Sunday, July 31, 2005

one year of wedded bliss

Yesterday, we celebrated our first anniversary. Last night, we found ourselves back in the same restaurant we went to for Valentine's Day, L'Illustre. I had the biggest escargot I've ever seen, followed by a parmesean pasta with an excellent mild and creamy foie gras. Steph had a very asian themed dinner, starting with some very tasty spring rolls and followed by an assortment of steamed fish and veggies. I really love the atmosphere of this restaurant - the decor is modern and whimsical, the music last night was jazz, and the service was top notch.

Then we came home and exchanged gifts. Steph gave me a very traditional (and beeeyoootiful!) gift, and I gave him a less-than-traditional gift, but one he had asked for. And all was alright in our little world.

Honestly, I can't believe it's been a year already. We've been through so much - the highs and the lowest of the lows - that the last year nearly seems like a blur. Sure, living in France is nice, it's an adventure, and sometimes it's so frustrating that I want to pack it in and go home, but I still feel the same way (if not even more!) than I did a year ago: France is nice, but I'd follow this man to the moon. He's still the best thing that ever happened to me, and married life just gets better and better.

Friday, July 29, 2005

and back

... back from meeting new relatives, dipping my feet into the ocean, walking around in the rain, and barbecuing trout. Steph's already snoring away, and I'm about to go scrounge up some food for dinner. Hope everyone had a great week, and I'll have a more detailed post soon.

Monday, July 25, 2005

on the road again

In the wee hours of Tuesday morning (well, at least "wee" compared to the time we've been getting up in the last few days) we shall load up the car once again and drive far, far away. This time we're going north, to the place my in-laws grew up. Due to a scheduling malfunction (I won't name names, and they do not begin with an "S" or a "V," and I am not pleased, let me tell you) we will be sleeping in a tent outside.

As much as I am glad we will be there at the same time as most of my extended family, I am baffled at why my dear husband would prefer to sleep in a tent when there is perfectly good living room space available.

It is scheduled to rain all week. This is going to be very interesting.

When I come back, I will have some more pictures to sort out and will probably load everything on flikr again, as the benefactor of my photoblog has disappeared without a trace, and will be gooshy and mooshy about our first wedding anniversary on Saturday. You have been warned.

Have a great week!

the birthday barbecue

Saturday evening, we drove out to the country to celebrate my friend Doc's birthday. For those keeping score at home, it is Doc's fault that I am living in France now; she is the college buddy who married a Frenchman and introduced me to the love o' my life. She, her hubby Marc - a very cool guy in his own right - and their adorable son live in a small village in Haute-Marne, about an hour away.

We joined a dozen or so friends at chez Doc for a barbecue extravaganza. Since the weather wouldn't cooperate, we set up tables in one of the garages (Doc's family are farmers so loads of storage space is required), next to the satanic fridge and directly over the champagne cellar. I should mention here that I've tasted a lot of champagne since I've moved to France, and in my humble opinion, their family makes the best - and they only do it as a hobby!

After dinner, Doc totally surprised us by giving us some gifts for our first anniversary, which is next Saturday. Being a traditional sort of girl, we received the traditional first anniversary gift: paper. Lots of paper. Paper towels, toilet paper... you get the idea.

We also received a very useful gift: a clock with the temperature in both Celsius and Farenheight. You'd think that after nearly a year I'd have a handle on Celsius, but so far I've got that if it's over 30 it's really hot, and if it's under 20 it's quite cold. Finally, we received a bottle of the lovely champagne, from her in-laws. I'm really looking forward to cracking that open on Saturday.

Despite the bad weather, we had a really great time, so thanks Doc, and happy happy birthday!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

the highs and lows of it

This week, I took the second step in looking for work. After registering at Assidic, I had a month to register at ANPE, the national employment agency. I printed out a copy of my resume, filled out a work history survey, and went to ANPE on Thursday afternoon.

After about a forty-five minute wait with only two people waiting ahead of me, I nervously made my way to my assigned cubicle. I was greeted by a guy who must have been sent from heaven - he was unbelievably nice, complimentary of my French (!), and was very positive about my ability to find a job. We agreed that finding a job would have the added benefit of improving my French, and in any case I should continue taking my French classes when they resume in the fall. In the meantime, we found a job offer that sounded perfect: an administrative job with strong English skills.

Needless to say, I nearly floated out of the office! Suddenly, I was brimming with confidence. This is it, I thought. It's all going to start now!

Well, there's nothing like a Temp Agency to burst anyone's bubble.

The next day, I presented myself to the Temp Agency that was offering the job. I gave the document with the job description to someone who passed it on to someone else. The conversation went something like this:

"Oh, you're bi-lingual!"

"In fact, I'm American. I've been living here since September of last year."


"Excuse me, I know my French isn't perfect, but I do understand better than I speak."

"So, can you write in French?"

"Erm... not very well, actually...."

"And on the telephone?"

"Yes, well... obviously it's more difficult on the telephone for the moment..."

"I see. Well, you'll have to register with our company before we can consider you for this position, and we don't do registrations on Fridays. Can you come back on Monday?"

"Yes, sure, no problem, thank you."

And with that I slunk out the door.

And to think Steph and I were actually making plans if I'd gotten this job. I should have known better.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

clear the roads

Yesterday, I kissed another part of my American life goodbye. It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time. I've been here nearly a year but yesterday was the first time I really felt like I was giving something up that would make it difficult to go home and pick up where I left off (not that I have the least intention of doing so).

Yesterday, I exchanged my American drivers license for a French one.

This may sound like small change, but in the states, a drivers license is more than a permit for driving, it's the most recognized form of identification. I'd wager that the vast majority of Americans don't have a passport, and if they do, they certainly don't carry them around on a day to day basis. For the time being, national identification cards do not exist (though I understand some people would like to see that happen). Identification cards are available at the Department of Local Vehicles, and look exactly like drivers licenses, and are the preferred form of ID if one doesn't drive. Along with military ID's, these are often the only picture identification cards the majority of organizations accept.

So going to the Prefecture yesterday to get my new driving permit was more than applying for permission to drive here, it was crossing a bridge and not looking back.

Luckily, I come from a state that has an agreement with France, so it only involved about an hour of time, filling out a short form, making photocopies, and of course, turning in my old license. I walked out with a piece of paper giving me permission to drive until I can pick up my permanent license in a couple of weeks.

Last night, I drove in France for the first time since I moved here. After nearly a year of living here, I'm finally starting to feel like I'm home.

Monday, July 18, 2005

camping recap

We got back Saturday evening and truth be told, I'm still recovering, in a classic case of "I need a vacation from my vacation." I'm still exhausted and my legs are like jello, but it was a great trip.

Monday, Steph's colleague Eric arrived, and after lunch we stuffed everything in our cars and took off for the departement of Jura. Our campsite was just outside of the town of Morez, about a three and a half hour drive from Troyes using the toll roads (which were totally worth the money!). We staked out our site and set up our tents - Steph getting one done in the blink of an eye while Eric and I struggled along for a small eternity. We ate dinner and for entertainment, gazed at a multitude of stars I never knew existed. Finally, I made my first nightly pilgrimage up the steep hill to the restroom facilities, which were admittedly better than expected.

Tuesday was hiking day. We drove about half an hour away to the blink-and-you'll-miss-it village of La Fromagerie and hiked to the Cascade de Herisson (Hedgehog Waterfall) and surrounding waterfalls. Round trip was between 4 and 5 kilometers, up and down a valley that reminded me of hiking along the Blue Ridge Mountains. I only fell on my ass once.

That night we lit up the barbecue for the first time, and ate the first of innumerable sausages. I think I'm good on sausages for about six months, thanks.

Wednesday we went to Switzerland for an ice cream.

OK, that's not exactly true. Looking for some lighter exercise after the greuling hike from the day before, we went on a pedal boat hunt. Drawn by the gigantic Lac Leman, we spent the afternoon in Nyon. We ended up just strolling around the town, giggling at the Monopoly money that is Swiss Francs (they are freakin' huge!), buying shoes (bwahahahhaha), pausing for a cool drink at a cafe, taking pictures, and finally, in order to get rid of our remaining Francs, buying ice cream from a street vendor. In the end, it was too hot to contemplate taking pedal boats on the lake.

That evening, we built our first campfire and listened to the fireworks in the neighboring towns celebrating Bastille Day (apparently the fireworks are often the night before) and I introduced the guys to the wonder that is roasted marshmallows.

Thursday was Walking Up Impossible Hills day. We started the day at a lake near Clarveaux les Lacs that had a nice little beachside. After a lakeside lunch, we jumped on a pedal boat and roasted in the sun for about half an hour before heading back to shore. I wish we'd brought our swimsuits that day - the water was freezing but after sitting in the sun I was ready for a dip in the lake.

We then went over to a neighboring lake and hiked down to the shore. Steph suggested we "take the road less traveled by," and it certainly "made all the difference" because I wanted to kill him. Dead ends, twenty foot drops, and a machete would have been nice at certain passages. We took the road back to the top, which was so steep I could only take baby steps in order to keep a steady pace. Once again, it was sausages and marshmallows to close out the day.

Friday was Game day. We loaded up supplies at nearby Longchaumois and parked in the common room of the campgrounds for most of the day, playing Mille Bornes and the like. When the temps cooled off, I played petanque for the first time, and was pleasantly surprised that it is exactly like the Italian game Bocce that I grew up with, except the balls are metal instead of wood. We played cards into the wee hours (which is 11pm if you're at a campsite) and prepared for our return to civilization the next day.

Steph had one more thing he wanted to do before we came home. Saturday morning, we stopped in the area of the town of Baume-les-Messieurs, which is famous for being surrounded by sheer 500 foot high cliffs on three sides. People like to hike up and down these cliffs for the heck of it. It's ten minutes down the cliffs, and around fifteen to go back up. We started at the top with the intention of eating lunch at the bottom before coming back up, and wouldn't you know it, I blew my knees out on the way down. I limped to the hot dog stand with the guys and ate my last sausage for what I hope is a long, long time. Steph offered to get the car and drive down to pick me up, but I knew going back up wouldn't be so stressful on my knees so I said I'd be ok. It took us twenty minutes to get back to the top, with lots of breaks. Eric made it back up in 12.5 minutes (oh to be young!). Then we drove home.

I'm still nursing my knees, and my legs are less jello-like than they were yesterday, but all is good. I did bring a disposable camera which I'm taking to be developed today, so I'll have some pics to put up at the end of the week or so.

Now we have a week to relax before Steph takes me to get my ass kicked in Northern France.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

gone adventuring

Tomorrow we're leaving for a week long adventure, which will undoubtably include tents, mosquitoes, hiking and dodgy bathroom facilities. We'll be back sometime during the weekend.

Please take this time to visit some of the people who are listed on the right hand side of the blog, as they are much more clever than me.

Have a great week!

Friday, July 08, 2005

the appointment

I've just posted a new entry on the tag-team French website, from rooster to donkey. If you'd like to read the English translation (before or after), please click on "Tell me more!"

I should also add that the reason my French looks reasonably good over there is because Steph edits it before I post it. Otherwise, my pathetic French would completely unreadable. ;)

I've been wearing glasses since I was 15 years old. In March 2004, I went to the eye doctor for the first time in four years, because my insurance didn't cover eye doctors (ah, I'll talk about the differences between French and American insurance another time!). I learned that the pressure I felt in my eyes and the headaches were an early sign of glaucoma. He told me that it's very important to get my eyes examined every year.

This year, for one reason or another, we always forgot to call to make an appointment. It seems that every time we remembered, it was the weekend or after 6pm. Finally, Steph called for me last month.

At first, the receptionist told him that the first available appointment was in March.

"March? March 2006?" he said.

"Yes, sorry," she responded. "Oh but wait, we have a new doctor, and she has an appointment available on December 2."

Of course, we took it.

The idea that it's difficult to see a doctor without a long wait is still very strange for me. Especially the opticians, because it seems there are several of them in everywhere you look in the states.

In Troyes, it seems there's an store for eyeglasses on every street downtown (is it like that in Paris, too?). Imagine there was an optician in every store (like in the states), and you have an idea why I'm so surprised.

Well, there you go, that's my new life. It's not bad, just different. In the meantime, I know that if my eyes explode, there's always the hospital...

Thursday, July 07, 2005

tour de france

Today is one of those days that I'm smacking myself in the head for dropping the camera, because it's not everyday that The Tour de France departs from your town. Nevertheless, I'll do my best to describe the scene.

Since the route took the competitors only a block away from our apartment, we decided not to go to the departure point in the middle of town and instead headed out at 10:15 accompanied by a sister-in-law and my two youngest nieces down the street. We found a great spot on a corner where the route took a sharp right hand turn. There weren't too many people around, and I'm guessing most folks went to the center of town to see the departure.

Just after 10:30, we were treated to little parade of all the sponsors of the tour. Most of the cars were blaring some kind of music, and were decorated according to their business, and had people chucking trinkets out to the crowd. The kids had brought a backpack, and at the end it was stuffed to the gills.

At 11:00, the parade was over, and we had an hour and a half to kill before the cyclists came by, so we came back home to check out our stash. Some of the things we got included
  • 11 (!) assorted hats
  • 2 blow up batons for clapping together and making lots of noise
  • 2 mini bags of pretzels
  • 2 chocolates
  • a cheese snack pack
  • 1 can of beer (!)
  • assorted key chains
  • assorted magnets
  • 2 umbrella hats
At 12:15, we headed back to the corner to see the cyclists. By now it had managed to actually get colder, making it around 60F and threatening to rain. Happily, we didn't have to wait long, but I'm afraid it went by so fast that if you blinked, you missed it. All the riders were grouped very close together and whipped around the corner like a shot. Someone (who shall remain anonymous *wink*) asked me to check out their legs (rawr), but I'm afraid they went by so fast I didn't even get time to gawk.

And just like that, it was over. Before you could say "maillot jaune," the crowd dispersed and we were off to Chez MacDo with everyone else in Troyes for a celebratory lunch.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

news & notes

I've been neglicting my blog. I've got a couple of things in the works that I want to post about, but for now I'm going to leave you with a couple of newsy and notey things:

  • In case you haven't heard, London won the 2012 Olympic games. Steph tells me this is the third time Paris has been a candidate and lost, so the French are understandably sad. The French reaction on tv was filled with shrugs and in one case, nearly tears. As for me, I'm a little disappointed, but I'm just glad I don't live in a candidate city!
  • The Tour de France departs from Troyes tomorrow! We're not going downtown, but just down the street, because the route takes them very close to our apartment. Be sure to check out the departure (surely it will be on the highlights in the states!) to take a gander at our town and maybe even us!
  • I'm in the process of writing up a new post on the French website, from rooster to donkey. I will write an English translation to post here as well. Also, I have been tagged by the coolest Texan I know (until someone else bribes me more), the lovely durteemartini. I haven't forgotten, I swear! The thing is, she's asked me to choose my six favorite songs. That's like choosing my favorite child (providing I had more than one)!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Happy Independance Day!

Today is Independance Day in the states, and my first outside of them. People all over the country will celebrate with barbeques, family gatherings, and fireworks tonight. I hope everyone back home has a great time, and light up a sparkler for me!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

when bathrooms can be scary

Last night, Steph and I attended the retirement dinner of a colleague of his. It was your typical French dinner, with a hundred courses (ok, five) and lasted five hours. Well for us it was five hours. We were the second couple to leave, missing the coffee service, so god only knows how long the rest hung out.

The thing that struck me as odd, for an American, is that the guest of honor paid for the whole shebang. In the states, a retirement celebration can vary from a handshake and a cake (or in the old days, a gold watch), to a full-blown dinner, but in every case, the guest of honor is just that - a guest. We did chip in for some lovely parting gifts, however.

Finally, if you want to know why, like the title suggests, bathrooms can be scary, and you're not weak of heart, please click "Tell me more!" to continue.

In France, in the older bars and restaurants, there still exist what is commonly referred to as "Turkish bathrooms." Obviously I mean no disrespect to the Turks, but this is the only way I've ever heard of it spoken, so if you call it something else, please feel free to enlighten me.

But what is a Turkish bathroom? Why, it's a hole in the ground, with a horizontal bar (like you might find in a handicap stall) for leverage. Obviously, boys have zero problems with this, but I'm sure you can imagine it poses something of a problem for us ladies.

Nature called several times last night, and I ignored her as long as I could. Finally I just went and did it.

I feel like I've been initiated into some sort of club. Do we get hats or something?