Monday, February 27, 2006

mademoiselle benoir

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Back at the beginning of the month, I was contacted by a publisher in the States who was promoting a novel about an American in France. I told her that I'd be happy to read it and recommend it to all four of my readers if I did indeed like it.

Obviously, I did, because here we all are.

That book is Mademoiselle Benoir by Christine Conrad. Tim is an American mathematician who gives up his career to buy a farmhouse in France and pursue his other passion, painting. Along the way, he is introduced to Catherine, a Frenchwoman of bourgeois breeding and her own passion for painting. The two soon realize they are soul mates and begin to make arrangements to spend the rest of their lives together.

Of course there are stumbling blocks - the main one being that she is twenty years his senior. Catherine's demanding sister Pauline does everything in her power to stop them from getting married.

This story is told entirely through letters - from Tim to his family in New York and their replies, messages sent between the French family, and a journal entry here and there. I quite enjoyed watching the story unfold using this device.

Although there are one or two small factual errors (I'm sorry to report that one does not become a French citizen merely by marrying a French national, at least not immediately as one letter implies), the general feel of the book is accurate and I can certainly relate to Tim's wonder of discovering the vast amount of history that is tucked into every corner here, not to mention the culture clash and the wonderful characters to be found in the French countryside.

Mademoiselle Benoir is a quick, amusing read and I recommend it to anyone interested in the genre of (as I like to call it) "Foreigner in France," like Me Talk Pretty One Day and Almost French.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

health extravaganza!

I may have been nonchalant about my freakishly high cholesterol and triglyceride levels in my last post, but the truth of the matter is I'm quite a bit bothered by it. Unfortunately, heart disease is very common in my family and in the past I always thought that as long as my blood pressure was fine (it has always been and continues to be at normal levels), I had nothing to worry about. I may be genetically inclined to have high cholesterol and it's about time I became an active participant in getting it (and keeping it) down.

The most obvious way to work at getting it down is changing the food we eat, so I've been spending the last few days scouring the interwebs for low-cholesterol recipes (I have found some really good ones here and here). Although it seems people are more interested in finding low cholesterol desserts than actual meals, I have managed to find quite a few and cooked a couple this weekend with outstanding success. The upside is that not only am I experimenting more in the kitchen, the end results are healthier and we will benefit in the long run.

The bad part is that since I've been looking at these recipes, I've been jonesing black beans and rice, and cannot for my life find black beans here, either in a can or dried. Anyone else in Franceland run across them, ever?

The other thing is that I've finally created my own recipe collection. This is something I've been meaning to for years now, because it seems everytime I go to the grocery I end up buying the same things over and over again, but if I have all the recipes collected somewhere, I can flip through them and choose things we haven't had in a while. Yesterday, when I went to the big grocery in Troyes (searching for elusive black beans), I picked up a two-ring binder and cards that fit inside. Ever since, I've been adding in recipes that we already use and new low cholesterol recipes that we will eat again (so far 2 for 2!).

The only possible bad part is that now I'm completely obsessed with finding low cholesterol recipes online. Anyone have any more cooking websites to suggest?

Friday, February 24, 2006

a last hurrah

On Wednesday, we hopped in the car again and headed east to visit Doc and family.

The first order of business was to check out the progress on their new house (there are pictures on her site going back to the land being cleared). Now it really looks like a house, with windows and a roof and everything! They have been dealing with the nightmare of building a house for nearly three years now and it seems that this summer they will finally be able to get in there. If nothing else, Steph and I have learned from their experience - when our time comes to buy a place, there's no way in hell we're gonna build!

Then it was back to the old homestead for an evening of catching up. The menfolk seem to be suffering from various degrees of illness, and little Matthieu was certainly more subdued than usual. Doc and I took Christine to the kitchen and gossiped and such, like you do, while Doc prepared a scrumptious feast. Christine is really a little beauty, but when Doc calls her a "little Klingon," I have to confess that she does have a little prominent-brow action going on.

Anyway, like I said, dinner was fabulous, and it turns out, most likely the last time I'll be eating like that for a looooooong time.

This is because I got the results of a blood test back on Wednesday, too. Turns out that not only is my cholesterol much too high, my triglycerides are nearly three times higher that the normal limit. Now, high triglycerides are often found in the blood of people that like their alcohol a bit too much, but let me assure you that my average is five drinks a month. This is all grease and fat, babee!

Aw yeah.

So obviously, drastic measures are called for. I've got to find some low-cholesterol recipes, stat. I wish I liked fish better than I do....

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

throw your plans in the air, wave 'em like you just don't care

So much for our whirlwind vacation in the Piedmont Plain this summer.

Steph and I have been planning on going for a visit back in the states this July. The only thing holding up our plans was for Steph to get a new passport. The thing is, his old passport hasn't expired, but it's not one of the new "scannable" passports, with a barcode at the bottom. His is actually handwritten. We figured he would renew his passport and we'd be on our way.

What we didn't know was that the American government has changed their requirements for foreign visitors entering the States. Here's what we learned when we went to the Mairie, or Town Hall, this week, to update Steph's passport.

Over the last couple of years, France has been upgrading their passports to the "scannable" variety, and as of October 2005, anyone who does not have a scannable passport must apply for a tourist visa to enter the States.

But then the American goverment said, "Oh, did we say scannable? We meant biometric."


France will not be able to start production on biometric passports until October 2006, so the U.S. is allowing French scannable passports made before October 2005 entry without a visa. Everyone else is required to have a tourist visa along with their passport for entry into the U.S. Obviously, there's no point in getting a scannable passport because he'd still have to get a visa, and then down the road he'd have to get a biometric passport anyway.

In order to acquire a visa (at the low, low price of 90 euros!), we have to make an appointment for an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Paris (a 14.50 euro phone call, by the way). The first available appointment is the first of June. Steph can't take off work for this so we'd have to find a date after the first that we could go. Then we have at least a six week wait for the actual visa. That doesn't leave much wiggle room.

So we're supposed to go ahead and book flight tickets and just hope for the best? I don't think so.

Steph and I have decided that it's just not worth the stress and bother of trying to jump through all these hoops just for a three-week vacation (not to mention the cost of the visa and traveling to Paris and back just for a piece of paper), especially since it's not going to be like this forever. I, on the other hand, still want to make a quick trip home to visit with friends and bring back the rest of my stuff that has been sitting in storage (read: my friend Dana's attic) for almost two years. Since we hope to start a family soonish, I feel this is my last opportunity to go back for the next couple of years or so.

Of course, we never know what the next year will bring, and we may end up going back for a visit together next year after all.

My original suggestion was to visit the States this year at Easter, since my family does often gather then. Steph would prefer to sit next a river and fish for three weeks than be a social butterfly like me, so since it looks like I'm going alone, I may just up and head back to the Carolinas for Easter. Of course this means we'll have to make a decision pretty quick, since Easter is less than two months away now. It does seem that things are leaning in that direction, however.

That means someone better call up Corona's and make sure the grown-up slushie machine is up and running!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

a cry for help

My sister-in-law is currently working on her thesis on Françoise Sagan and is working her way through a book written about Sagan in English. She has a pretty good command of English but has asked me to translate a couple of sentences, but I have to say I'm just stumped trying translate the following into French:

"Sagan's theater likewise takes on a fantastical cast, powering through whimsical plots imaginative flights from middle-class conformity."

and this gem:

"I will look at what is healthy in the escapism fundamental to her prose fiction and plays."

Obviously I understand them but as for making them understood in French, I have no idea. Clearly, running them through a translation tool online will only result in mush. Would any of my kind bilingual readers be willing to take a crack at them?

Monday, February 20, 2006

a musical sunday

Yesterday was so social I'll be quite happy to not see a soul for a few days (alas, I have to go grocery shopping but such is life). In the morning, we greeted Steph's sister and family who live in Reims and were on their way home from spending the week with Steph's parents in Troyes. It was only the third time we've had guests in our new place since we moved in so Steph played tour guide while I brewed coffee and hot chocolate and tea. After spending an hour chatting over the ginormous and delicious pastries from our local boulangerie we sent them on their way and prepared for an outing of our own.

Just after lunch we got in the car and traveled to the rain-soaked département of Haute-Marne, to a village called Manois, to see a performance of our friend Marc's choir who was celebrating its 30th anniversary. Marc was getting over the flu so he joined us, Doc and their two kids in the crowded church to hear them sing. The present director and three former directors lead the choir through thirty songs in celebration of their milestone anniversary. It sounds long but in fact the time went pretty fast. Some surprises on the list included the traditional version of "La Bamba," the original French "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" ("Le lion est mort"), "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" in French and "Amazing Grace" in English (and their English was among the best sung English I've heard in France, I must say!).

During the intermission, Doc and I chased her nearly-two-year-old son through the church yard and had a good chat while her month-old daughter slept peacefully through the whole thing. And I must say, I felt very funny in my tummy as Steph played and talked with little Matthieu at the end of the intermission.

Anyway, it was a great, if not long, afternoon, as we arrived back home at 8:30 and fell on the couch for an hour or two before falling into bed.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Valentine's Day and other business meetings

A few weeks ago, I had my six-month follow up at ANPE (the official unemployment agency). Only it wasn't a meeting; I and about fifteen others were shocked to learn that we were there to take a secretarial competence test. In French. Ha HA!

So I added and subtracted, skipped the fractions (I completely forgot how to multiply and divide them and as soon as Steph reminded me, I smacked my forehead - but it's been fifteen years since I've seen a fraction so I'm not too broken up about it), answered some logic questions, breezed through reading comprehension and tried to remember my conjugation. Then I sat at a computer and attempted to answer questions about how to be a secretary in French. Now I really know what vocabulary I'm missing. If I couldn't understand a question, I just skipped it. The whole thing reminded me of the competence tests you take when you apply at a temp agency in the states. But in French. Ha HA!

Meanwhile, as I was waiting a couple of weeks to meet again with the counselor and the psychologist (apparently to tell some folks that they aren't meant for this line of work), I was putting a whole lot of thought into the whole "getting a job here in France" thing. That's when I read a post on Pat's blog about what she does for a living and I thought to myself - why can't I do the same thing? So the project I'm working on is eventually to be in business for myself. I've been researching like a madwoman and have been spending every waking moment thinking and plotting to make this little project in my mind a reality.

So Monday I went back to get the results of the test. Considering I left many questions blank, I did pretty good. All of the questions I did answer were correct (Ha HA!) and the big surprise was that I scored a 16/20 in French - Ha HA HA!

Since I was there anyway, I took advantage of having an ANPE counselor there in front of me and told him about my little project. Both the counselor and the shrink psychologist were extremely supportive, and I walked away with even more info and contacts of where I need to go to get a business license and fun stuff like that.

Tuesday was Valentine's Day, and we celebrated by going out for dinner, which is becoming our little tradition. I buy my own flowers, I don't need jewelry, but nothin' says lovin' like "you don't have to cook tonight!" We went to the restaurant around the corner (which was ok, not as good as our favorite place in Troyes, but I'm sure we'll go again one day) and I spent the entire dinner talking about my business plan. I'm so romantic, huh? This isn't something that's going to materialize in one month or even six months - I've got a lot of preparation ahead of me. But Steph was so good and let me blather on about start-up costs and potential marketing strategies. He's such a keeper, this one.

So in the middle of all this empowering yet frantic activity, I got a phone call yesterday. Turns out ANPE was putting my name forward for a temp bilingual gig and was calling to ask if I could forward my resume to the client. I actually had a really nice conversation with the woman, and when I warned her that perhaps my French may not be quite up to the level the client needs, she said that they already had turned down one candidate because their English wasn't good enough, so in her opinion, the English is really more important. Well I seem to have the English down (well, we'll see what Spellcheck has to say about that, but anyway...). The resume has been sent on so I may have a regular job after all.

Which would be a lovely way to pay for some of my start-up costs. Ha HA!

Monday, February 13, 2006


I'm very quiet these days because I'm working on a little project. It's something I'm not quite ready to make public yet, at least not in this post. I've got a lot of research to do over the next few weeks but I may be able to say a bit more in the next couple of days. This little project is occupying all of my waking thoughts so I'm sorry to say that I've been neglecting everything else, including blogging and even more important things, like making sure there are actually groceries in the fridge.

Luckily, the glorious Kinga has tagged me, which will serve to take my mind off my project for at least ten minutes. Thanks Kinga!

Vivi's Top Sevens

7 things to do before I die
1. Have a child (or two) and raise them to be nice human beings (completely stolen from Kinga but I couldn't have said it better if I tried)
2. Become completely fluent in French
3. Visit the village that my paternal great-grandfather emigrated from in Italy
4. Visit the town that my maternal great-grandfather emigrated from in Poland
5. Try to ski
6. Go on a cruise
7. Get this project off the ground (whoops)

7 things I can't do
1. Be patient
2. Hang out with people who are intolerant/hypocrites/general assholes
3. Talk to my mother for five more minutes
4. Leave the house when I'm doing laundry because I insist on folding the clothes RIGHT out of the dryer (I refuse to iron them)
5. stop craving the cheese dip from Corona's restaurant
6. figure out what my MIL puts in her grated carrots that makes it taste so good
7. believe how lucky I am

7 things that attract me to Europe
1. My husband
2. The history
3. The architecture
4. Quality of Life
5. Such diversity of cultures in a (relatively) small area
6. Health Care (yeah, I said it)
7. Cheese

7 things I say
1. Dude! (I can't seem to let this one go!)
2. Oh my god!
3. "Je m'excuse, mais mon francais n'est pas tres bien" (Excuse me, but my French isn't very good)
4. Jesus Christ! (which actually sounds like JAYsus chrIIIST!!)
5. Oh la la! (this is new)
6. "y'all" scattered in sentences, when I'm not paying attention
7. Fucking fuckity fuck! (it's fun! try it!)

7 good books
1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
2. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
3. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
4. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
5. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
6. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
7. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (actually I love the entire series and I can't wait to reclaim my books this summer and reread them!)

7 good films
1. The Usual Suspects
2. Pride and Prejudice
3. Kill Bill (Vols 1 & 2)
4. The Matrix (all three movies)
5. The Nightmare Before Christmas
6. The Color Purple
7. Stargate

7 blogs to tag
Oh, no you don't. Everytime I tag someone, they yell at me. If you'd like to do this meme, please feel free to steal it, and let me know you've done it and I'll link you here.

First place link goes to Ms Lisa at The Bold Soul
2. Oh my!! Doc did a meme!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

i have olympic fever!

I can't believe it! Nobody is talking about the Olympics! You know, that big sports event that happens every two years? The one with teams from all corners of the world gathering in peaceful competition? Helloooo?

Maybe it's just because I'm not in the States, being bombarded with Official Sponsors of the XX Winter Olympics everywhere I look. If I hadn't seen a commerical on tv for the opening ceremonies earlier in the week, I would have missed it - Steph thought it started on Sunday. Nevertheless, I looked forward to watching the Opening Ceremonies all week and settled in on the couch with a big bag of popcorn (alone. pfft.) to watch the pomp and circumstance.

I LOVE the pomp and circumstance. I can't get enough of it. I love watching all the teams march into the arena, especially (in this year's case) the teams coming from places that never get below 70 degrees that consist of three people marching and two of them are coaches. I love the show the host country puts on, and even get teary-eyed with the inevitable Small Child Who Represents The Future runs from one side of the arena to the other (and Turin didn't disappoint). I love the tradition of the representatives of the athletes and judges who pledge on behalf of all the play fair. I love how the representative of the host country declares that the games are officially open. I REALLY love the way each country tries to outdo the others when it comes time to light the flame in the arena. I love it all.

I don't just love the ceremonies; in the past, I've had the tv always on during the two weeks of competition, whether it be Summer or Winter. That's going to be less doable here, since we don't have satellite or cable and they only show stuff in the evenings on the major channels - but whatever I can get, I'll be watching.

So, here are my impressions of the Opening Ceremonies (not in chronological order):

  • Cutest part of the Presentation: The Child Who Represents the Future running across the arena, of course. This year we had a little girl in a red dress. She was cute.
  • Oddest part of the Presentation: What was up with the guys doing Judo? Is Martial Arts very huge in Italy? Can anyone explain that to me?
  • They obviously didn't think this through: I did like how they put the athletes in the middle of the arena - after all, they are the focus of the games. It was unfortunate, however, that they decided to put the podium in the middle of the athletes. I appreciate what they were trying to do, but it seems that one thing really is true for people from all over the world - put a camera in front of a crowd, and they're all gonna try to wave to their mommas. Even the ones from Mongolia.
  • Cheesy yet cool moment: Aw, look at the acrobats crawling around the wall of netting. Oh look, they've made a Dove, the international symbol of peace. Should've seen that coming, but it was still cool.
  • Strangest bit of commentary: I don't know what they said in other places, but the French commentators introduced Peter Gabriel as "the former lead singer of Genesis." 'Cause, you know, he hasn't been doing much these last twenty-five years since he left the band. Good job the Olympics called him up and asked him to sing.
  • Moment of fear that turned out alright: When Yoko Ono appeared, I thought, "NO DON'T LET HER SING!" but of course it turned out fine. Bless her old Beatle-breaking-up heart.
  • Best testosterone moment: The Ferrari race car that was put together on stage and then burnt rubber donouts in the middle of the arena. I couldn't help myself, I was screaming "Hell Yeah!" at the tv.
  • Favorite surprise celebrity: Sophia Loren looks GOOD, y'all. For real.
  • Verdict of torch lighting: Can't go wrong with fireworks, ever. Maybe a bit less traditional than normal, but freakin' spectacular to look at.
So yeah, I enjoyed the hell outta watching the XX Winter Olympics direct from Turin, Italy. If you need to find me during the next two weeks, I'll most likely be camped out in front of the tv - at least during the evenings.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

of houseguests and shopping!

new shoes!
Originally uploaded by vivienfrance.
As mentioned in the last post, we had a houseguest this week. Ms. kyliemac graced us with her presence from Sunday 'till yesterday and it was really fun having her here. There was a small bit of sightseeing, a whole lot of window shopping and factory-outlet-malling, and a rather large amount of hanging-around-drinking-hot-teaing. We even used the excuse of having a houseguest to try out the Moroccan restaurant in our village and enjoyed a very tasty couscous and an extremely friendly proprietor! We'll definitely be going back to eat there again!

Kylie was also here to witness the more material benefits of stopping smoking. Steph and I have decided to reward ourselves with 5 euros for everyday we don't buy cigarettes and it wasn't long before I found my first goal - these fun shoes that were HALF off. Can't beat that now can ya? By Tuesday we'd accumulated enough that I could stop mooning at them through the window and actually go in and try them on. I had brief second thoughts as to whether I should buy more practical, all-weather shoes, but luckily I had kylie there to egg me on. Besides, cigarette money should be for fun rewards, not practical stuff, right?

Now the counter is back to zero (actually it's already back up to 10 euro, yay!) and Steph will have his choice of whatever he wants for his reward. I already know what I want next, but I'll have to wait for Steph save up and choose something for himself. I hope he hurries because I can't wait to start saving for my very own mp3 player/FM stereo!

Monday, February 06, 2006

welcome home

welcome home
Originally uploaded by vivienfrance.
We are very happy to be playing host to our good friend kyliemac for a few days. Today we drove to Troyes and wandered around, and kylie pointed out this fantastic wood carving over someone's door. (Click on the picture to go to my flickr site and a bigger version of this photo.) Even though I lived in Troyes for over a year before we moved "out to the country," I never noticed this carving before!

Friday, February 03, 2006

well, the truth is...

OK, I'm going to put you out of your misery. You see, both Steph and I have decided to stop smoking! I hesitate to say that we've quit full stop. Here's the whole story:

Tuesday morning, Steph announced that we should stop smoking. I am not one for making earth shattering decisions at 7:00 in the morning, so I said, "OK, I agree not to buy any more cigarettes, but I'm going to finish the ones I have!" So I did.

Wednesday and Thursday, we didn't smoke at all. This is huge, people! I can't remember the last time I went two whole days without a cigarette.

Then Steph went back to work today and discovered that he still had a few ciggies there, stashed in his office. He smoked a couple and then brought a couple home to me. Well, I just couldn't help myself and I smoked them. I can honestly say that they left me feeling quite ill, and I'm not in a hurry for a repeat performance! I think I'm on the way!

So have we quit? Well, we're working on it. I'm firm on not buying any more, in any case. Of course, I haven't had to get through the really difficult smoking stumbling blocks of being around other people smoking or going to a bar or having a drink without a smoke, but I'm feeling determined now. I'll have to start again tomorrow with counting the days, but I'm hoping a couple of weeks from now I'll be able to say that I haven't had any at all!

guess what

Originally uploaded by vivienfrance.
The first person who correctly identifies the meaning of this photo in the comments box shall win a fabulous prize!

I don't know what the prize is yet, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

my online library

Today I literally stumbled over a very cool website called It allows you to keep a list of all the books in your personal library which can be viewed publically or privately. You can enter reviews, search for the best prices, and you can even track books that you lend out to others. Not only are all of your books stored online, you can export your list to an Excel spreadsheet. Best of all, for the moment, it's a free service. So you know I spent the afternoon plugging in the ISBN numbers of all my books into my own account. You can take a peak at what books I have by clicking on the button in my sidebar.

Looks like I've got 49 books uploaded, which will soon be 52, as I've got three books coming from (and you know half of the price is shipping! Well, that's another rant story). I still can't believe how few books I have now, compared to two years ago. Back then I had two seven-foot tall bookcases crammed with books. I ended up donating no less than 10 grocery bags full of books to the public library when I moved, and I still have around 20 or so more books hanging out in my friend's attic back in the states. This summer, I'll have to decide if it's worth dragging them back over here or if I should donate them to a hospital/nursing home/Ronald McDonald House and just buy them again. The sticking point is that they are all first edition hardbacks. Hm, decisions, decisions.

Oh - I also want to thank Mai for manipulating my Flickr badge code to line up the way I wanted in my sidebar. Yeah, it's still got some funky lines in it but at least it's not floating out in the middle of nowhere. Thanks again Ms. Mai!