Thursday, December 30, 2004

paris or bust

Well, the apartment's all clean, the car's gassed up, and we're all ready to get up before the crack of dawn to head to Paris to pick up my friend from the airport and spend the day in Paris, to be capped off with being at the Eiffel Tower at midnight. So if you happen to be wandering around Paris tomorrow and come across two Americans and a Frenchman with a beard, don't be afraid to say hi!

I'm sorry I've been so lax with responding to comments and not having very exciting posts here lately. The good news is that we'll have the sick computer back on Wednesday, so we'll be back to full computer usage once again.

Wherever you are tomorrow when the clock strikes twelve, I hope you're having a wonderful time and ring in the New Year right! Bonne annee, Happy New Year, and see you next year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

cabin fever - catch it!

The last few days have been spent in a bored stupor. The weather's been too crappy to just go out for a stroll and sharing the one computer is taking its toll. We escaped briefly for a couple of hours yesterday morning to get some foodstuff at Carrefour but then it was back to the House of Excitement.

This morning I looked out the window as soon as I got up and saw the snow, and promply jumped up and down like a five-year-old on a sugar high. It was coming down in great big fluffy clumps and was piling up everywhere. A couple of hours later, Steph reminded me that I'd better get out to take some pictures, and it wasn't until I was outside and had the camera up to my face that I realized the batteries were dead. By the time they recharged it was mostly gone.

I didn't realize how much I relied on my computer until I couldn't use it. I'm all out of books, watching tv is more an exercise than relaxation, I don't knit, I don't have a sewing machine, etc. Steph has been teaching me chess, using his library of chess books as a guide, but one can only learn so much chess a day before one's head is full. And I feel bad because I've guilt tripped the hell out of him for playing on the computer for eight hours at a stretch (I'm sorry to say that's not an exaggeration) while I'm staring at the ceiling.

I do have something exciting to look forward to however: one of my best friends is coming to France for a visit, and she arrives on New Year's Eve! She dearly wants to see the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower when the clock strikes twelve, so we'll pick her up in the morning and spend the day in Paris.

Steph:(grumbling) I hate Paris.
Me: Shhh!

He may hate Paris, but I certainly don't, and I'm determined that we're Going To Have A Nice Time. Because it can't be any worse than all the excitement that's been going on around here!

Sunday, December 26, 2004

heavenly music

Yesterday evening we went over to the Cathedral to hear the organ. It was just a concert - no mass, which is good because I'm not Catholic and Steph's not religious at all. It's not very often they play for the public so I was excited about the opportunity.

Neither one of us had ever been inside during the evening, so we took a lap around before settling into our seats. I shouldn't have been surprised, but it was colder inside than it was outside (hello, big stone building?)- I could see my breath. I don't know how those Catholics do it (sorry Catholics).

Anyway, the music was amazing. Sitting in the middle of this enormous structure meant to make you feel as small as you are, with music booming all around you was an amazing experience. Unfortunately the cold got to us, and after an hour, when I couldn't feel my toes and frost was settling into Steph's beard, we called it a night. I took a few pics but I was too cold to hold the camera steady, so nothing for the Photoblog, but I did manage to take this one:

Saturday, December 25, 2004

i'll be home for christmas...

...if only in my dreams.

Last night we had a lovely dinner at my in-laws, along with my younger sister-in-law and her boyfriend, and my older sister-in-law and her family. Her daughters are 10 and 14, and are so funny to watch. The ten year old was on fire, bouncing off the walls in anticipation of openning presents and dancing along to The Schtrumpfs (that's The Smurfs, to you and me) theme song as it came on tv. The fourteen year old is in that funny place where she's rolling her eyes at her sister one minute and fighting the urge to dance along the next.

Unfortunately, escargot did not make an appearance, but the fondue was yummy, I got lots of compliments on my apple pie and I didn't feel as left out of the conversation as I did a year ago, when I first met the family. Don't get me wrong, I still had moments of staring at the tv or outer space, but for the most part I was able to follow along. It was nice.

The ten year old does this funny thing where, when it's time to open gifts, she runs in the other room, dons a Santa hat, and comes back in as "mere noel" to distribute gifts. When it was all over, she left the room to take off her hat and returned as herself, and made a big deal over the gifts that were hers as if she'd never seen them before. This kid's destined for the stage!

It was very late when we got home (after 1am, I think), but we were invited back for lunch today, from which we just returned. We stuffed ourselves silly on pate, a seafood entree filled with scallops and crab meat, and a very good mutton. I was so stuffed it took some effort to get my feet up to stretch out! Steph is currently napping it off, as we're going to the Cathedral in a little bit to hear the organ (which I'm very excited about, since I've never heard it).

All of this is very lovely, but I must confess that for the first time since I've moved here, I am genuinely homesick. It just doesn't seem like Christmas without some certain elements - above all, not seeing my family. In addition to that, there were the little things: we didn't have cinnamon buns for breakfast, and there weren't peanut M&M's waiting for me in the stocking I don't have.

Well, I'll be calling my family in a few hours, so at least I'll get to talk to them. I'm very interested to know if the package they received yesterday was from us (how perfect would that be?). In the meantime, to all my family, friends, and internet wanderers who happen to land here, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

holiday insanity

We just got home from finishing up the Christmas shopping. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea, so it was absolutely frustrating! The parking garage was packed, so we had to park across the street. Inside Carrefour, buggies were lined up to the back of the store waiting to check out. Luckily we were only short one gift and the rest was just food essentials, so we were able to go through the "10 items or less" line, which was still a good little wait. Any ideas we had of any browsing around downtown were quickly thrown out the window when we realized that it would be twice as bad there as it was at Carrefour. It was an exercise in patience, to be sure!

To make matters worse, I've been feeling under the weather the last few days. Yesterday I took an unprecedented three hour afternoon nap, which, if you know me well, is quite unusual. I cannot nap. All attempts at napping, even back in college, result in staring at the ceiling and thinking about all the things I could be doing instead of lying there. But my stomach has been trying to turn itself inside-out, so there was nothing for it but to rest yesterday. I'm still feeling woozy today. All I know is that it better right itself quick, because even an inside-out stomach will not keep me from partaking in escarot and fondue tomorrow night at my in-law's for Christmas Eve dinner!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

the more things change.....

....the more things change. I have to continually remind myself of that. We looked all over town, but found no trace of the "special" ornaments I was looking for. Not even anything with the year on it. It left me frustrated, as you can find them in any store you wander into back home. Still determined to make a tradition out of nothing, we found an appropriate ornament that I'm going to personalize. It may end up looking like crap, but by god I will have this!

We paid a quick visit to Steph's computer in ICU yesterday. It does look dire; it seems the original memory card has died. In the meantime, we're anxiously waiting for a call from the doctor technician.

Otherwise, the holidays are steadily moving along. All but the last two or three presents have been bought and wrapped. We're hosting tarot tonight, and Steph is in the kitchen whipping up a little dessert. God knows I love a man who knows his way around a kitchen!

Monday, December 20, 2004

the new and improved photoblog

So, the time has come to reveal the new and improved Photoblog! It seems like some original pictures are lost forever (gone in Steph's terminally ill computer), but I've posted everything I could. Of course that leaves more room for more pictures!

Once again, many many thanks go to James for all of his amazing help!

O Christmas Sapin

I have to say, we did a lot better than last year. Today we'll start our own family tradition by buying a special ornament for 2004. I'll try to keep Steph away from the trolls and orcs section.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

code blue

I think I jinxed Steph's computer with my last post. Last night it went into a coma. We had to take it to the computer hospital this morning, and it will most likely be next week before it comes home. In the meantime, we'll have to share mine. For two computer geeks, this is torture. We may have to come up with a schedule. Steph suggested his ten hours to my one, and I suggested I get it during daylight hours and he can have it for the rest. Hopefully, this is as close as we'll ever get to sharing custody.

My new photoblog is almost ready to go live! James is the mastermind that put it all together, and is a damn fine photographer himself. Clicky on his name and go look for yourself! In the meantime, I hope to go live sometime this weekend, just got a couple of things to clean up. Look for a post soon.

We found a fantastic tree for only 9€ and it's standing up in the corner waiting for me to put lights on it. Of course I'll post a picture when it's done.

Well, my time online is almost up.... I'll be back to check emails and such the next time I can lure my husband away from the computer!

Friday, December 17, 2004

odds and ends

I didn't sleep well last night, but I lived. We had a nice little reunion this morning (I know, we're disgusting).

Steph is on vacation now until the end of the year, so I see plenty of..... well not much change, really. He's as hopelessly addicted to Dark Age of Camelot as I am to blogging.

My belle mere called not too long ago, to tell us that we're in for a pretty good storm tonight. Apparently they're seeing something like 100mph winds in the north, and 80mph in Paris. I hope all of you in Paris stay safe and *gasp* don't lose your internet connections!

This weekend we'll find a sapin, or Christmas tree, and if it's anything like the one we had last year, will most likely be of the Charlie Brown variety, which suits me fine, as nothing says Christmas like the smell of pine in your own home. And cleaning up pine needles everyday.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

i got it bad

Tonight, Steph will be staying in the village where he teaches to play tarot. This was a weekly event last year, but because everyone's schedules are different this year, this is the first night they've arranged it. It's very convenient for Steph,
since he works a full day today and only works for a couple hours tomorrow morning.

The fact that tonight will be the first night apart from him since we were married is putting a weird kink in my day.

Today's a normal Thursday; there's presents to wrap and an apple pie to bake and I may even try to run downtown to buy Steph's present before I head off to choir rehearsal. But knowing that I'll be coming home to a dark apartment and he won't be meeting me at the door has seriously bummed me out. It has bummed me out so much that I'm finding it difficult to get inspired to do any of the aforementioned things.

Yeah, I got it bad.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

pere noel

pere noel
Originally uploaded by vivienfrance.
Auntie M reminded me yesterday that Christmas traditions are just a little different here than back home. For example, where Santa Claus lands on the roof of houses with his eight tiny reindeer and sleigh to pop down the chimney, Pere Noel lands his sleigh on the ground (which is really more sensible, if you think about it) and climbs in through the window! All over town (and indeed, all over France), Pere Noel can be seen making a practice run.

Last night I saw a Coca-Cola commercial with the polar bears, so NOW it feels like Christmas!

We'll be doing some Christmas shopping (and shipping!) today, so our bank account will be feeling like Christmas very soon too!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

puppy love

You know how the French just love their dogs? Hows they carry them everywhere? Even into restaurants (not so much here but I hear it's still common in Paris)? And let them poo everywhere so that we all have to dodge their little "gifts" on the sidewalks (but then, that's a whole other post)? And treat them like their little children?

After all that puppy love, I had a shock to the system yesterday. On my way to work, I passed a young woman berating her dog, kicking it with her stilletoed heel, and then muttering, "connasse."

Well, I'd accidentally caught her eye by this point, so I think she was talking to the dog.

Monday, December 13, 2004

i didn't see this coming

Well. I'm flabbergasted.

Apparently I've been nominated for an award. "Best New Blog."

I'm not soliciting votes or anything, I'm just quite pleased. I don't expect to win, since I was the "Susan Lucci" of my college, having been nominated for various theatre-related awards every year back in college, and never winning. I'm used to it now. But wow.

It really is a pleasure just to be nominated. Heh.

A Day in Provins

wall view
Originally uploaded by vivienfrance.
My sister-in-law had some business out of town yesterday, and since she doesn't have a car, we helped her out and gave her a ride. Since we had a couple of hours to kill, we visited the nearby town of Provins. Once the home of earls of Champagne in the 12th and 13th centuries, it was made a world heritage site in 1996.

There are more photos on my photoblog (link also in sidebar), whose template has not yet been updated, but I know you don't really mind, because you're patient and cool like that. ;)

Saturday, December 11, 2004

one step forward, two steps back

I really, really thought I was making some progress. I even answered the phone the other day, which is something I was too terrified to do three months ago.

My in-laws bought us a new dining table - nothing grand, just bigger than the little two-seater we had - which was on backorder. We'd been waiting for weeks; my belle mere threatened to cancel the order. So I knew I'd have to answer the phone, in case the call finally came. And it did. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Allo?
Them: Madame V?
Me: Oui....
Them: Bonjour! blahblahblahblahblahblahblahblahblah.
Me: Er..... bonjour!
Them: blahblahblahblahblahblahblahblahblah table!
Me: Ah! La table, c'est pret? (The table, it is ready?)
Them: Oui, c'est pret.
Me: Ah, bien! Merci boucoup!
Them: Au revoir!
Me: Au revoir!

So! I was all confident! I took a call, I managed to work out the reason for the call without asking for the caller to slow down or apologizing for my sucky French, and brought it to its conclusion. Success!

I had a major reality check last night.

We went to a Christmas dinner last night, with Steph's teaching section. Everyone was very friendly, it was a very jovial crowd. The food was pretty darn good: I finally got to taste the famous trumpets of death; I had a filet of ostrich, which I'd always wanted to try (it was a bit bitter at the end), the wine was very good (though I'm paying for it today).

I had no idea what anyone said. Ever.

When we go out in big groups, it always goes down like this:

Stage 1: Everyone is very sensitive to the fact that my French is not very good. Adventurous folks will speak in broken English, and I reply in kind.

Stage 2: They realize they can't fully communicate with English, so they apologize and speak to me through my husband. I follow as I can.

Stage 3: I am forgotten as full on conversations begin. By the end of the evening I'm poking at the tablecloth with a fingernail as my husband silently reassures me and apologizes with his eyes.

I know I'm making small improvements, but today I feel like I just arrived.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Climate shock

I knew that moving to France meant I would have to endure harder winters than I'd ever experienced before. I even knew that I was moving farther north than most people think: if you look on a world map, South Carolina is actually on a closer longitude to northern Africa, while France is on the same longitude as Canada.

What I didn't expect, however, was that it is so freakin' dry here. At least, compared to the very humid Southern U.S. So the dryness in addition to the cold is really wrecking havoc with my body. Here's some examples:

(Warning: if you're squimish about bodily gooeyness, please skip this post and good read about my shoe adventure.)

  • The skin on my left elbow is perpetually dry. If I forget to put lotion on it, I am reminded by the pain when I lean on said elbow. My right elbow is just fine.
  • I have always had waxy inner ears, and now they are crusty and liquidy. At the same time.
  • My nose is also constantly crusty and runny all the time.
  • My hair, after finally finding it's natural happy state in SC, is now mightily confused.

In addition to this new excitement, I am always cold in the apartment. We have a radiator in the bedroom which is always on and is supplied by the proprietors of the building and included in the rent. The rest of the place is heated by electricity. Because we never sit in the front room unless we have guests, we never turn on the heat. Which is normally fine; the stove heats up the kitchen, a hot bath heats up the bathroom, etc.

But right now, the radiator is not quite as hot as I'd like. I'm sitting right next to it, clutching it for warmth. Yeah, clutching it. I shouldn't be able to do that, should I? Steph is calling me "Grandma" because I've added a wool blanket to the bed and I'm constantly wearing the ginormous wool socks around the house.

The thing that's really bothering me is that Steph tells me it gets a lot colder than this in January and February.

Woo, can't wait! *faint*

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Shoe Shopping Extravaganza!

I never really had to worry about weather-appropriate shoes before. Of course, it was cold enough to not wear sandals during the winter, and I had my hiking boots if I was, you know, hiking, and my tennis shoes for walking a lot. Other than that, anything went. Since I would be arriving just about anywhere by car, I never had to be concerned about whether or not my shoes would be good for walking great distances.

Then I moved here, where I walk across town, a 30 minute jaunt, at least twice a week. And I don't like to limit what I'm wearing by having to coordinate with my tennis shoes. Clearly, something had to be done.

This became apparent a few weeks ago when, during a weekly shopping expidition to Carrefour, Steph looked at my feet and laughed. Laughed! Why? In a desperate bid to make my existing black shoes work, I was wearing black clogs and, to keep my feet warm, ginormous wool socks. Perhaps not my finest fashion choice ever. But really, besides a cheap-ass pair of black boots I bought at Kmart (if you're reading this, Manolo, I'm sorry, I was desperate), I didn't have any other black shoes. So I told him so. Right there in the cereal isle.

I don't usually work the guilt trip angle, but it worked. We went to Marques Avenue yesterday on a shoe expidition. And if you know me well, you know I was in a fit of ecstacy. 'Cause I love the shoes.

That is, until I saw the prices. This ain't Payless, mkay? But Steph insisted we find some good shoes that I liked that would last for a long time.

We found a pair at Salamander. And I love them. And I've never paid that much for a pair of shoes in my life. I am slightly consoled by the fact that they would have been 30% more in Paris, but damn they were expensive.

But they're nice! See?

Yes, not the most focused photo in the world, but I shall attribute that to the excitement of my new shoes.

Monday, December 06, 2004

The obligatory "100 things about me" post

1. I was born May 23, 1973. I may be on the cusp, but I'm a classic Gemini.
2. I was born in Glen Cove, NY, because it was the closest hospital from where my folks lived.
3. I've never been back to Glen Cove.
4. I have one sister, who was born 13 months after me.
5. We moved to Texas when I was two years old.
6. My mom was allergic to Texas, so we moved to Florida when I was six.
7. I don't have a lot of memories of Texas, but they include the day care center, Kindergarten, chicken pox, weekly visits to the library, Kung Fu on tv, and my dad's cousin Mary and her then-husband coming to visit.
8. In Florida, we lived very close to Kennedy Space Center.
9. I remember getting off the bus from school and looking up to see the space shuttle riding piggy-back on a 747 en route to KSC.
10. If the shuttle was taking off on a school day, the school always had a "fire drill" so the students could see it take off.
11. We didn't have a fire drill the day the Challenger exploded because it was too cold, but I saw it all the same.
12. My hometown kinda went downhill after that, as NASA didn't put a lot of contracts out to bid after that, and a lot of kids in my school moved away.
13. I'm left-handed.
14. I'm the only left-handed person in my immediate family, and I was alternately teased about it and made to feel special about it.
15. I started taking dance classes when we moved to Florida.
16. I took Tap and Jazz classes.
17. Turns out I was quite a good tap dancer, and the teacher held me back from joining the advanced class only because I was so much smaller than the other dancers.
18. My sister took gymnastics, and I can remember her doing front handsprings in the living room.
19. We had dance recitals every year. I was well acquainted with heavy makeup and too much hairspray at a very young age.
20. This may explain why I hardly wear makeup or take great care with my hair now.
21. I wanted to be an actress for as long as I can remember.
22. When I was in middle school, I thought this goal was out of my reach, so if someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I usually said "librarian," because I liked to read so much.
23. Around this time my sister and I joined a local children's theater group.
24. By the time I got to high school I wasn't so shy about telling everyone that I would be an actress.
25. My high school didn't have an auditorium or a competent Drama teacher.
26. All our plays were performed in the old cafe-torium that used to be in an elementary school before the high school took it over.
27. I was the president of the Thespian Society my senior year. I think I was the only one running.
28. I was in the school choir. It was exceptionally good.
29. When I was 15 years old, we entered a contest. The French government was inviting one choir and one orchestra from each state to perform in Paris in celebration of their bicentennial.
30. We won.
31. When I was 16 years old, I traveled with my choir to France, Switzerland, Austria and Germany.
32. I cried when we went to Notre Dame de Paris. I couldn't explain why and I was very embarrassed.
33. I wanted very badly to shock my parents when I was a teenager.
34. I wore combat boots with fishnets, pierced my ears several times, and even shaved the back of my head.
35. My parents barely flinched.
36. In retrospect, I know it's because I didn't drink, do drugs, break the law (or get caught, anyway), break curfew or flunk out of school. I hope I have the same kind of perspective with my kids one day.
37. I was in high school when the Berlin Wall came down.
38. Around the same time, Jesus Jones put out a song called "Right Here, Right Now," that really sums up what I felt about that time.
39. I was very excited to be a part of a generation that was coming of age during a time of great progression, of what seemed to be a collapse of the World Order, and old regimes. I felt like my generation would explode into the world and make the world a better place.
40. What happened?
41. I graduated high school in 1991.
42. I went to college in North Carolina. I was the fourth generation of my family to attend this particular institution.
43. The first semester I was terribly homesick. After the second semester, I didn't want to go home.
44. If I could change one thing about my life thus far, it would be to wait a few years before going to college.
45. I look back ten years and see an immature drama queen whining for attention. I don't like her very much.
46. I recently told that to three of my closest friends, all of whom I met in college. I think I kinda hurt them, because the time in my life I hate the most is when these people came into my life. Honestly, I don't know why they stuck it out.
But I'm so happy they did.
47. I didn't find out that I could really sing until I was in college.
48. I can say now that I can sing pretty darn well.
49. I decided I wanted to major in Musical Theatre. I failed the audition the first time, and was let in only provisionally the second time.
50. I guess what I lack in talent, I make up for in stubbornness.
51. My favorite job of all time was during college. I worked at Walt Disney World in Florida for two summers in a row.
52. I worked at MGM Studios, and worked at the Backstage Studio Tour. I gave a 20 minute tour which required me to memorize 40 pages of script. I also drove a Mack truck cab which pulled the huge tour tram around the tour.
53. The coolest thing about working for Disney is that you can go to the three parks anytime you want for free.
54. No wait, the coolest thing is that we had access to Disney merchandise that was super cheap and we had killer discounts.
55. You know what? The coolest thing is that I got to keep my Disney name tag with my name on it.
56. I still have that name tag.
57. I know Disney is a huge corporate monster and is evil, but I still liked working there and the people I worked with were really fun to go park skipping with. I'm not a Disney freak or anything. Really.
58. Meanwhile, back in college, I was required to do a recital, with a partner, a student choreographer and student director.
59. Due to my immaturity/lack of ability to get my shit together, I had to cancel the recital, which meant I would not graduate on time.
60. Calling my parents, who were a) footing the bill and b) would only foot the bill for four years and That Is All and c)whose approval I desperately needed and I was terrified of disappointing, to tell them this news, was possibly the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life.
61. I was crying so hard when I called they thought I was hurt very very badly or someone was dead.
62. Thus began the long hard process of finally growing up.
63. I finally did my recital in the Fall of 1995, and while it was far from perfect, it was done. And I passed.
64. I was wasting time working at Blockbuster waiting to get my diploma the next spring, when I got my first (and only)professional acting gig.
65. I had gone to ACTF (a regional theatre conference/audition mecca) to try to find some professional work. So I got a call to replace an actor in a children's theater in Mobile, Alabama.
66. Those were the strangest three months of my life.
67. Turns out I was the 13th actor in a cast of four in a season that only runs during the school year. I was hired in February. There would be one more replacement during the three months I was there.
68. It got so bad I and the other actress threatened to quit two weeks before the season was over.
69. This company closed two years later. I was hardly surprised.
70. I did get to go back to walk in my college graduation. Apparently being the fourth generation to attend a college is a big deal; they took pictures of me and my family and put it in the alumni newspaper. That was kinda nice.
71. This is really kind of boring, isn't it? I bet you want to know how I ended up in France, huh?
72. Well, in May of '02, I came to visit a friend that was living here. I met my husband on that trip.
73. When we first met, he didn't speak English and I didn't speak French. When I say "didn't speak," I mean considering we took the languages in school and this was ten years later.
74. He didn't look twice at me, and I was too busy looking at really old cathedrals.
75. By the time his English had improved, he was dating one of my best friends. I can't explain why this bothered me a lot, considering he and I had barely said 10 words to each other since we met.
76. The next time I saw him, he was in the states visiting the friend. He said he wanted to see me because I was the only other person in the country he knew. We talked a lot.
77. The next time I saw him, in August of '03, he and the friend had broken up. I was visiting my ex-pat friend again. Two days before I went home, we made our lives very complicated.
78. We started talking almost everyday online. He invited me to come back for Christmas. So I went.
79. We decided to get married after a series of internet discussions weighing our options. There was no proposal or engagement ring.
80. When I came back to visit in April, we bought our wedding rings.
81. So why was I the one doing all the traveling? 'Cause he spent almost two months with me in the states before we moved to France.
82. He is the best boy I know, and I'd follow him to the moon if it meant making a life with him.
83. Oh, and the friend who dated my husband? We're still really good friends.
84. Well I'm sure I can come up with some random tidbits to round out 100...
85. I spent my last seven years in the states in South Carolina.
86. I gave up on the dream of being a professional actress, but I'm not broken up about it.
87. Even though I majored in Musical Theatre, I don't like traditional musicals.
88. I still love to sing. I am a member of the Vocal Ensemble at the National Conservatory in Troyes Due to a long string of family emergencies, I've had to put singing on the back burner, but I've been assured by the director that I'm welcome back whenever I'm ready. In the meantime, I keep my voice up to par by singing in the shower. A lot.
89. In one of the two choirs I joined in my first year in France, we sang Faure's "Cantique." This piece has been following me since high school, when we sang it in a church in Paris. It's one of my favorites.
90. I come from a mixed marriage: my father was Republican and my mother was a Democrat. Ever the peace-maker, I am Independant.
91. I have always had six grandparents - my father's parents divorced and remarried before I was born. I didn't lose a grandparent until I was 22 and two of my grandmothers are still rockin' it. At least one of them reads this blog (hi Grandma!).
92. Having been so blessed to know all of my grandparents, and especially being close to several of them, particularly my father's mother, I am devastated that my children will never know my mother, who passed away in May 2005 after a lengthy battle with Scleroderma (see sidebar for info on this terrible and fatal disease) and my father, who passed in October 2006 after battling cancer.
93. I am in touch with only one friend from high school. We lost touch for about three years, but I called her folks, who still live in the same house, before I moved to France. She's still the coolest person I know. Update: I've finally joined myspace, so now I'm in touch with lots of folks from high school. Yay!
94. When I was a kid I played in a softball league. I still love to play softball, though there's very few opportunites on this side of the ocean.
95. I was in the gifted program from first grade until fifth grade, when I just gave up. I think I just didn't want to be the geek anymore. Unfortunately it would be a few more years before I could shed myself of the geek label, only to end up embracing it in adulthood.
96. I also had a lisp when I was young - my esses sounded like "th"s. So I had to go to speech therapy. Ironically, I went straight from Gifted class to speech therapy. I still lisp when I'm very tired or drunk.
97. I learned how to type on a QWERTY keyboard in fourth grade, in Gifted. Therefore I can type faster than many without looking at the keyboard. That's about the only thing I took from Gifted.
98. I have a handful of very very good friends. They are the kind of friends that I would sell my computer to buy a plane ticket back to the states if they needed me.
99. I have a wonderful, supportive, funny, loving family. And it's huge! How many people can say they hang out with their second cousins on a regular basis?
100. I am so lucky to be going on this adventure of living in a different country and making a life with my favorite person in the world. How do I know I'm so lucky? When I met my husband's colleagues, they said, "So YOU'RE the girl he won't shut up about!" Yeah, he makes me feel like a princess. Well, most of the time. :P

updated 15 January 2007

Behold My Pie - part deux

Since the gang was coming over Saturday night for tarot and we would be six, I thought I would put my Mad Baking Skillz™™ to the test again. Continuing the theme of Great American Pies, Steph and I whipped up this little number:

Mmmmm homemade apple pie

It's all from scratch - I peeled apples 'till my hands were raw and Steph made the pastry.

At the last minute, two people cancelled, so we were just four, which suited me fine - the beer will keep till next time, and more pie for us!

And now a word of explanation:
Some of you may be thinking, "Hey! This isn't Dispatches from the Kitchen! It's Dispatches From France, for chrissake! Bring on the France!"

Yes, I know. Let me share something about my life as a singleton (say about, oh, six months ago). Back in the day, I couldn't cook for my life. I figured, hey, it's just me, why go to exorbitant lengths to cook crazy huge meals when I hate leftovers anyway? The microwave was my friend. I burned water on a regular basis. The last time I made a pie, it didn't set and ended up as green sugary goop with pastry. From then on it was the bakery counter from Bi-Lo, thanks.

So, this is kind of a big deal for me. Not only did it look good, it exceeded my expectations (i.e. no one choked/spit it out/died). So I'll make a deal with you: I'll talk more about France and you can tolerate my occasional culinary successes, m'kay?

Saturday, December 04, 2004

The Sound of Music

Last night we went to the hotel de ville for a concert of the youth choir and orchestra of the Music Conservatory. Not only am I a student of the Conservatory (one of the two choirs I sing in is based from there) but my niece was singing and playing last night, so there were a lot of people I know there, in addition to family supporting my niece. On the way in we met up with the other anglophone in my choir and her husband, and the four of us made our way into the building.

After climbing a grand staircase, we were ushered into the salle de fete, which was, without a doubt, the Frenchiest room I've ever been in. It looked like someone plucked it out of Versailles and dropped it here. The ceilings were easily 100 feet high and the room was quite long. It was decked out in French blue and gold curtains, marble columns on the sides, beautiful parquet floor under our shoes.

The youth choir performed first, and they sang beautifully. This is not your typical school performance, my friends; these kids will make careers out of music, and they showed it last night.

Then the 40-odd piece orchestra took the stage. Since the first time I heard my niece play the violin I cried like a fool, I should not have been surprised that she was the concertmaster! The acoustics in the room were unbelieveable - they produced a gorgeous, full sound, and yet a soloist was able to sing with them without a microphone and be heard. Again, these kids will most likely make careers with music (especially my niece, who will have her professional debut next week!), and the repetoire was nothing to slouch at.

It was really a wonderful evening and I'm so happy that I've found this fantastic community of music in my new home!

Friday, December 03, 2004

Life, Interrupted

In the midst of all this new template excitement, some actual events happened.

Wednesday morning, Stéph and I went back to the Préfecture to resume our quest for my titre de sejour. You can jump in the way-back machine here, or I can just tell you how back in the beginning, we were told to expect to wait six months for my government-appointed medical exam, and we were completely shocked when I got my notice to go to the hospital for the exam two days before my three-month temporary card expired. That was pretty lucky, we thought.

Turns out I had to get another temporary card anyway, since the Préfecture only got my medical release Wednesday morning, and hadn't had time to make my new good-for-one-year card. We were asked to come back in a month.

It takes a month to print out a piece of paper and laminate it? Hoo-kay.

Since we were there anyway, we stopped at the Driving Permits counter to see what we'd have to do for me to drive. Turns out France has an agreement with South Carolina, so I can just exchange my license and pay 26€ - no exams or anything. Which is good and bad. I'm glad I don't have to go to driving school, which is really expensive, but I am terrified about driving in this country. You would be terrified too, if you had my driving record. I'm sweating just thinking about the two- and three-lane roundabouts. Hopefully there will be opportunities to practice before I'm let loose on the unsuspecting population of Troyes.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

and a new sidebar as well

I agreed with Anna that my sidebar was getting a little wonky, but I wanted to do something special for the ex-pats. Not that we're so much better than the other bloggers, but I think it's interesting so have a visual of how spread out we are. So, I made some buttons this morning. I hope it looks ok.

I did my best to get everything right, but please let me know if:
  • I've got your home flag/current country wrong (the Australian & New Zealand flags look very similar but I swear I used two different flags!)
  • You don't consider yourself an ex-pat/prefer to be in a different section
  • I've forgotten you altogether

I promise, a real life post about life in France is coming up soon!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

mai is a goddess sent from heaven

Will you look at this place?! It's gorgeous isn't it?

This new template was designed by Mai, who did all of this in two days. And just in case you think I'm completely useless, well, I did choose the image. Heh.

So please go heap huge amounts of praise onto Mai, who has made my home so beautiful.

Incidently, "mai" is French for the month of May. Clearly, this is fate, people.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

In Which ViVi Gets Naked

That oughta increase my google hits. Heh.

Sorry kids, no nudie pics here. I just got back from my medical exam for my titre de sejour, i.e. the paper that says I can stay here. Since Stéph had to work, I was accompanied by my belle mère.

Luckily, my exam was held at the hospital here in Troyes, so we didn't have to go too far. After finding the right department of the hospital, we had a brief interview with the secretary, who checked all my paperwork. Then it was off to get the chest x-ray.

I was given my own little closet in which to disrobe from the waist up. Then the radiologist knocked on an internal door, placed me in front of the machine and instructed me to hold my breath and *click*... and back in the closet to get dressed again and wait to see the doctor.

We sat in the waiting room for about 15 minutes with the other patients who were waiting for the same exam. My mother-in-law said, "toute le monde est ici!" Usually, this means "everyone is here," but I think in this case she meant it in the literal sense: "all the world is here!" Indeed. Next to us sat a couple of women with their small children, chatting in English with a strong accent that made me think of Africa; on the other side of the room were a family that seemed to be of Indian descent; a young couple quietly spoke french in a corner; a young woman of Asian heritage was flipping through a magazine. With my German mother-in-law and yours truly, it did seem like all the world was sitting in that room.

Soon, my number was called and we went in for the interview with the doctor. It was pretty general stuff: how long and why did I wear glasses, what surgeries have I had, what medication do I take, etc. Then it was up on the examination table where he poked and prodded me (like doctors do), took my blood pressure, and that was it.

So! I've got my medical release and we can go to the Préfecture tomorrow and apply for the titre de sejour. The only small thing is that the doctor thought my vaccinations were too old (having had them when I was an infant and am now *mufflemuffle* years old), but I can get them here for free.

And finally, please excuse me for crowing a little bit, but all was done in French. This is not to say that it was perfect, nor that there weren't some strange looks and a lot of gesturing. But there is no way I could have done this four months ago. I still have a long way to go, but it's nice to see I'm not sitting on the starting line anymore.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Thanksgiving, Frenchified

Steph and I headed over to Carrefour Friday midday to see about a turkey. We hadn't put it off; we just thought buying a fresh one would be nicer than having one in the fridge for several days.

To tell you the truth, I didn't expect to find a turkey, since turkey is generally reserved for Christmas around here, and if you want a whole one this early, you have to special order it from your butcher (like Auntie M did). I was ready to work with what we could find. So imagine my surprise when the butcher said that they did indeed have a turkey! That was short lived, however, as the butcher then hauled out what was easily a 25 pound turkey that we couldn't have shoved into our little oven with a tub of lard and a battering ram. So. Instead we bought a ginormous 4 pound breast of turkey, wrapped up in string, ready to be roasted. In fact, it looked a little like this:

Stuffed with garlic, seasoned within an inch of it's life, topped with sauteed mushrooms, with the turkey gravy and onions on the side. And, my friends, it was damn tasty.

The green bean wraps I mentioned in my last frantic post were from a friend (who calls herself Squishybutt when she posts here....... it's a long story) who's aunt makes these tasty things. Wrap your green beans in bacon, we topped them with mushroom caps, secure with toothpics and chuck into the oven. Quite yummy.

As for our guests, they were fantastic! They ooohed over the turkey, they loved the stuffing, they appreciated the cranberry sauce and even ate it the right way - with the turkey, and the pecan pie was a huge hit. Dinner ended around 11:00, and a couple of guys hung around to play a bit of Tarot until everyone was too tired to go on, and the party broke up at 1:00.

It really was a lovely evening, followed by a day of pain - three glasses of wine do my head no good. But, the kitchen is clean again, the front room tidied up, and all that is left is the gorgeous floral arrangement the gang gave us when they arrived.

Friday, November 26, 2004


So, guests are due to arrive any moment, Steph has gone to fetch his sister, the turkey is done (more about that tomorrow), the green bean wraps are in the oven, cranberry sauce and Stove Top are on standby.

I'm the kind of panicky host who just wants her guests to have a good time, so you can imagine my mindset right now. Eeek!

Behold, My Pie

I mean it looks ok, right? You'd like to have a slice with perhaps a little scoop of vanilla on the side, right?

*sweats bullets*

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving!

To those of you in or from America, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving! I know you're probably stressing about food, or guests, or football, or a hundred different things, but take five seconds and actually be thankful for something, which is what today is supposed to be about.

As for me I am quite thankful. See?

  • I am very thankful for my partner in crime, Stéph. (I know, puke, but I can be sentimental once in a while, can't I?)
  • I'm thankful for my new extended family, who have welcomed me with open arms, even if we don't understand what the other is saying.
  • I'm thankful for the kindness of strangers (dahlin'), who have been so gracious to me in my new country.
  • Instead of bitching about newlywed poverty, I will be thankful for the roof over my head, the heat from the radiator, and food on our table.
  • I'm thankful for all my family and friends back home, who have been so supportive of my adventure!
  • I'm thankful for Anna, who inspired me to start this blog, and for all the new friends I've made in the blogging community.

As for me, I'll be spending Thanksgiving cleaning house and getting ready for our little Thanksgiving soiree tomorrow night. Anyway, I really do like this holiday, all food gorging and football games aside. I think it's lovely to pause and think about what's going right in your life, especially before the Christmas season begins.

You don't have to be American to be thankful for something good in your life. What are you (yes you) thankful for this year?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Something Missing

We'd been racing around Carrefour for the better part of an hour, checking off the list as we went. We've got a little system now, where we'll go in different directions and meet up in the middle: "OK, you go get the milk and the creme fraiche, I'll get the lardons and cheese," and off we go. Everything seemed ok. I found everything I needed for my pie, the appetizers and cheese (we are, after all, in France, Thanksgiving or no Thanksgiving), wine and side dishes were covered.

We were just about to check out when Steph said, "Honey (I love the way it comes out in his French accent: "Hoh-nay"), I think we are missing something."

I looked over my list, but everything was checked off. "No, I don't think so."

"Didn't you want to make a turkey?"


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Dance Fever

Hey! Remember the the kids I babysit? They were on fire yesterday, when I picked them up from school.

Eight-year-old A., who never likes to speak English just outside the school (I can hardly blame her), was going a mile a minute about her marbles, which are all the range once again: "I lost a big one just like this one to a boy who won one but he didn't cheat and then he won the one like this one but he cheated and he wouldn't give it back and then in the ... (pause while she remembers apres-midi is french for...) afternoon we played again and I asked him to play with the one he won when he cheated but he cheated again...."

Meanwhile, six-year-old G. had absconded with my full-sized umbrella and openned it, going all Mary Poppins down the street and narrowly missing several eyeballs (at least it seemed to me: "Hey! Watch ou- the thing- ack!").

In the midst of this chaos, four-year-old I. struck a pose and yelled out,

"Shake Your Booo-tay!!!"

I mean, it was all I could do, you know?

Monday, November 22, 2004

Woo! I'm In! (I think)

Mme. B called yesterday to invite me to join her vocal ensemble. Stéph answered the phone and called me to come pick it up, which is exactly when, as I predicted, I forgot all the French I ever knew. We put her on speakerphone so Stéph could coach me through, and after I told her he was translating for me (at least I could squeak that part out) all was fine.

She said she has had some difficulty finding altos (that'll be the lower singing ranging for women, if you're not musically inclined), which I can now say seems to be an international problem. In every choir I've ever been in there have been loads of sopranos screeching away while I and one or two other ladies try to sound like loads of altos to balance it all out. She did seem pleased that I know how to read music, which leads me to wonder about the other members of this ensemble (I will not make assumptions, I will not...).

The only snag is that rehearsals are on Thursday nights and actually overlap with my existing choir rehearsals, at least through the New Year. Mme. B is aware of it and will wait for me, but it still means I'll have to haul it across town after the first one, and be sure to eat something late afternoon as I'll be gone from 5:00 until at least 10:30 (nothing like a growling stomach to accompany Chopin).

Mme. B offered to drop off the music in advance of Thursday's rehearsal, and when I went to the mailbox a little while ago, lo and behold, there it was. It looks like it's all your basic classical stuff, but one piece sticks out: the American standard "Summertime." Oooh, I can't wait to hear this: "Zummehtime, ahnd ze leeving iss eeeeeeeeeazzzzy....."

I spent most of this morning playing around in Paintshop Pro, making a new banner for Blog Explosion. I think it came out pretty good, considering I've never done anything in Paintshop Pro before:

I'm rather pleased with myself, actually. *Big Cheesy Grin*

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Addicted to Words

I covet books like some women covet diamonds. I have been this way all my life. It was not unusual for a parent to come into my room when I was, oh, around 12 or so and say, "Put down that book and do your homework!" The world can fall around me while I'm reading a good book, and I wouldn't even notice.

So, yeah, you get the point, I like to read.

I have managed to carry over around 15 books, and I've got around 50 sitting in boxes back home (they are being graciously stored at a friend's house until we can go back for them next year - for which I am eternally grateful). This is after the bags and bags of books I decided I could live without (sigh) and donated to the local library.

So imagine my horror when we went to a used book fair this morning. Piles and piles and tables and tables of books, which I cannot read because they are not in English.

I mean, don't get me wrong, I could work my way through them, with a trusty dictionary by my side, but that's hardly the point, is it? You read books to relax, not to give yourself a headache.

After digging through many, many boxes, we did manage to find a handful of books in English. I came away with Great Expectations (which I haven't read since high school so I can chalk that up in the "I really should have more classics" column), Brave New World (which I've never read; was it buried under 1984 all this time?), and Trilby (which gave us the lovely word "Svengali"). All for only 6€, and the proceeds go to Amnesty International.

Well, that'll keep me busy for the weekend, anyway...

Inquiring minds want to know...

The Pie Solution
Following Riri's (and many others, thanks y'all!) advice, we bought a glass pie dish and will buy the pre-made pastry called pate brisee for the crust. Pie is coming in T minus 6 days, so stay tuned for the results!

The Ungodly Tax
I got a few responses from mentioning we've got to pay a tax, as I said, for moving to France. What I actually received was a letter from the Office des Migrations Internationales stating that we've got to pay 220€ for my first Titre de Sejour - the piece of paper that says it's ok for me to stay here. It's not really a ton of money but we're living off one salary these days, and we weren't expecting this. Ah, newlywed poverty....... isn't it romantic?

Friday, November 19, 2004

Highs and Lows

It's been an interesting couple of days around Chez ViVi....

  • Instead of having to wait another three months, the notice came yesterday for my required doctor's visit, to complete my carte de sejour procedure! Yaaay!
  • It also came with a tax notice that we have to pay an ungodly amount of money for the priveledge of immigrating to this country! Boooo!
  • After receiving one issue many moons ago and never hearing a word since, out of nowhere I received another issue of Rolling Stone yesterday! Yaaay!
  • I also received a rejection letter from one of the two companies I applied to! Boooo!
  • Last night, I was invited to join a smaller vocal ensemble, by a woman who I think has the best voice in the whole choir, and we'll be singing many classic pieces which I like very much at the end of January! Yaaay!
  • She is going to call me to tell me when and where the rehearsals will be, at which time I will immediately forget all the French I've learned and make a complete ass of myself on the telephone! Boooo!

Thank you thank you thank you, for the excellent advice I received regarding the pie pan!! I will absolutely let you know how that little project comes out!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The More Things Change....

My vocal chorale is having a little party tonight, and I have to bring a little something to nosh on. My original plan was to do a trial run of a pecan pie, in advance of next week's Thanksgiving feast, but I couldn't find a good crust nor a pie pan at the store yesterday. (Does anyone know if the pre-made tarte pastry would work for a pie crust? Anyone have a recommendation for what to do about a pie pan? When I tell the Frenchies I want to make a pie, they look at me like I just landed. I have to explain that it's like a huge tarte, and they start to get the idea.)

So Stéph suggested a well-known appetizer here, which looks awfully familiar to my American eyes. Can you guess what it is? I'll even give you a hint:

Oink. Zzzzzz....

You know it's funny

Found this in my inbox this morning from my mother....

With all the sadness and trauma going on in the world at the
moment, it is worth reflecting on the death of a very important person which almost went unnoticed last week.

Larry La Prise, the man who wrote "The Hokey Pokey", died
peacefully at age 93. The most traumatic part for his family was getting him into the coffin. They put his left leg in, and then the trouble started.

SHUT UP. You know it's funny...

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

New Editions to Photoblog

face detail
Originally uploaded by vivienfrance.
Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day, so I left a little early and took some pictures of St Peter's Cathedral. Head over to the Photoblog for more pics!

Monday, November 15, 2004


Oh man, I do love crêpes. They are so versitile - you can fill them with ham and cheese, or chicken and mushrooms. Pour some cream sauce on top and you have a tasty lunch. Then you can sprinkle on some powdered sugar, or spread on some preserved fruit or Nutella (mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Nutella) and you have an excellent desert.

There are many restaurants here that feature crêpes (there's one downtown that makes the buckwheat variety with the chicken and mushrooms... *drool*) but, lo and behold, my husband knows the secret to making crêpes at home! Huzzah!

First, you need to get one of these:

I know it's not so common back home, but it's really a lot better than trying to do this in a regular skillet. If you can find one, you'll really appreciate the difference. (I'm not one for product placement, but ours starts with a "Tef" and ends with an "al". Unless they'd like to sponsor this site, in which case Tefal absolutely makes amazing cookware! I highly recommend it!)

So, you mix together the appropriate amounts of flour, milk, butter and beer (what am I, a cookbook?) heat up your pan, and start a-flippin'.

That's right - making crêpes actually involves some skill. You've got to pour in just enough batter to cover the pan, and when one side is done, you've got to flip the crêpe up in the air, and catch it with the pan.

I think you all know me well enough now to know that the first (couple of) time(s) I tried this, I tossed a few on the floor didn't do so hot. It seems my luck has changed, as we made crêpes for dinner on Saturday, and Steph was in charge of making the batter, and I was in charge of flippage.

I was doing so well (I even made a couple of miraculous saves) half-way through, that I called out, "So hey, am I French now?"

Steph responded, "If you get all the way through without dropping any, I'll write a letter to the French government about your skill with crêpes, and ask for your citizenship."

I'm happy to report that I'm expecting a letter from M. Chirac any day now.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Photoshop Fan

I confess I am a huge fan of Photoshop contests. One day, when we win the lotto, I hope to purchase Photoshop so I can play with it myself, but until that time I am happy to laugh along at others' creations. So today I'm going to tell you about my two favorite Photoshop contests - now with Browser Popping Goodness™ (I've been taking an html tutorial online, so I now know enough to be dangerous!).

This very clever entry can be found at Worth1000. These folks are true artists, and I am consistantly blown away by their creations. Be sure to check out their galleries, especially the Picture of the Day.

The kids over at Something Awful are just plain silly - and I am down with the silly. They have a weekly photoshop contest called Photoshop Phriday and also occassionally feature Photoshopped images in Comedy Goldmine - this one made me laugh so hard I had trouble breathing for the rest of the afternoon.

So there are your recommendations for wasting even more time on the internet from little ole me. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Gobble Gobble

Yep, here it comes again. That time of year when I can eat myself into a stupor and laze around and just, well, digest. And then, do it all over again.

That’s right, Thanksgiving is coming!

This is the first year ever that I won’t be home for Thanksgiving. Even during college, I lived in the same town as my grandmother, her two sisters, and more second and third cousins than you could shake a stick at, so I was “home” then, too.

So what’s a girl to do? Why, make her own Thanksgiving, of course! We’ve invited around a few folks who have agreed to partake in my attempts at making “traditional American cuisine” (ha! Suckers.).

Last month, we went to Paris and stopped by a couple of American groceries and bought these things. Among them are Stove Top dressing (it’s all for me! Bwahahahhahahahaer oh yes of course I’ll share. Heh.), cranberry sauce, and Karo syrup, for the pecan pie I’m going to try to make. We’ll buy a bird to throw in the oven and call it a day.

I do rather feel like it’s missing something, maybe a green bean casserole, or some such? So, here’s where you come in. I am looking for suggestions of Thanksgiving side dishes. Now remember, the level of difficulty is very high, because I can’t just run down to the Piggly Wiggly and pick up a can of Durkee’s fried onions for my casserole. Also, Campbell’s soup is nowhere to be found as well (unless I go back to Paris and pay 10€ for it), so if “Cream of Such N Such” is called for, it won’t work. The ingredients must be everyday stuff you can find anywhere. If I use someone’s recipe, I’ll be sure to take pictures and tell you how it came out. Thanks very much!

How Appropriate

You're Brigitte Bardot!

What Classic Pin-Up Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

I really am a sucker for a quiz, and I can't help myself when I see one I like. Sorry if you're sick of them, but this is one I couldn't resist.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Armistice Day

Today is Jour de l'Armistice de 1918, or Armistice Day. Originally, it was a day to commemorate the end of World War I, which ended on Novemeber 11, 1918. Now it is a day of rememberance for people that have died in the many wars since, so it closely resembles its American cousin, Veterans' Day, which is also today.

We went to the in-laws' for lunch today. On the way, we passed one of the war memorials, which has been decorated with floral wreaths. There were some older gentlemen in uniform milling about; I don't think there was a parade, and I don't know if they were meeting up for a luncheon or a photo opportunity.

We had a tasty lunch with my sister-in-law, mother-in-law, and father-in-law, who is a veteran himself, having served in the Algerian War. The news highlighted a survivor of the first world war, still very cognizant and mobile at 106 years old. There are 15 French veterans of World War I still living. Stéph pointed out that there were 36 last year, and maybe they were victims of the heat wave.

Today is a public holiday in France, so just about everything is closed. Considering just about everyone here is related to someone who has served in the military - especially since mandatory service only stopped about eight years ago - I think it's lovely that people can take a day to remember those that have died serving their country.

So, not a lot of ha-ha in today's post. Just one family note - my grandmother's seven brothers served in World War II, and they all came home. My great-uncle George is the only one still with us. He never had children, and recently sent a lot of his memorabilia from the war to my mom. He served in the Navy, and would draw pictures of the action he saw. I had the pleasure to see a couple of those pictures not too long ago and they were truly remarkable. I'll be thinking about Uncle George today. And no matter what country you live in, if you pass by a veteran, go kiss him on the cheek or shake his hand, because he has seen horrors that we can only dream of.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Not my card. Obviously.

I got my medical insurance card today! So I can get in a really terrible accident and I'm totally covered!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

We're Havin' A Heat Wave

....well, no, we're not. As a matter of fact, there's a possibility we'll have snow tomorrow. (Where the hell did Autumn go?) But this post is about what Rick brought up not too long ago:

What's up with the people dropping like flies in the heat wave a year ago? A thousand people died, and it was only 90 degrees. I heard there was an ice shortage. Aren't freezers as common there as here?

I can give you a little first hand experience about the heat wave from last year, since I was here for a visit for a week in August. And let me tell you something, it was freakin' hot.

After I arrived, we headed into Paris, to do a little sightseeing. After lunch in a rare air conditioned restaurant, we hunted around for something cool (temperature wise) to do. We first headed to Notre Dame, thinking it wouldn't be so terrible inside. Wrong. I never imagined that huge stone cathedral could be so hot and oppresively humid. So we went straight to The Catacombes, where it was nice and cool. I could have stayed down there all day. Except for, you know, all the dead people.

Meanwhile, out in the country, the temperature rose to an Help me, I'm melting mind numbing 115°F (I think that was with a thermometer in direct sunlight, but you get the drift - it was freakin' hot!). We found a little relief in a local lake, but other than that, it was "suck it up and deal with it."

While I got to go home after a week to my air conditioned apartment, the vast majority of French people didn't have that luxury, as air conditioning - especially in private homes - is extremely rare. Normally, the temperature tops out at about 80°F and it's quite a bit cooler at night, so there generally isn't a need.

According to this article, nearly 15,000 people died. The majority of people that died were elderly. Clearly somebody dropped the ball in looking after these folks.

Oh, and the freezers? Also, more rare than you might think. Here is a picture of the fridge we bought last month, which is considered pretty large here. Many folks just have what we Americans would consider a dorm-sized fridge, because of the preference to buy fresh food.

The government responded to the crisis by handing out Evian spray bottles to all the elderly to keep cool, in case of another heat wave this year. As you can imagine, the French responded with a "Hey, yeah, thanks" eyeroll, and the issue was lambasted on the political satire tv show, Les Guignols de l'Info.

So, there's your answer in a nutshell. I'm sure I've left a lot of points out, and maybe some folks who were actually here for more than a week last year can weigh in?

As for now, I've got to go run my cold cold fingers under some hot water. I had hoped talking about the heat wave would warm me up, but, alas, no. It's freakin' cold here!

Here Comes Christmas

Oh yes, the signs are everywhere. Lights have been strung across every street in town - even if they haven't been turned on yet. While checking out at Carrefour last week, I noticed at least 50% of shoppers had toys in their baskets. I even saw an inflatable Père Noël last week.

Yep, here comes Christmas. And while I am used to rejecting anything Christmas related until the third friday in November, the French don't have Thanksgiving for a buffer, so it seems all systems are go as soon as the somber holiday Toussaint is over.

But the number one way I know that Christmas is coming? Our mailbox is absolutely stuffed with toy catalogs. Every major store has them. And, I can't explain why, this has brought on a strange wave of nostalgia. I remember pouring over the toy section of the JCPenny's catalog like I was studying for a bar exam. With great care, I would circle or bookmark interesting toys, so I could go back and whittle my choices down to ten, to be copied into a letter to Santa. I rarely - if ever - actually received a gift I requested from the catalogs (maybe I was aiming to high?), but I loved flipping through the pages and daydreaming.

Come to think of it, I've never ordered anything from a catalog. But I sure do like to look through them. Heh. Some things never change.

Monday, November 08, 2004

French Stereotypes, Part Trois

Rick asked some very interesting questions. First up:

Is there a French Cancer Society that encourages people to quit smoking? Europeans in general smoke like a burning pile of wet carpet.

Why yes, yes they do.

As a matter of fact, Stéph remembers when smoking was allowed everywhere, and you'd have guys strolling down the isle in the grocery picking out their sausages puffing away like chimneys. But I digress.

Actually, there's a lot going on in the anti-smoking campaign. You know those Surgeon General warnings on American packs of cigarettes? Well check this out:

They're freaking huge here!

And now, today's french lesson:
Fumer tue: Smoking kills
Fumer peut entraîner une mort lente et douloureuse: Smoking can drag a death slowly and painfully (literal translation)

Yes, yes, those are my and Stéph's cigarettes. We know smoking kills. I've lost family members to smoking related illnesses. Please don't fill the comments box with warnings - we're both old enough to know better and do it anyway. We're going to quit. Stop laughing, we are!!

Also, I've noticed quite a few anti-smoking commercials on tv, and while they do an excellent job, I don't remember who sponsors them.

Is there a French Cancer Society? Yes. And here is their website. Though I didn't see anything about an anti-smoking campaign.

So are the numbers of smokers decreasing? I don't know. But I can tell you that most of my in-laws don't smoke, and many of our friends and Stéph's colleages don't smoke. But, when I pass the high school on the way to pick up the kids I babysit, there are usually a gaggle of students loitering and chain smoking.

I'm going to tackle Rick's other question in another post. Oh - and please keep the tongue twisters coming! I've received some really great ones - including ones I'd never heard of! - so thanks very much to those of you who have already contributed!

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Art for Bloggers' Sake

Art for Bloggers' Sake
Originally uploaded by vivienfrance.

This was created by my favorite blogging artist, Madge (or was it Vit?) over at Vitriolica Webb's Ite. She blogs about living in Portugal, and her illustrations are dead clever. Seriously, I'm trying not to gush. Please go look through her archives or in her gallery and see for yourself! (Click on the picture to read the text)

Twist My Tongue

So when we went out with Stéph's colleages the other night, one of the big dicussions we had was about tongue twisters. This was great fun, since everyone there spoke varying degrees of english, and with my limited french, we were able to trade them back and forth. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard!

One thing I have learned, is that the french are in love with their language. It seems wordplay and turning a clever phrase are the noblest persuits one can accomplish. A favorite thing to do is to change around key letters in a sentence to make a new sentence - usually filled with sexual innuendo. I know this has happened when the conversation is going smoothly and suddenly everyone around me falls to pieces laughing all over each other. Then my poor husband feels he has to explain it to me, and as we all know, explaining a joke sucks the room dry. The day I am able to understand a changed phrase is the day I'll know I'll have made it.

Anyhoo, back to tongue twisters:

I'm ashamed to report I could only remember three, and one them was missing the last bit. Here's what I remembered:

Unique New York. (Seems simple but the five times fast rule proves it's not so easy!)

Peter Piper. (My favorite! I can rip through that one)

The one we couldn't remember the end to was:
Sally sells seashells by the seashore.
If the shells she sells are seashells,

I happen to know one in french - Le chasseur. Unfortunately I only know it phonetically, or I'd write it out. Heh.

So! I need your help! I'm looking for tongue twisters, in both languages. If you know a good one, please put it in the comments. Thanks!

Thursday, November 04, 2004


We went to Carrefour yesterday, and I noticed that one of the store front managers was wearing roller skates. Not inline skates, mind you, but real, old school roller skates, with four wheels and a big stopper in the front and everything. I didn't even know they still made them! They don't even wear them at Sonic!

Warning: clicking on that link is dangerous. Sonic has tasty greasy food and eye rollingly good ice cream shakes. Peruse at your own risk. That is all.

So anyhoo, yeah, I thought that was pretty cool. Inline skates are crazy popular here as well. I think there's a weekly or monthly gathering in Paris, which Jason has mentioned (but I couldn't find the entry, sorry), and it seems there's always youngish guys flying around here on inline skates. Honestly I don't know how they do it. I can barely navigate around all the cobblestones in heels, nevermind boots with wheels.

French Stereotypes, Part Deux

Let me get this out of the way first: if you're still sore about the results of the election, I suggest you read what Matt wrote here. It gave me a giggle and plus the boys will really like his banner. I mean, if you're predisposed to like that sort of thing.

This concludes all politics on this particular blog. Moving on....

French Stereotypes: Fact or Fiction? Part Deux
So Jenniffer asked:

The French are rude: fact or fiction?
The French are snobs: fact or fiction?

Unfortunately, these are generalizations. It's kind of like saying the English all have bad teeth or Austrailians are all like Crocodile Dundee or all Germans do is drink beer and fall over. (Oh wait...)

So are they all rude? I can say I have only met one person who was down and out rude. I think rudeness should be designated on a case by case basis. As a matter of fact, in my limited experience in eating in restaurants in Paris, I've not encountered a rude waiter. In fact, last year I met a waitress who was happy to practice her English on me. She was rather nice. What I'm trying to say is that France is not a nation of rude people. I've met far more rude Americans than French, but then I've only been here two months as opposed to *muffle muffle* years in the states.

Are they snobby? This one is a little more difficult to determine. I think snobby is perhaps a little harsh; maybe confident is better. They already know that they're at the top of the chain when it comes to food and wine, and everything in that arena. The thing is, they're happy to tell you that as well. We may prefer false modesty, but France is a nation of people who are not afraid to tell you what they are thinking. One must turn up the sensitivity meter when visiting France, and move on.

Jenniffer also asked:
The French hate us and our Freedom Fries: Fact or Fiction?
No. Unlike Americans, the French are able to seperate people who are citizens of the country from the government they disagree with. Of course I'm generalizing, and maybe there are some French people who hate us and our Freedom Fries. I just haven't met any of them. Maybe it's because "french fries" aren't really French. They're Belgian. And while some people may like to call France a nation of "surrender monkeys," I've never heard an American counterpart for that, which is quite telling, if you ask me.

Well then Kirsten came along and asked:
Do the French smell?
I'm not sure where this rumor got started, but yes, the French are anatomically the same as us, and are quite capable of utilizing their sense of smell. In fact, some people believe they have a heightened sense of smell which makes them more critical and therefore more demanding with their cuisine...

What's that? That's not wha... Ah. Heh. Mah bad.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Overwhelmed and Underwhelmed

I have to say, I am completely overwhelmed by the comments I have received in the last couple of days. I cannot begin to describe how much your encouragement and support has lifted me up. In the immortal words of Cartman:

I love you guys.

In other news, I am completely underwhelmed by the "results" of the presidential election. Just now I am numb really, but it may be more from a lack of sleep. We got home at 3am, after a night on the town (wherein I attempted to explain the Electoral College. Ha!). One channel was doing live commentary on the election, and one guy would make his projections and then next guy would say that it wouldn't be clear for another four to five hours so the first guy's projections weren't worth much. Just like home. So it was lights out, but I didn't sleep well.

So. Erm. I think I'll just leave it at that.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

And now for something completely different

I have to say, I'm feeling a whole lot better, thanks to these three factors:

*All of the lovely encouraging comments I received yesterday. Y'all are fantabulous!
*I found Joshilyn's blog yesterday, which is like a fresh breath of air. If you are a fan of southern literature, or you just want a taste of down home, I highly recommend her (especially if you're a ya-ya - and you know who you are. *wink wink nudge nudge*)
*For dinner last night, I had a proper grilled cheese sandwich (with actual processed cheddar cheese, thankyouverymuch) and a bowl of soup, and that seemed to set me right.

Since I'm feeling so much better, I'm gonna blog about something I've been meaning to write for ages now, so without futher ado, I present:

French Stereotypes: Fact or Fiction?

1. "Oh la la!"
Yes, the French really really do say Oh la la. And I still have to seriously control the urge to burst out laughing everytime I hear it.

2. Men and their ManBags
Yes, most men carry some kind of an accessory bag. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that ID cards are the size of index cards, which don't fit easily in a back pocket. I also think that men aren't afraid to admit that they'd like to have something to carry around all their crap - checkbooks are huge, then you got cigarettes, maybe a writing utensil, ginormous ID cards, blah blah blah. Now, it's not like they've got purses slung over their shoulders as they saunter around. The bags are appropriately masculine. Younger guys wear those cool backpack thingies that aren't really backpacks (I must find a picture) and older guys usually have a smallish daytimer kind of thingie. Stéph carries his stuff in a fanny pack. Notice I said carries. He doesn't wear it. 'Cause then we would have issues.

3. They all wear berets
No, they do not. This actually came up in conversation the other day. There's a waitress at the bar we always go to for a coffee. She happens to be asian (I don't know which came first: the asian clientele or the asian waitress. Chicken or egg...). This week she cut off her waist-length hair to shoulder-length (it's very very cute on her) and has taken to wearing a raspberry beret. You know, the kind you find in a second hand store? (sorry, couldn't resist). Stéph said, "Now the only people you see wearing berets are asian girls and old men." And it's true: occassionally I'll pass in the street an older fellow wearing his beret and carrying a baugette home for dinner. And I'll resist yelling "Oh my god, you are so freakin' french!"

That's all I can think of right now. If you have a suggestion for another installment of this program, please leave a comment. Ta-ta!

Monday, November 01, 2004

Pity Party

I'm having one of those days. I don't know if it's because today marks two months in my adopted country, or because the sun has been hiding for a couple of days. I'm a bit down. I'd really like to go to bed and start over tomorrow.

I'm frustrated and cranky. I want to know what the hell people around me are talking about. I'd like to be able to pick up the phone and call my sister-in-law and say "whassap?" but I can't. I'd really like to jack into a computer and download the french language directly into my brain, a la The Matrix but I can't.

I'm not fishing for sympathy here. Any one of my fellow ex-pats can tell you the same story. I'm just venting. I knew this was going to be an uphill battle from the word go. I'm so lucky - my husband is so supportive, as are the rest of my in-laws. I can't imagine what it must be like for people who do this alone.

I've just got to screw my courage to the sticking place, and soldier on.

All Saints Day

Today is Toussaint, or All Saints' Day. It's a catch-all day for all the saints who don't have their own feast day. Traditionally in France, it's a day to remember and honor those that have gone before by placing flowers, usually chrysanthemums, on the graves of their loved ones. It also happens to be a public holiday (which doesn't affect us in the slightest as Stéph is on holiday until Thursday).

I have to admit, I find it a bit odd that France, who prides itself on being a totally secular nation, is taking a day off on what is obviously a Catholic holiday. So I looked here to find the other public holidays for this year. They include:

Easter Monday
Ascension Day

Now I know that France is predominately a nation of Catholics (though that is slowly starting to change, with the increasing numbers of immigrants from traditionally Muslim countries), but I'm very curious to know how they're able to pull this one off. None of the above mentioned holidays are public holidays in the states, which is predominantly Christian (though admittedly not necessarily Catholic).

Disclaimer: it's not my intention to start an argument with this piece. I bring this up only out of curiosity and the hope of better understanding the idea behind the action. Thank you for understanding.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

That Figures

Me: Hey! I'm really feeling better today!

Stéph: That's good, 'cause now I'm sick.


Happy Halloween!

Here is an interesting article about Halloween in France - it's way more recent than you think. It also may explain why we don't have a jack o' lantern, candy at the door, or plans to get dressed up today. Maybe next year...

Saturday, October 30, 2004

A Beautiful Day for a Walk

This afternoon we drove about 10 minutes out of Troyes to the Parc de Loisors in the village of Menoir.

It was a lovely afternoon, and you can see more pics at the photoblog.

Also, something extraordinary happened this morning. A few weeks ago, we went to Stéph's insurance agency to add me to his insurance. Not long after, we received a request for my birth certificate, which I happened to have (I still had two, actually, as I ordered three before I left the states), and we sent if off immediately. So this morning we got a mail from the insurance company. It was my birth certificate, with a note saying that they figured this was an original so they made a copy and sent it back in case I needed it for something else in the future. Will wonders never cease?

Friday, October 29, 2004

Bork Bork Bork!

chef jpeg
You are the the Swedish Chef.
You are a talented individual, nobody understands
you. Perhaps it's because you talk funny.

"Brk! Brk! Brk!"
Kokin' der yummee-yummers

"Wild Strawberries...and Creme"

"Der Swedish Chef Kokin' Bokin'"

"Vergoofin der flicke stoobin mit der brk-brk

What Muppet are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Yeah, I know this isn't a proper post, sorry about that. I've been feeling pretty woozy all day, and it's taken everything in my power not to go back to bed (notwithstanding the time I actually did go back to bed). Stéph thinks it's because we haven't done much since he's been on vacation (it isn't, but he doesn't believe me) so he's taking me somewhere tomorrow afternoon. And he won't tell me where. This should be interesting....

A couple of quick notes
Dana very astutely noticed that I didn't buy any popcorn when we went to the American groceries last weekend. That's because I found some right here in Troyes! It's actually quite good, too.

Once again, I have six gmail invites I would love to give away. Please speak up if you want one.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

When did I get so Computer Savvy?

Yesterday I found myself at, which is a really cool blog exchange site. So I've been surfing around looking at other blogs, which is fun, but then I noticed they advertise blogs with banners at the top of the page. It never occured to me that I could make my own banner, so I googled "free banners" and found myself here. The most difficult thing was finding a background I liked. So now I've got a blog, a photoblog, I can do a little html, and now I can create a banner. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Oh, wanna see my banner? Go to, silly! (There's also a link in the sidebar.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Sorry, not That New York

It didn't take me long to understand that there are subtle differences in what information is required when applying for a job/insurance/bank account/library card. I am always asked, without fail, for my maiden name (which is nice, I think), my marital status, my DOB, and my place of birth.

I happened to be born in New York. Everyone here who learns this automatically assumes I mean New York City. The truth is I was born on Long Island and have only been to the city twice in my life, but to correct them...... eh, just not worth it. Actually I have fond memories of visiting the city and am happy to chat about it.

It came up again last week when we went to the bank to add me to Steph's bank account (we decided getting my own account here wouldn't be worth the hassle/cost). Our bank dude was super chatty and lit right up when I told him where I was born (I don't give the town, just the state; I figure it's good enough for my passport, it's good enough for the bank dude). He was very excited to tell us about the last time he went to NYC, which must have been awhile ago since he mentioned Windows on the World, but I smiled and nodded as well as I could (this also happened to be the first day I was sick so I was just trying to hang on at that point anyway).

I have to say I'm quite entertained by the reactions, and they don't bother me one bit. If it opens an opportunity for conversation, I'm all for it. It's just like everyone back in states who kept saying I was moving to Paris - not exactly right, but close enough and not worth interrupting the flow of conversation to correct.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

It's a Nice Place to Visit....

.... no really! Paris is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. Well, let me tell you what we got up to this weekend.

We arrived at the home of Stéph's friend Y and his girlfriend S in Nanterre, a suburb just northeast of Paris, around 1:30. I'm happy to report that we only got slightly lost, but it was lovely to see the Arc de Triomphe again, even though we hadn't meant to. After lunch, they suggested going into the city, since they are literally 50 steps away from an RER station (subway that connects to the metro), and wondered if we had an idea of something to see.

Well, not too long ago, I was puttering around online and found a couple of American groceries in Paris. Knowing that eventually we'd be going there for one reason or another, I jotted down the addresses. Stéph suggested this, and our hosts were game for a little scavenger hunt.

After a little map hunting, we were on our way. Our first stop was in the 4th arrondissement*, where we nearly lost our hosts on rue de Rivoli. That street was absolutely insane. I've only ever seen a throng of people that large that could stop traffic before in New York City. As we walked, Stéph and I played "Name That Accent", which is where you try to determine the nationality of the english speaker walking behind/beside/in front of you. Finally we arrived at Thanksgiving, on rue Saint Paul. Walking in the shop definitely had the "kid in the candy store" affect on me.

After I picked out a few items, S suggested we go to the other store, which was quite a shock as it had taken quite a while to find this one, and I told her it wasn't necessary, but she insisted that she didn't mind. So, off we went to the 7th arrondissement*, where we found The Real McCoy. I couldn't find a website for this place, but they did give me a little flyer and I'm happy to give them a little shout out since they were so nice and they truly had a great selection of stuff:

So I know you're wondering, what the heck did she buy? Well, I'm happy to show you:

I'm embarrassed to tell you how much we paid for that stuff, so I'll just say it was easily twice what you would pay at your local grocery. The root beer was more for Stéph than it was for me, and he had one ready to drink as we left The Real McCoy. He invited Y and S to try it, and they all agreed that it smelled like Vick's Vapor Rub. Eh?

On our way back to Nanterre, we happened to walk by this Paris landmark. It suddenly occurred to me that the last time I stood on this spot was 15 years ago, when I came to France with my high school choir. Damned funny the way life works out, isn't it?

We had a pleasant evening of conversation and dice games, and after breakfast and a walk around the park the next morning, we headed home. It took us easily an hour and a half to get out of Paris, which is another reason it's a nice place to visit, yadda yadda yadda. How do people not go postal on each other there? But I digress: Y and S were super gracious hosts, and I hope we can return the favor one day.

*What the heck is an arrondissement?
From the
(Basic) Paris Glossary:

Arrondissement - Paris is divided up into twenty ``arrondissement'' or districts. The ``First'' is in the center of the city, and the others are laid out in a clockwise manner about this. As these are such a basic unit to the city, they are constantly referred to in guides and literature; almost always using simply their associated number (1er, or 2em etc). The Louvre is in the First, the Arc de Triomphe is in the Eighth. NB: You can determine the arrondissement of an address from its postal code. The last two digits of a Paris address give the arrondissement; 75018 is the eighteenth for example. The exception to this rule are addresses with the word ``CEDEX'' appearing in them.