Friday, April 29, 2005

(school) year in review

I had an interesting conversation with my sister-in-law on the way home from choir rehearsal last night. As the school year begins to wind down and our final concert of the year approaches, we had a moment of reflection. SIL, who never sang before joining the choir last September, told me how much easier it was for her to sing now, and she doesn't have as much trouble reaching the high notes as she did when she started. Then we talked about how far the choir itself had come. We sound like a real ensemble now, and I'm really proud to be in this group.

Then SIL shocked the heck out of me: she told me how far she thought I'd come with my French! I was surprised because the last couple of days I've been feeling a bit like I'm not getting anywhere at all, but that may be because my French class is still on vacation and while I'm trying to keep up the pace while studying a bit online, it's just not the same. But she insisted! She pointed out that she doesn't have to explain so much when she talks, and she thinks my vocabularly has vastly improved. When I think back to those early days of riding with her back and forth from the Convervatory, I can definitely see a difference.

I know I still have a long way to go to achieve anything close to fluency, but it's nice to pause for a moment and see how far I've come.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

a cry for help

I've got a serious problem. It's been coming on for months now, and getting worse all the time. I thought maybe I could handle it on my own. I did what I could to prevent it from getting worse, but there's only so much I can do myself. I really think it's time I seek out professional help.

Click "tell me more" to continue...

I desperately need a haircut.

A part of me genuinely wanted to let it grow. I can't remember the last time I let my hair grow out, but I'm starting to remember why I haven't done it in so long. It looks like absolute shit.

Nine months ago, my hair possibly looked the best it ever did. Cut just below my jaw line, layered a little in the back for fullness, wavy curls framing my face. Maybe I'd put a little something in my hair to encourage the curl, or help keep it from frizzing up in the humid weather, but mostly, it was good hair.

Now, the curl is falling out, and my hair is permanently frizzy. Nothing I do helps, and the more crap I put in my hair to help solve these problems, the worse it looks. I am fed up, and I want my nice hair back.

Only now, I'm faced with a new problem. What the heck am I supposed to tell a hairdresser? I can barely say I want it cut, never mind the actual details. Also? There are easily 10 hairdressers within a five mile walk of my apartment. How on earth can I pick one?

So, I'm asking for *gulp* help. (Admitting I have a problem is the first step, right?)

First of all, how do I pick a hairdresser? What should I be looking for to avoid the one (you know there's always one) who will hack up my hair? Also, what should I ask? How do I say "layered, but not great big chunks please"? Is it appropriate to bring a photo from nine months ago? How about if it's my wedding pictures (they're not professional, and I did my hair myself)?

I know this will sound incredibly frivolous to some of you, but dammit, I'm sick of cringing when I look in the mirror. I've got to face the music and the cutting shears, but I don't mind telling you, I'm scared to death. Help!

Update: I just thought of something else. What kind of prices should I be expecting? What is considered reasonable and what is outrageous? If someone is offering a lower price should I run away in fear? I get the feeling it's more than going to good ole SuperCuts back home (yes I did and my hair looked great, thank you) and it may be why Steph keeps telling me my hair looks fine and keeps threatening to cut it himself with his beard trimmer!

Monday, April 25, 2005

turning a new phrase

Once you get to know the fundamentals of a new language, the challenge (as far as I can see) is to make it come alive, by incorporating local phrases and colloquialisms. This is not as easy as it sounds. You would think you could just translate phrases you used to use, but they just don't make sense in your new language. I'm probably not doing my husband any favors by tossing around a few southern phrases, but he's certain to impress my southern family.

The reason I bring this up is that Steph's English has improved so much that I don't always watch what I say anymore. "I'm gonna" and "y'all" are slipping back into my vocabulary, and I had him absolutely stumped when I told him last week that I was going to "run down to the corner store." Other personal favorites (southern and otherwise) include:

"I'm so happy I could be twins."
"I was born on a Wednesday, but not LAST Wednesday."
"It's colder than a witch's tit in a brass bra."
"It's hotter than a whore in church."
...And the ever popular "Well, bless your heart."

For various reasons, I wouldn't dare attempt to translate these into French and introduce them in polite society.

Slowly but surely, I am adding new French phrases to my growing vocabulary. Some are exactly the same, and others are so whimsical to me that when I learn them, I laugh out loud. My current favorite is "Elle est aimable comme une porte de prison," or, "She's as nice as a prison door." Funny, huh? Steph swears his father says this all the time.

So my question for my fellow ex-pats/students of new languages is: What new phrases have you learned that made you smile when you learned it? Which ones do you actually use now? And finally, which phrases do you miss that can't (or shouldn't) be translated in your new language?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

La Motte-Tilly

Hey! My images are back! See?

Yesterday, Steph, my mother-in-law and I visited the chateau at La Motte Tilly. We arrived just in time for a guided tour of the chateau, which is in remarkable condition and houses many antiques from the eras of Louis XIV, Louis XV, well most of the Louises after the Sun King, up to the Empire Period. The rooms have been left much like the last Marquise left them some thirty years ago. The tour was in French, and I understood a great deal, and Steph filled in the gaps.

After the tour, we took a turn out in the gardens before coming home. I took some pictures, and they can be found at the photoblog. All in all, it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

car culture

It seems to me that the French have a totally different relationship to cars than Americans do. Here in France, cars are not coddled, like a beautiful child, nor are they always looking good in their Sunday best to show off. While cars in the states are status symbols, here there are a means to get around, and that's about it. My French friend, who lived in the states for several years, laughed until she had tears in her eyes, when she remembered Americans lovingly washing and waxing their cars every weekend, even in the dead of winter. "What's the point?" she asked. "In winter, with all the snow and the mess, I waited until the bad weather passed, and my car was just fine."

Here, dents and dings are not things to be lamented. No one races to the body shop to have a dent beat out before someone sees it. They are a fact of life, particularly when living in a town with tons of public parking and a dearth of private garages.

I confess, even I was not immune to American car culture. I had a 2000 Ford Focus, which I bought used in 2002, and that car was my baby. I took better care of that car than I took care of myself. I never missed changing the oil within 3000 miles, I never let the gas gauge fall below 1/4 tank, I took her to the best car wash in town on a regular basis. Maybe it was because I was making astronomical payments, but if I'd ever dinged or dented it I would have been mortified. In my American mind, your car and the state of it are reflections of you, so you'd better show your best face when out in public. These are things I've had to let go of since moving here. People I've met just don't feel that way about cars.

The reason I bring all of this up is that we saw the funniest thing yesterday, when driving back from a visit with the in-laws. Steph pointed them out, and I wouldn't have noticed them if he hadn't. It seems a car ahead of us was sporting some spinning rims, yo. It's the first time either one of us has seen them in France. The reason I couldn't see them at first was because they were absolutely filthy. Dirt was caked all the way up to the bumper level. And you know no self-respecting playa back home would allow that to happen.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

spring break marches on

Yesterday we made another attempt to find a spring coat for me. The weather was still crappy and cold, and the sky looked like the apocolypse was coming, with low dark clouds and heavy rains on the horizon. We ducked into E.LeClerc to pick up a few essentials, and by the time we got out, the rain had passed us by. Off we went to another shopping mecca, McArthurGlen. Unfortunately, Messirs Armani, Klein and Lauren still don't offer clothes in fluffy sizes, so we went home empty handed again. Everything I found was either too thin (can you imagine making a jacket with no lining and still charging 89 euros?) or was the wrong size or the wrong style. The search continues...

It seems the weather has brightened up quite a bit, so it looks like we're a go for visiting a local chateau tomorrow. This will be the second or third attempt at going, so I am cautiously looking forward to it. Finally, some fodder for my photoblog!

In other news
I still can't see my images and cannot get onto the website. If anyone has any tips or hints on what the hell is going on, please enlighten me in my comments box. Thanks!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

what the.....

Ok, is anyone else not seeing my ex-pat buttons in the right column, or is it just me? Also, is anyone else experiencing issues with not seeing images from I can't even get onto the website. Please tell me I'm not going crazy.

everyone is doing it...

In an effort to distract myself from illness reports from home (alluded to in the last post), I've done my linguistic profile, like her and her. Here's what I got:

Your Linguistic Profile:

55% General American English

30% Yankee

10% Dixie

5% Upper Midwestern

0% Midwestern

30% Yankee? Lemme 'splain!!

I can think of two reasons for this. First, my Mom is a full-blooded Yankee. My family moved south more than 25 years ago, and she still sounds like she never left Long Island, God bless 'er. The only time I really "sound" like a Yankee, is when I'm on the phone with her or talking in her presence. My college roommate always knew when I was on the phone with my mom, because it's the only time my Yankee accent comes out.

The other thing is, I grew up in Central Florida. Florida is generally considered a southern state, but if you ask me, only the top third of the state can really be considered southern. Once you get down to around St. Augustine or Daytona Beach (I was a Space Coast girl myself) you start to find yourself back in northern territory. This is because there are a great number of retirees in Central Florida, and also because of the influx of Yankees who worked in the Aerospace industry (which is how we ended up there). Among my group of friends, only one or two were actually born in Florida. Southern accents were to be mocked. Certainly there were hotspots of natives (good old Bithlo comes to mind) but the vast majority seemed to be from out of town. Generally, we had standard American accents, with northern colloquiallisms ("hey you guys" instead of "hey y'all," etc.) .

Things started to change when I went away to college in North Carolina. I didn't realize how much I'd changed until I arrived home after one semester, and found that my friends had come to surprise me at my house. "I'm so happy to see y'all!" I exclaimed. My friends looked at me as if I had just landed from another planet. "Y'ALL?!" The transformation had begun.

So, after four (and a half) years of college and seven years living in South Carolina, I have defininately picked up a southern drawl. But thanks to a good ear and training in the Dramatic Arts, I am able to turn it off and on at will. This has also helped with my French accent, though it does little for actually picking up vocabulary.

Well, there you have my explaination of why I sound the way I do. If you don't believe me, next time you see me, ask me to talk like my mom. You'll think I'd lived my whole life on Long Island too.

Oh, and as for the 5% Upper Midwestern accent: I have absolutely no idea, especially considering I've never even been there!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

a tranquil spring break

I seem to be going through a bit of a dry spell where posting to the blog is concerned. Part of the reason is that we're just enjoying a quiet spring break and piddling around the house. Over the next week and a half, we can expect more of the same, with the possibility of a day trip to a random chateau or two. I can report that last night we went to Romilly-sur-Seine, where Steph works and the Gang of Colleages lives (that makes them sound like super heroes, doesn't it?) for an evening of pizza, beer and tarot. In spite of the fact that I haven't played in several months, I held my own and was even complimented for winning a game by myself. That felt pretty damn good. We got home so late (early?) that I slept through my last French class before a two-week break. This was not particularly good news, as I'd spent two and a half hours finishing up homework especially so I'd be ready for class.

Another thing is (and excuse me for not going into too much detail here) someone I love very very much back home is currently in the hospital. After some frantic phone calls the last couple of days (made by me), I have learned that they are expected to be fine but I am still on pins and needles while tests are done and diagnoses are made. This, my friends, is the hardest part of being so far away from home.

Finally, we've been trying, for the last few days, to look for a lightweight coat for me for the Spring, because all I have are a heavy wool winter coat and a rain jacket. We're still prone to a have cold snap now and then and it still can be a little chilly in the evenings in the summer. It seems we started looking at the wrong time, as I can't find a damn thing. Everything is either too lightweight or too heavy, and if I do find something I like it's either too big or too small. Meanwhile, Steph had a gift certificate to a men's store downtown, and of course he walked in, found a jacket in five minutes flat, tried it on, and bought it. And then, to top it all off, he got 20% off. I swear, men have it dead easy.

Monday, April 11, 2005

sunday in Paris

I got a huge surprise in my email last week, when a friend of mine from back home wrote to tell me that she'd be in Paris this past weekend. Would we like to meet up for lunch?

Are you freaking kidding me?

So Steph and I took a train into Paris and met up with my friend at her hotel. After a lunch of crepes (mine was stuffed with chicken and mushrooms and cheese, miam miam!) we did a little sightseeing and went through the Cluny Museum, chatting and catching up all the while.

After meeting up with my friend's best friend, whom she had come to Paris to meet, we were met by fellow blogger Kylie. After saying goodbye to our friends from home (who promise to send popcorn, bwahahahahha), Kylie, Steph and I wandered around town. We stopped at the Memorial des Martyrs de la Deportation before wandering some more to find something to eat. Since dining options are a bit more limited on a Sunday, and we found ourselves back in the Latin Quarter, I suggested the Greek restaurant Mythos, where Squishy and I went in January. Unfortunately, the rowdy loud atmosphere didn't seem to be the right choice, and the charm of the place wore off quickly. Like Kylie said, "I don't like being obliged to YELL in my conversation!" Indeed.

After dinner, we said our goodbyes at the next metro stop and headed back to the train station. All in all, it was a fantastic day, and a wonderful way to start Steph's two week spring break.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

cold mountain

I just spent a good portion of the afternoon watching the movie Cold Mountain, based on the book of the same name, by Charles Frazier. I guess it's not surprising that a movie, based on an area of my home country that I dearly love, could affect me so much, considering it stars an Australian, and Englishman, and in the starring role of Cold Mountain, a mountain range somewhere in eastern Europe.

I read the book five or six years ago, and at the time I had only been making the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains my home for a couple of years, having followed my parents there. I was falling in love with the mountains, with the people, and I loved the book as well. That winter, my father was invited to attend a grand opening of a Boy Scout camp in the mountains south of Asheville, and my mother and I came along. It was the end of January and bitterly cold; I remember the temperature readout in the car said it was in the teens (farenheight) by the time we got to our destination. A ranger offered to take us on a small hike to look at more of the campgrounds, so we piled into a van and rode part of the way up.

After walking for a while, we reached a clearing and could see other mountains in the area. He pointed out one or two, and pointed to the next, "And that's Cold Mountain." The book was still fresh in my mind, but I confess I didn't realize Cold Mountain was an actual place. From far off, it looked blue. It certainly looked like it had earned its name.

By this time, my parents had moved to Asheville, and the mountains became my escape. Half the reason I went to see them was to drive through the gorgeous scenery, my windows down (when appropriate) to breathe in that sweet air. My father always liked to take the car and just drive, to see what there was to see. I loved those rides. I miss them.

So, the movie. I won't bore you with a review, especially since by now the internet must be crawling with them. I wasn't overly moved by the scenery, because I knew in the back of my mind that they weren't my mountains, though they were pretty enough. Nicole Kidman was just ok and Renee Zellweger was wonderful. I also thought Jude Law made an excellent Inman.

But what was it that got to me so? Perhaps it was the idea of a thing, rather than the thing itself. When Inman cried (and I'm paraphrasing here), "How can I miss something that is only a name?" I cried along with him, knowing exactly what he meant. By the time the end credits rolled, I was filled to the brim with my own memories. I was preparing to take the movie back to the video store, and when I heard Alison Krause sing "I'm gone to find my true love," it all came crashing down. It occurred to me that I had found my true love, so far away from that place I love so much, and all the emotion came tumbling out at once, and a feeling of homesickness swept over me so fiercely I cried out. And then, like the movie, I put it away, and walked through this new town I'm growing to love, and continued on down this path I'm creating with my own true love.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

last saturday

I would be very remiss if I didn't talk about what a wonderful day we had on Saturday. What a gorgeous day it was! Blue skies, warm temperatures, and a fantastic day to wander around town.

We started off at lunchtime to go to a favorite kebab place. I was surprised that they didn't have their tables set up for dining outside, like a lot of other places had, but I was craving kebab, so we decided to eat inside. We were shocked when we were invited to find a place downstairs, and discovered our favorite take-away place wasn't a take-away place at all, but a full fledged restaurant! For a menu of less than 10 euros, we ate like kings! I started with an entree that was exactly like tzatziki, but with a different name, and was so delicious I had to restrain myself from licking the plate. We both had a doner kebab plate, which had the most food I've ever seen presented on one plate in France. A generous portion of kebab meat lay on a bed of couscous, surrounded by salad and fries. Neither one of us could finish, and I ended up putting the wonderful pita-like bread in my purse to carry home (which was Steph's idea)! We were so full we couldn't finish desert, which Steph ended up putting in his bag to carry home. We are really hoping we can get some folks together during the spring break to come enjoy this little treasure we discovered!

We waddled out of the restaurant and into the sunshine. Good thing we had planned a walk around town! First we stopped at FNAC, which was just around the corner, just for a little peek, and then off to the downtown area. It looked like all of Troyes was out in force to enjoy the gorgeous weather. Steph told me that this area will be streaming with tourists during the height of summer, but it seemed to me that this first beautiful Saturday of the year was reserved just for us locals.

During our wandering, we happened upon the Maison de l'Outil, or House of Tools, which is a museum of common tools used as far back as the 17th century. As something of a history buff, I enjoyed it, particularly the pictures from the turn of the 20th century situated near the tools they were associated with, but if that sounds boring to you, you might be interested to visit just for the amazing building the museum is housed in. It is a three-story (two-story, for you Europeans) half-timbered building with a large courtyard in the middle, and it has been restored beautifully. I found my mind wandering, wondering what this building was in the past and who lived there.

After an hour of marveling at the past, we stepped back into the sunshine and headed back to the center of town. We stopped at a cafe in front of the Mairie, or Town Hall, to sit in the shade and have a cool drink while we watched the world go by before wandering back home.

Monday, April 04, 2005

gisbe: guest post

I received an email yesterday from my sister, who received her GISBE package in the mail yesterday from Denise, who writes Do you have that in my size? Mandy doesn't have a blog (yet!), so she sent me her response and a picture of her goodies.

I received your GISBE package this morning! Hooray! :) Thank you so much for your gifts. The Padres hat is super-cool! I actually sent out a Devil Rays cap for my GISBE partner in France. lol :) I actually interviewed Bruce Boche, the Padres' manager, when I was in community college when he was named the manager lo these many years ago. He went to and played baseball for Brevard Community College, and I was the sports editor of the school paper when he got the job. That article helped me win a college scholarship later that year. :)

I'm sorry to report, though, that the salt shaker didn't make it across the country intact. However, it's a clean split, so a bit of super glue will fix it up with no problem. :)

The picture frame is also very cute. I hope I have a picture small enough to fit inside it. :)

I've attached a couple of pictures for you. Please pardon the quality of them, as I was using my web camera. (I thought I was only going to be using that camera for stuff for ebay. Who knew?) I've also copied this message to Vivi (my sister .. yay!!) so she can spread the word of your kindness.

Thanks again and best wishes,

Image hosted by

Saturday, April 02, 2005

vivi goes to the dentist

I'm very sorry to report that this isn't the horror story it could have been. I hope you're all not too disappointed. And all you non-Americans who make fun of us for our "perfect" teeth? You're not gonna like this too much either. ;)

I am one of those happy few that have never had problems with my teeth. My mom took my sister and I religiously to the dentist every year (or was it six months?), and she stuffed us full of vitamins with fluoride (which, we believe, has more to do with the good teeth than good genes, as both my parents' mouths are filled with metal). I never needed braces, and I've never had a cavity. I had my wisdom teeth out when I was 20, and then I went seven years without going to the dentist, either because I didn't have insurance or I couldn't be bothered. When I finally went again, I only needed an extra good cleaning. Since then, I resumed going every six months again, though now I'm motivated more by the fear of the drill than anything else.

The last time I went to the dentist was a week before we moved here. Since Steph has been going to the dentist every week since December (his three bad teeth have been repaired in stages), I thought I'd take the opportunity to go with him and have mine checked out. Yesterday my appointment was right after his.

Considering that I had to beg him to come to the doctor with me for translating, I was very surprised when he followed me into the dentist's office, and explained to her that I'm American and didn't speak French well! Now I think maybe he didn't want to come to the doctor's office with me, because I was going about "female issues." Well, that's a whole other post. Back in the dentist's office, she invited me to sit in the big scary chair and asked if I was having any problems. I said no, and she poked around a bit. After saying something like, "Wow, they're really good," she offered to remove some of the tartar that had built up behind my bottom teeth (always a problem area).

She removed the tartar with some kind of electric scraper which was a surprise, as my dentist back home was still using Ye Old Dentist Pick, and was done very quickly. She laughed and said, "I have nothing to do!" and then polished up my teeth a little bit. That was it.

I was out of there in under 15 minutes. I thanked her profusely and we headed out the door. In the elevator, I admired the lovely new gold and silver fillings in Steph's mouth, and said a silent prayer in thanks for my good fortune.

Friday, April 01, 2005

a beautiful day in the neighborhood

First let me say thank you, on behalf of Steph, for all your birthday wishes yesterday. Truth be told, his first reaction was "I don't know these people!" (and I thought, "Oh, but you will! bwahahahahahha") and he's a bit bewildered by the whole blog thing, but he really appreciated it. I skipped choir rehearsal last night and we just had a quiet evening at home. Oh, and he loved the muffins - I managed to grab one last night, and they were all gone by the time he left for work this morning!

This morning, I had some errands to run, and I had a really great walk around town. Of course, I realized about half way through that it would have been an excellent opportunity to carry around the camera, but I will be sure to remember for the next time. It was very foggy and a bit cool, but still a nice morning for a walk. My first errand was to drop off our taxes, so I headed through the middle of town. A new carousel has been erected in front of the town hall. I walked down the main shopping street to do a little window shopping. I wondered a little bit, down some lanes I don't know very well, and discovered some new half-timbered houses I hadn't seen before. When I arrived at the tax office, There were a lot of cars parked precariously on the side of the road and many people around, putting their paperwork in the two boxes designated for dropping off taxes. They are due next week, and it reminded me of the post office on April 15 back home.

The next errand was to go to the post office close to my home to pick up a package and drop off a letter. I took a different route, one that we've traveled many times in the car but I've never walked. It's possibly a shorter walk than going through town, but I think because there's not as much to see, it seems longer. Still, there are a few stately homes from the late 19th/early 20th century to gawk at. Most of these are now businesses or separated into apartments, but still lovely to look at all the same. Once I got past the downtown traffic, I crossed the Seine (yes, we have the Seine, too!) and walked along the bank, past the petanque playing grounds. Now that the weather is warming up again, this area will be populated by men and their sons (I have never seen a woman hanging out while petanque is being played; it is definitely a man's game) in the afternoons, but all is quiet at 10:30 in the morning. After I do my business at the post office and pick up a baguette, it is a mere five minute walk home.

It was an hour long walk and it was wonderful; I haven't walked like that in ages. I think I'm definitely going to make some time to walk like this more in the future, and remember to take my camera!