Saturday, October 29, 2005

see you next month

We're in the final stages of the move. We've got mountains of boxes all over the place. We've got our new phone number, the electricity will be ready, and we're confirming with all our helpers the time for the move.

Here's the bad news. It's going to be three weeks (ack!) before we have internet access again. I'm already tearing my hair out in anticipation of internet withdrawl. It ain't gonna be pretty, I can tell you.

But! Never fear, I do have some good news, because here at DFF, we take care of the customer. I've invited a couple of my non-blogging friends to contribute over the next few weeks, so you may see some profiles popping up this weekend and posting will continue while I'm suffering from internet withdrawl. They are welcome to write about anything they please, so think of this site as Dispatches From America until I come back.

Well, that's about it from Troyes! You kids play nice, and I'll be catching up with you in a few weeks!

Looks like everything's ready to go, so next week you'll be hearing from my sister, my oldest friend in the world (that's according to length of time, not age), and another dear friend who I regard as a spiritual big sister (who promises to tell my worst secrets - yikes!). I'll leave it to them to introduce themselves accordingly. Please give them a warm welcome and see you soon!

Friday, October 28, 2005

moving nightmares

I thought I was going to have to personally lay a smackdown on our future landlord yesterday. Perhaps a little background is important:

Back at the end of August when we found the apartment, we asked if there was a possibility of moving in during the middle of November, since we were required to give three month's notice to our current landlords. We were told that we absolutely had to move in on the first of the month, or else she would continue to keep the apartment available for someone else who could move in on the first. Since the first is a holiday and no moving trucks would be available, we decided to move on the 31st. Also, when we decided we would take it, Steph made it very clear that it would be necessary to put in a second telephone line upstairs in the "office," because, in his words, "my wife is American and uses the computer to keep in touch with her family, so it is extremely important that the connection is ready when we move in." The funny thing is that anyone who knows Steph knows that he's more concerned about a pause in his online gaming and I can just as easily call Dad by phone, but that's neither here nor there.

Over the last couple of months, I've noticed a disturbing trend concerning this new landlord. When we mailed her all the required documents, including a check for the deposit, we never received confirmation that she received it. Then, if we had any questions, we would have to call her a couple of times before she would call us back. This is a pattern I do not like.

So here we are, less than a week before moving, and we were having difficulty getting in touch with her to find out when we could get the key. When she finally called us back, we learned that the last family didn't move when they said they were going to move, and the work was still being done on the house. In fact, she told us that the work wouldn't be done until the first, and wanted to know if we could move after that.


Look, I know it's not really her fault if the family didn't move when they said they were going to, but you can't tell us at the last minute that moving on the first can't happen when you insisted on it in the first place! Steph told her that we already had a truck reserved and about ten people that had made plans for helping us, so she said she would see what she could do.

Last night, when we still hadn't heard from her, I was just about ready to call her myself and give her a piece of my mind. I would have been mortified if we'd have to call all these people who volunteered to help us and ask if they could reschedule - most likely the next weekend! Nevermind the fact that I'm sure we'd have to pay something for canceling the truck reservation.

Happily, she did call last night, and told us that the painters will work through the weekend so it will be ready for Monday's move. The bad news is, nothing's been done for the internet connection, so I have no idea when we'll be back online. I'm a little disappointed, but I'll take that rather than calling all our friends and family who are coming to help to tell them that everything has changed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

rolling along

Packing up the house is rolling right along. It's rolling along so well that Steph decided to bugger off to go fishing today with his parents, brother and nephew. You won't hear me complaining. I can think of a thousand things I'd rather do that stare off into space next to a stocked pond for five hours, though I do feel a little guilty to about missing out on a family outing. Instead I took the car for a joyride and did a little shopping. Now I'm home again, home again, jiggedy jig, to do some laundry and fill up a couple more boxes.

Meanwhile, we can barely move for all the boxes stacked up everywhere, and we've still got a ways to go. We were hoping to get the key to the new place early in the week so we could take over some boxes to make some space here. Unfortunately, the family that recently moved out of the apartment, who said they were leaving on the 15th, didn't actually leave until nearly a week later, so the painters and other fixer-uppers have just started fluffing up the place this week. Since we're taking the car in for a check-up tomorrow and will therefore be unavailable at least one day, it looks like it will be the weekend before we can get there. The best laid plans...

Right, well, back to the boxes. Oh - one more thing: if anyone catches sight of Mother Nature, could they please give her a stern talking to (at the very least)? The weather has been insane - cool for two days followed by warm for two days followed by etcetera ad nauseam. I haven't been 100% over this cold for about a month now. I despise the female stereotype of being unable to make up one's mind; come on Mama Nature, you're better than that!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

packin' it in

Steph's week-and-a-half break started yesterday, so we have started preparing for the move in earnest. After lunch with the in-laws yesterday, we ran a couple of errands. Steph has decided to sell his motorbike, which has been sitting idle for a year since we took it off the insurance to save money, so we stopped by a motorbike shop. They're going to pick it up, make sure it's in running order, and sell it for us for a small percentage. They reckon they can sell it for a higher price than Steph thought he could sell it for on his own, plus we don't have to worry about it, so we're already ahead. One thing off the checklist.

Then we went to order the Big-Ass* truck for moving day, which will be the 31st (oooh Halloween!). Since the first is a public holiday (Toussaint, or All Saint's Day, so we can't get the truck that day), and we want to take advantage of Steph's vacation time to move and clean up this place, we decided to move on Monday instead of Wednesday. Luckily, all the people that are helping are either teachers like Steph, have flexible schedules, or are "making the bridge," or taking advantage of the holiday on Tuesday to take Monday off. We've got at least ten people coming, including some Big Strong Men (including a brother-in-law who's a professional mover!), so with all the people and the Big-Ass truck, it should be a relatively easy move (which I have now undoubtedly jinxed).

After picking up some more boxes, we came home and called the new landlord to find out when we can get the key, so we can carry over some boxes some time this week. Steph left a message and she's been known not to call back, so we may need to follow up on that in the next couple of days.

For now, all the suitcases are packed and we are already knee-deep in boxes. We've got a long way to go. Posting will be light this week but I will surely write again before we move.

*I didn't realize how much I used "Big-Ass" as an adjective until one day Steph said, "Look at that Big-Ass thingie!" I was so proud and mortified at the same time.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

vivi finds her voice (but doesn't like what she hears)

Saturday night, we went to a small dinner party consisting of another couple and our host. I've known all of them at least as long as I've lived here, so it was a comfortable atmosphere. Over a dinner of moules frites, I found that I was following the conversation with little difficulty (it's still rather a strain and I confess, I pooped out at the end) and, for the first time, found myself attempting to join in the conversation. Once or twice I asked a question, and understood the response. I was able to tell a couple of anecdotes, like one does at a dinner party.

Towards the end of the evening, I realized with horror that the majority of my contributions were anecdotes about living in the states. Granted, 99% of my life-experience occurred in the states, and they were "everyday" anecdotes, meaning that I never tried to compare living in the states to France as better or worse. Actually, that's not true - we were talking about the television control tax that is due at the end of the month. The French pay around 100 euros per television owned, and this helps keep down the number of commercials during a program (an hour long program might have one commercial break, for example). So I asked if they would prefer to pay the tax or have commercials every ten minutes. We don't even watch tv that much, so even I don't know on which side of the debate I fall. But I digress - I don't have a problem being "the American," but I don't want to be "the American who won't shut up about America."

Steph and I talked about it on the way home that night, and I expressed my concerns. He told me that he knew exactly what I meant, because he's found himself doing he same thing in his new school - "at my old school we did this" sort of thing. It's a comfort to know that I'm progressing in my French, but now I need to learn the art of conversation again. One thing at a time.

Tuesday night, Steph came home from work and announced that we were going to a dinner for the teachers of his present school, and I had an hour to get ready. Granted, going out for dinner (and I'm not talking about McDonald's here) here is generally quite casual (the majority of teachers arrived in blue jeans), I would have liked to have a little notice. Turns out he knew about the dinner but hadn't wanted to go, so he never mentioned it, but was asked especially if he was coming that day, so felt like we had to go. Luckily for him, anytime I don't have to cook and can be treated to a nice meal is a-ok in my book, so I didn't complain at all.

Once again, I found myself following the conversation and, for the most part, able to answer questions. The funny thing was that the person to my left was from Marseilles, with (according to Steph) a strong accent from that region, but I was able to understand her better than the person to Steph's right, who has lived in this region all her life. Maybe we need to move down south.

Oh - and for the first time, I had duck à l'orange. Now I get what the fuss is about. That is an incredible dish!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

the name game

Steph and I are sitting at the table with my copy of "L'histoire de France pour les nuls" between us. On the cover are pictures of famous Frenchmen throughout history. I'm only able to name half of them.

Steph explains to me that one of them is Emile Zola, whose famous open letter entitled "J'Accuse!" eventually lead to the reopening of the trail of Alfred Dreyfus, who had been wrongly accused of treason.

ME: "I know this sounds horrible, but whenever I hear anything about The Dreyfus Affair, the first thing that immediately pops into my mind is the face of the American actor with the same last name.

STEPH: "I understand. When I hear the name "Armstrong," I think of a trumpet player walking on the moon!

Does this happen to anyone else, or are we just freaks meant for each other?

Monday, October 17, 2005

sick again

Normal blogging will resume when I can stay awake more than an hour.

Friday, October 14, 2005

historical poetry

Chanson d'automne

Les sanglots longs
Les violons
De l'automne
Blessent mon coeur
D'une langueur

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l'heure
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure

Et je m'en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m'emporte
Deçà, delà
Pareil à la feuille morte.
Paul Verlaine

This is the poem I am charged with memorizing for my French class. We were told that this ode to the changing of the season is well known in France, and children have been learning it in school for ages. This made me think fondly of my eighth grade English teacher who had a love of Whitman, Poe and Frost. That was when I learned "The Road Less Traveled," by Robert Frost, and if a life can be shaped by a poem, this one has certainly shaped mine. Something about those last three lines lodged itself in my thirteen-year-old brain and has guided me every since.

But this isn't about Frost, it's about Verlaine. Yesterday, I asked Steph if he remembered this poem, and after looking at the first line, was able to rattle off the first verse from memory. But then he remembered something else which I found extraordinary. "This is the poem from D-Day!"

It was only a month ago that we bought a DVD of The Longest Day ("Le jour le plus long") and settled in to watch three hours of war, chronicling the events leading up to D-Day and the invasion itself. As soon as Steph made his announcement, I remembered that this was the poem that was read on the radio the day before the invasion, which was a signal to the French Resistance that the Allies were on the way.

So there you are: a lovely poem with historical significance. Lucky for me, this is the kind of stuff that excites me to no end. As soon as the excitement of this discovery fades, I'll be off and running for the next one.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

and so it begins

So, we're moving at the end of the month, which is rapidly approaching, and we have done exactly diddly-squat in preparation for the move. I have always been perpetually early - I was even early for a scheduled C-section, forcing the doctor to perform surgery on my mom a day before planned - and Steph is happy to do everything at the last possible moment. Opposites attract, indeed. Since Steph's Toussaint vacation starts on the 23rd, he has been content to wait until then to start packing, but he finally relented last night and decided he would see his oldest brother, who is a professional mover, this weekend to get some boxes. Meanwhile I'm going to start packing up non-essential clothes in our umpty-million suitcases which are currently shoved in the closet.

Unfortunately, it seems they are doing some kind of construction right in front of our apartment, with what sounds like a backhoe and a jack hammer. The front room smells like the wrong end of a diesel fueled tractor. It sounds like they've taken a pause, but if this keeps up I'm gonna have to actually leave the apartment for a little while. This would be bad because I don't have any actual errands to run, and wandering around in the rain has never been my idea of a good time. We'll have to see how that pans out.

The first French class of the year went just fine on Tuesday. It was mostly the same ladies from last year, the majority of whom are Vietnamese, another American who brings her 15 month old little girl to class (which I thought would bother me but that child has a smile that can light up a room), a lady about my age whom I assume to Indian because she hasn't said so I'm working off ethnicity/clothing/jewelry cues and who interrupts other students to attempt to correct their accents or to ask questions which I really don't like, and one new guy who actually interrupted the teacher (whom I like very much) by taking a phone call (!) and told me after class that he was Moroccan and Spanish and made a big deal about telling me that he was fasting for Ramadan. I didn't get a really good look, but I had the impression that he teeth were very pointy.

Anyway, like I said, the class was fine. We started right off the bat with some dictation, followed by a lively discussion about animals, and ended with writing a "What I Did Last Summer" paper which we'll read aloud next week. Can't wait. Normally there would be a class today, but the teacher had a scheduling conflict, so we'll be back to the usual schedule next week.

We are also charged with memorizing a famous French poem, which I will talk about in further detail in another post.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

a weekend in the country

My friend Doc lives in a small village in Haute-Marne, about an hour and a half away. She has lived in France for five years, and while I always admired her courage to pick up and move to a new country (we talked on the phone often and laughed about the silliness of the French, which lead me to come see this silliness, resulting in marrying my own Frenchman and moving here myself), but only in the last year have I been able to fully appreciate the difference between her and any other ex-pat in France I know. The village where she lives has a town hall and a church - that's it. No stores, no boulangerie, no museums, library, movie theatre, restaurants, bars, or corner shops. Oh wait - there's a post office. The only person who speaks English in this village is her husband. Her husband's aunt, who has been taking English lessons for something like ten years, doesn't count, because the lessons don't seem to stick. Oh, and did I mention that she didn't speak a lick of French before she moved here? Sure, Troyes isn't Paris, but it might as well be next to her village, and even the village where we're moving to at the end of the month has more amenities than her village.

So here we are, five years later. She's fluent in French, has worked here, has started a family and is in the process of building a house. She, more than my other ex-pat buddies, gives me hope that I'm going to get past what I hope is this most difficult phase of learning the language and how this place works, because I knew her when she started and I was right there with her.

So, that's Doc.

We were chatting online last week when she mentioned that her hubby was going to help some friends move and her in-laws (who live next door) were going on vacation. She invited me to come hang out and, thanks to my new confidence in driving, I accepted. Saturday, after Steph got home from work, I left for my little weekend in the country.

After a little stroll to see the progress on the new house (up two humungous hills, thanks very much for that bit of exercise!) we got down to the importance business - gossip and tall tales. Because she has lost both of her parents, she was one of the three or four people who really lifted me up when my Mom died back in May, and we talked some more about that this weekend, and I even found there are some things I'm ready to laugh about. She may complain that her little boy was a little monster this weekend, but I just saw the same adorable little boy who slurped down pasta like a champ and is working on his baseball arm (!).

So there you are. I went off and did something without having to drag my poor husband along, French classes start up again this afternoon... things are looking up, my friends.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

five thingies

It's meme time again, which suits me fine, as I am getting ready to drive to Doc's house solo for some girlie hanging out and won't be back 'till tomorrow.

So Mai has gone and tagged me (and she's right, we don't talk anymore *sob* but just because I don't comment doesn't mean I'm not reading *wink*) for the 5 things meme, in which I am to post five random things about myself.

1. I don't think I've mentioned it before, but four years ago I had surgury on both feet at the same time, which had me in a wheelchair for six weeks and crutches for another month. I had some amazing biceps that summer, lemme tell ya. I was lucky that I worked for an amazing company that gave me the time off for the surgery and was willing to help me out with transportation and time off for doctor's check-ups. Why did I have the surgery? Because the simple chore of going grocery shopping left me in so much pain, I cried on the way home.

2. The only time I've broken a bone by accident (see number one for the time I did it on purpose) was a week after I was married - I fell down the steps in my apartment and broke my big toe. It hurt like hell but we had a good time making jokes about Steph pushing me down the stairs so early in our marriage.

3. I found out recently that my maiden name is also the name of a village in Italy. I hope to go there someday.

4. My stomach is pretty sensitive, so I have to be not careful, but definitely aware of what I eat. Anything with cabbage or anything remotely related to cabbage makes my digestive track very angry. I don't like cabbage anyway, so I'm not really missing anything.

5. I can't really think of a fifth thing, so I'm gonna post this link that made me laugh: End of the World

I'm gonna pass on the taggin' love to my new friend La Dauphine, my homegirl Flare, the super cool Gnumoon, my favorite kiwi in France, Antipo, and my home skillet, Tracey.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

why i love france (this week)

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I bought a couple of pairs of pants last week. Turns out there's an accompanying story after all.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I am, in fact, quite short. At 5'2" (157.5 cm), and having inherited child-bearing hips from my mother's side of the family and a very short waist from my father's side of the family, I have always had difficulty finding clothes that fit. Because of my height, I have been relegated to the "petite" section of clothing stores, which in later years has become a cosmic joke, as I am petite in height only. Thanks to the aforementioned hips, I have never been truly petite, but even when I was closer to that ideal, I found clothes shopping a bitter and frustrating exercise.

Now in France, I have been relegated to those shops that offer "grandes tailles," or plus sizes (of which I can think of three, off the top of my head, in Troyes). Part of me thinks I should be outraged, but the vast majority of me agrees that it does wonders to spur me into doing something about that. The truth is, I had decided not to buy any clothes at all until I can go to more than those three shops, which if I put my mind to it, shouldn't take long at all. But in the end, I really needed the pants, as I have one pair of jeans (that fit, heh), and the rest of my pants are a bit too dressy for just walking around the corner to get groceries, know what I mean?

So, last week, I bought some pants. Since I have yet to find a "petite" section of any clothing store, it should be no surprise that there were (seemingly) yards of fabric billowing around my ankles, but otherwise they fit very well. So I bought them and went home, thinking I could bribe one of my sisters-in-law to help me hem them up.

But, I'd forgotten that I had another option.

It turns out that in the vast majority of clothes stores, there is a seamstress on hand, in case your clothes are too long. If you try something on, and you want to buy it, but it's a bit long, you step out of your cubicle in the trying-on area, the seamstress marks the hem with a couple of straight pins, and she gives you a ticket. When you pay for the clothes, you leave the ticket and the clothes at the register and pick them up in a few days. Depending on the store, there may be a small fee, and maybe not.

In my defense, I should say that when I bought them last week, the seamstress must of been at lunch, since I think I was there between 1:00 and 2:00, so even if I remembered to have them altered, I would have had to come back.

So, instead of butchering the hem on my own, I learned that I could take back the pants to have them altered as long as I still had the receipt. If they had been from the new collection, it would have been free to have them altered, but since they were on sale (20 euros each!) I would have to pay seven euros for each pair, which is still a bargain. I took them back this morning and they'll be ready on Friday.

Who ever imagined I would have a positive shopping experience in France, of all places?

Monday, October 03, 2005

damn, damn, damn!

I completely forgot there was a solar eclipse this morning! I am so disappointed, because I've never seen one before. The worst part is, thanks to several nights in a row of less-than-adequate sleeping, I went back to bed this morning after Steph left for work and slept through the whole thing.

So, um.... anyone know when the next one is?

In other news, I spent a couple of hours this morning creating an Excel spreadsheet for Steph to keep up with his lesson requirements. I can't tell you how much I miss doing this sort of work! A lot of people think that data entry and creating spreadsheets is the height of boredom, but I can happily sit in front of a computer screen typing the day away. If anyone's looking for a data entry goddess, please let me know!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

it's been a slow week

I haven't written anything because the highlight of this week was that I bought some pants. Since even that shocking development isn't enough to warrant a post on its own, here are some other things that have been on my mind:

  • A couple of weeks ago, I was walking through the courtyard of our immeuble (small apartment building, usually an old house turned into apartments) to take the garbage out and passed a guy who I thought was playing a game of darts. In fact, he was practicing throwing knives. Yep, so ready to move now.
  • Did I tell you that our friend Eric's hairdresser is on France's answer to American Idol called Star Academy? Poor Eric is a bit put out, as he really needs a haircut. (you know I'm just teasing ya, E!)
  • I made a banana bread yesterday, and Steph asked me if the bananas have to be really ripe when you make it. Turns out all the teachers have been bringing in snacks and such and he hasn't brought anything yet and he'd like me to make a banana bread for Monday. Luckily for him, baking is still so new to me that I get all excited when I have an excuse to do it.
  • Finally got word that my French classes will resume on or around October 11. Still no phone call.
Yep, another barn-burner, this post. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go get ready. We're going to brave the rain and go out for lunch today. Another testament to how exciting my life is right now - I'm very excited that we're going out to eat! In an restaurant! Woo!