in) What's all this, then?

Me: Oh, my doctor recommended I stop dying my hair.

S: Why?

Me: There's a small chance it can cause problems with the pregnancy, so we decided it wasn't worth the risk.

Stéph: Because of the ammonia used in the product.

S: But it looks awful!

Me: (shrugging) C'est la vie !

N: Isn't that crazy! You get to be ugly*, fat, you can't eat any of the good foods...

Me: (crossing my eyes and making a face) Yes, it's the most beautiful time of my life!


Meh, don't take these guys too seriously, they were just teasing, especially considering they are all either fathers themselves or are trying to be. But honestly, if showing my frighteningly grey/white roots (which started growing in at the tender age of 19 - no wonder I have no idea what my natural color is anymore!) and packing on a few extra pounds are the price I have to pay to bring French Fry into the world, I reckon it could be a lot, lot worse.

*ugly is a pretty rough translation when what he actually said was "moche," which isn't quite so harsh, at least in my mind. That being said, I've never encountered a Frenchie that wasn't, well, frank in their opinions, either!

Monday, June 09, 2008

French Fry is a ...



Ahem. Sorry.

First I have to say that the results of the amnio came back with no problems!!! This obviously is the most important thing. We already knew that there weren't any problems showing up on the ultrasounds (which greatly reduces the chances of having chromosomal problems since there are also physical markers), but I knew that the results would be arriving at my doctor's office today since I helpfully got a letter on Saturday morning from the lab to let me know that my results were at the doctor's office, leaving me to pull out my hair all weekend. Good times!

So I may be bald, but I'm happy to report that our son is doing just fine.

And there you have it!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

I used to think I had rhythm....

...and then I saw flamenco.

As we toured through the different schools, the same thing was on all the teachers' lips: "So, you're going to see flamenco tonight, eh?" Of course, we didn't realize what the big deal was until we arrived at our destination.

Here I thought we'd be visiting some sort of flamenco tourist trap, but I couldn't have been farther from the truth. In fact, one of the teachers at our host school was the president of the flamenco association in Marbella. The venue was quite small - just enough room for a small stage and ten or so tables. The front room had a bar and a couple more tables where patrons can smoke. We were clearly the only outsiders in the place. I get the feeling that you'd have to know somebody to even know the place exists, nevermind when they're having an evening of music and dancing.

This is why everyone was so excited for us. We got to see the real deal.

And it. was. amazing.

Here is a sneak peak of what we saw. Yeah, you can make fun of Dude's powder blue suit, but five seconds after he started dancing I'd forgotten all about it. I only wish this video could actually transport you to that room - it was hot, it was loud, and while this piece was really just a warm-up, the rest of the show ended up being the most passionate and intense thing I've ever seen on a stage anywhere in my life.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Spain, Part 1

Our trip to Spain started out fine but to say we had a bit of a hiccup would be a gross understatement. The shuttle picked up Stéph, his colleague A and I in Tiny Town and got us to the airport with just enough time to spare, but we learned at the check in counter that our second leg, from Madrid to Malaga, was on a different airline and we'd have to re-check in our bags in Madrid. With an hour layover. Yes, thank you so much, Star Alliance!

So of course we left Paris a half hour late. Guess what happened in Madrid?

Well, it turned out for the best, as we were given first class seats (as fancy as you can get for a two hour flight, but still) and access to the VIP lounge for the three hour wait. Of course VIP jokes were peppered throughout the rest of the trip.

So we arrived in Marbella rather late on our first day, and were collected by our host J, driven to our hotel where we dropped off our stuff, had a quick powder of the nose and headed out on the town. We made a brief stop at the Museum of Contemporary Engravings (a brief description here and the Museum's website here [Spanish only]) and made a quick tour of the town before meeting the rest of the group and enjoying the first of many meals made up of tapas.

Our first full day in Marbella was mostly made up by visiting several schools. This was the third and last year of the program (much to my and Stéph's disappointment!) and this year the Spanish hosts decided to concentrate on their varied and diverse programs for the handicapped and learning disabled.

For about ten years, Spanish law has dictated that schools must do all it can to integrate students with learning disabilities, handicaps and severe disabilities into their regular schools. This is something I'm used to from growing up in the States, but I'm sad to say that it is still a revolutionary idea for the French. As we visited classrooms for children with severe autism, study rooms for children with speech impediments (much like the class I was in back in first grade), another classroom for children with mental retardation, all under the roof of one elementary school, Stéph and A were completely fascinated.

After a complete tour of the enormous elementary school (which was easily double the size of our school in Tiny Town and it was not the only school in Marbella!), we visited a middle school and also received a tour of the classrooms for those with learning disabilities. They have started an amazing program for children that will not be able to continue their education in the traditional way - the director recently got involved with the local theatre and now the teenagers work on sets and costumes for upcoming productions and let me tell you - their work is outstanding! They had a proper costuming room and scene shop and have the help of local carpenters who give them the chance to apprentice and learn their craft.

Then we visited a class for children with severe handicaps. These children will never be able to live on their own, and yet here they were in school with their peers. In their class, they had a kitchen, where they learned to wash up after meals, a large bathroom to better learn hygiene, a small bedroom to practice making their beds, and a classroom area that doubled as a kitchen table for lunch time. Again, the French were flabbergasted and one even said, "We have a long way to go."

Just as an aside, I have never, not even once, seen a severely handicapped person in the four years I've lived in France. I'm not the first person to make this observation, but it is as if the French are ashamed of their handicapped. Children with disabilities receive "education" in an institution and seem to have very little contact with their peers outside of a family setting. I truly hope this changes in the future and that the French will eventually adopt something close to the Spanish model. Our hosts told us that it wasn't easy in the beginning, but ten years on their hard work is truly paying off.

Since our visit was an education conference, I did want to make a point that it wasn't all beaches and tourism! I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn about yet another country's education system, especially one that truly strives to integrate children with handicaps into everyday life.

Next time - yes, we did touristy things, too!

Edited to add: I've just realized (thanks to a comment, thanks PMF!) that I may be misrepresenting something. There are some classes in regular schools available for minor learning disabilities. I oughta know, since that's what Stéph taught at a middle school level (called SEGPA, info in French) for five years before going back to primary school. These are children that will go on to apprentice and eventually work blue collar jobs. They won't take the bac and many may even drop out at sixteen. However, children that just need extra help in writing, speech therapy or the like would need to see a specialist outside of school.