Saturday, October 27, 2007

gone to the mountains

This week absolutely got away from me. I had a ton of things I wanted to do, never mind post, but what can you do. To quote a common phrase from my college days, "Acknowledge, and move on!" So I am.

Today is the first day of the Toussaint, or All Saint's Day school break. Stéph's off for a week and a half and today we're going to catch up with some friends in a town I've never been to before - Grenoble! It's supposed to be gorgeous this weekend, albeit a little chilly, but it's looking pretty crappy out our windows right now, so we'll see. Méteo France is notoriously wrong on a pretty consistent basis. Anyway, we'll be back at the beginning of the week sometime, so I hope to have plenty of pictures and stories, plus some pictures I took last week and I'm going to FINALLY do something with all the photos Stéph took in Romania, when we get back.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

surrounded by calabrians

I've heard that the weather back home is unseasonably warm. Here in France, it's unseasonably cold! The highs have been hovering around 50° Fahrenheit, and while the last few days have been full of blue skies, it's gone all overcast today making it feel even cooler.

But I didn't want to talk about the weather today, but about a very international dinner we attended on Saturday night. As you may remember, Stéph visited Romania earlier this month to attend a project conference with schools in France, Romania, Italy, and Spain. There are actually two groups in this project, and the Romanians and Italians in the second group were in our area at the end of last week and visited Stéph's school on Friday. Saturday night there was a big dinner in Troyes and we were invited.

I got the opportunity to meet Stéph's boss (and coincidentally, the only other man working at Stéph's school!) and probably the second thing out of Stéph's mouth was, "Oh, did you know that some of my wife's family emigrated from Italy and her maiden name is Italian?" and I could have sunk under the floor. The last thing I wanted to do is give the impression of knowing more about Italy than I do, especially when it comes to language, but Stéph's boss was intrigued. He asked me where my family was from, and when I said Calabria, he got excited because he has Calabrian roots as well! Then we meet a colleague of Stéph's whose husband has roots in Calabria as well, and we ended up sitting across from them during dinner.

The truth is, we were about thirty, so we didn't really get to mix with a lot of people (I don't think I spoke to a Romanian all night, except to say hello and goodbye), but we had a great conversation with the colleague and her husband and a couple of other Italians that were sitting near us. The teacher sitting next to me, who was French, spent four years in America, the colleague went to America alone when she was 17 to visit some family that had emigrated there, and her husband told us stories about his Italian relatives that had emigrated to New York.

It was an enlightening dinner; I only wish I could say the same about the food itself. The restaurant is more known for welcoming groups for weddings or the like, but the food was pretty disappointing. It was a fixed menu supposedly highlighting food from our area, but the entrance was a salad with salmon and shrimp (thanks to our close proximity to the ocean, here in eastern France? WTF?) followed by an uninspired dish of pork cutlets and a cream sauce with potatoes and lardons that clearly came from the frozen section. They could have made up for this with the cheese course, and as much as I love chaorce, the locally produced cheese, throwing a slab of it on a piece of toast and calling it a day doesn't necessarily impress. The desserts were equally as unimpressive, with a simple raspberry mousse that surely came in packs of ten from the local frozen foods shop swimming in crème anglaise. If I told you how much we paid for this "culinary feast," you'd be quite shocked.

The funniest thing was that the Romanians were clearly ready to go before the dessert was even served. The money was gathered while we waited for the dessert to arrive and most of the Romanian party had their coats on before the coffee showed up.

The most surreal thing happened just before we left. As we were saying goodbye to everyone, an Italian woman was saying goodbye to me, and I remembered enough of my rudimentary Italian to say "arrivederci," and then she place a hand on my cheek and muttered "che bella," before she turned around and left. Now, I am not exactly renown for my beauty, but I found this so touching that I nearly ran after her for a hug!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

a quiet week

It has been something of a quiet week here at DFF headquarters, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been busy. Just that there hasn't been too much worth sharing, or at least little time to share it.

Here's one little interesting note. I can't remember if I mentioned it before, but I am in the process of renewing my carte de sejour, which is the one year residence card, but since I've been here for three years now, I qualify for a carte de residence, or so they tell me. One way or another, this card is good for ten years of French livin', so they tend to take this one a little more seriously. Now, I know I've said before that one of the benefits of living in the country is that we don't have to go to the big Préfecture in Troyes to turn in my documents; we can do it at the town hall and then they send off the paperwork. Well, I got a message from the town hall a couple of weeks ago and I thought I might as well walk over there - it's only a five minute walk, after all. I thought they were going to give me my récépissé, or the little blue card that says my new card is in process which I have to carry around with my old card. Oh, but no! They needed more documents - a copy of Stéph's identification and a written declaration that we live together. This last one annoyed Stéph to no end - "They already have a copy of our livret de famille*, why do they need this?!"

So that was the day before Stéph went to Romania and I went to Paris, and then we kind of put it off for a few days, so it wasn't until this past Monday that I went back with the documents in my hot little hands. I finally got my blue paper, but I had another surprise - a little interview. I was shown into the administrative manager's office, where the following intensive interview took place:

"So, the Préfecture has asked me to talk to you to see how you're integrating in France. You've been here for how long?"

"Three years."

"And do you like it here?"

"Oh yes."

"Are you working?"

"No, I've found it difficult to find a job, but we're planning on moving closer to Paris next year because we think it will be easier there."

"And your husband, he works here in town?"

"Yes, he's a teacher."

"Mmhm. Well, it seems that your French is very good, I'd say you're integrating well, I think I can send back a positive report."

"Thank you!"

You can see I was sweating bullets. Actually, I kind of got the impression that he'd never had to do this sort of interview before. Foreigners are a bit thin on the ground in these parts.

So that was the excitement around here this week. Otherwise, I've been working on a project centered around fitness, which has actually prompted me to get out and walk a bit this week, plus I've been rolling along with the knitting, having just finished up my first pair of socks:

my first socks

* A livret de famille is a little book that all French families have that has details about the wedding and the birthdates of their children.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What I did on my Parisian vacation

Sorry this is so late, life sort of caught up with me there. I thought about detailing my four days in Paris like I did for our summer vacation, but I ain't got that kind of time (and it would probably be quite boring) (and also? I ain't got that kind of time but I can still write one hell of a long post, can't I?), so here are some of the highlights:

I am so blessed that I have so many friends and acquaintances based in Paris that I couldn't possibly see them all over the course of four days, but I did get to see quite a few. My host was the totally awesome (wink) and always charming kylie mac, and we had a rip roaring time together. On Friday evening we hung out with rhino75, who showed me where to find a Whiskey Sour in Paris and made us howl with laughter. Saturday I visited the Coffee Table Studio and chatted away with Katia and kylie mac for hours and hours (the results are already posted - thanks for having me on the show, ladies!). Sunday I hung out with Flare and Sarah on a yarn shopping expedition and then chatted in Sarah's backyard with their sons Max and Felix over yummy munchies and tea. Monday night I got to meet JChevais. J has a laugh that can only be described as equal to mine (and those of you that know me personally will wonder at the force of two people that laugh like me) so we easily made nuisances of ourselves at O'Sullivan's Irish Bar over our alcohol and French BLTs. I think the only time we stopped talking was to eat or drink. That was a really fun meetup and I can't wait for the next one!

I must make it very clear - I am not one of those Americans that goes on vacation and only eats familiar foods. That being said, one of the perks of visiting Paris is that I can indulge in all kinds of foods that remind me of home that I can't get in the backwoods of Champagne-land. I'm talking about really evil food, like bacon cheeseburgers, cheddar cheese omlettes with bacon on the side (although, I could probably make that omlette at home now that I have access to cheddar) and java chocolate chip frappuccinos. Yeah, I blew my diet out of the water for four days, but it sure tasted good!

The Sights
Usually when I visit Paris I'm there to visit friends, but this time I made sure to take the time to visit some museums I hadn't seen before. Kylie mac took me to the Musée Carnavalet, which covers the history of the city of Paris, and I enjoyed it so much that I went back Tuesday morning to see more, and I still didn't see everything. I highly recommend it, especially if you can take a whole afternoon to see as much as possible, plus it's free! Saturday night was Nuit Blanche in Paris. Nuit Blanche literally means "white night" but is also used to describe an all nighter, and this night most museums are open quite late and other activities are available all night. Kylie mac and I chose to check out the Louvre so I could see some stuff I hadn't seen before. Unfortunately, most of the precious treasures were secured for the night, so we couldn't see them, but I did get to see the Apartments of Napoleon III, which was especially interesting at night. Plus, as we left the Louvre around 11pm, the streets were coming alive with celebration because the French rugby team had just beat New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup (too bad we lost to England the following week!).

Avoiding shopping in Paris is like avoiding getting cursed out in New York City - it happens and you just can't help it! This time I concentrated on increasing my yarn stash, and I definitely cashed in. Thanks to a tip on Ravelry, Flare, Sarah and I checked out Destocklaine, which features tons of different yarns at discount prices. Much of what you can find is acrylic but there are plenty of interesting finds if you're willing to dig. I got some yarn which I'm planning on turning into a sweater and some socks. I also went to check out Le comptoir in the 9th, which offers a lot of high quality yarn and accessories but little chance to fondle the yarns before purchase. If you like to fondle with your hands as well as your eyes before you purchase, this may not be the shop for you, but if you're already familiar with the yarn, this yarn boutique may be a good place to check out.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

one year (part two)

I can't believe it's been one year already since Dad died. The weird thing about it is that I don't feel especially broken up about it, and I don't have an interesting story to tell like I did one year after my mother died. He's certainly in my thoughts, but I can honestly say that I think about him and Mom every day.

To be absolutely honest, I feel like he's still with me, like I can still hear his voice. That's not to say that I hear him like someone is physically present in the room, but I hear him in my thoughts. As long as I can still hear his voice, it's like he hasn't totally gone away.

But even this feeling that he is with me can't replace talking to him on the phone or going to visit him. Dad was always my go-to guy for advice or comfort or for a laugh and I miss that connection more than anything else. If I had a dollar for every time I wanted to call him and ask him the stupidest little question, I'd be a very rich woman.

So here's to you, Daddy-o. Your laugh, joie de vivre, sage advice and comfort are sorely missed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

aaaaaaaaaand we're back

Yep, I'm back from my whirlwind four and a half day tour of Paris. Man, what a great visit that was! Usually when I get to go there to catch up with friends, it's for a day and a half or a maximum of two days, but this trip gave me the luxury of actually getting out and doing some touristy things, not to mention a little shopping and loads of fun hanging out. I really need to try to get the house in order (I was working an a huge project and didn't have the time to do it before I left, much to my chagrin - isn't it always nicer to come home to a clean house after a few days away?) before I go to pick up Stéph from the train station this afternoon.

Two things happened today that I have to share, though. First is quite an exciting development - I'm wearing my skinny jeans!!! Of course, skinny is a relative term in this case, but these are my favorite worn in jeans that I've been carrying around with me for years hoping that one day I'd be able to get back in them and that day has come. They're not yet perfect and still a little muffin-toppy, but they're comfortable enough to wear and with the right top no one will know. I am so happy!!

Second thing is just funny - I had to run down to the corner store this morning so I went directly after hopping out of the shower with my hair still wet (I never use a hair dryer). The woman behind the counter is very nice and we've chatted during transactions in the past, but this morning she floored me - she actually told me I was going to catch a cold going out like that! I can't believe people actually believe this still. I said, Oh, it's alright, it's just five minutes, and she said, But that's all it takes! I thanked her, because really something you'd expect to hear from someone who cares about your welfare, but I thought the whole thing was funny.

Anyway, off to run the vacuum and other housewifely pursuits. More about Paris to come!

Monday, October 01, 2007

weekend wrapup

It was a pretty quiet week here at Dispatches From France Headquarters. Did a bit of work, got in a couple of walks, and much knitting was done in front of the tv. We did make sure to watch France take on Georgia (not that Georgia!) in the Rugby World Cup, and it was fun to watch France win. Only problem is, their next match is Saturday against the All Blacks. I don't like to be a pessimist, but that has the potential to be ugly. Poor Stéph is gonna miss it, flouncing around Eastern Europe (or sitting in a boring conference, more like) but maybe I'll catch a little of it while I'm in Paris. If nothing else, I'd like to see the All Blacks do the Haka. Oh, you don't know the Haka? You can see it here at the beginning of a New Zealand at France match in June (which bonus shots of Sébastien Chabal, the long haired, heavily bearded French player that runs over the opposition like a runaway train, not that I'm partial or anything).

Other than that, I am just so looking forward to spending a few days in Paris visiting friends this weekend that this week feels like it will be never ending. Luckily I've got plenty to keep me busy and hopefully not staring at the clock wishing that time would go faster.

Ooh, I do have something fun to share with you - Doc sent me a picture of the bunny with MP3, and it's good to know that the bunny really wasn't bigger than the baby, but only by a hare (get it? get it? bwahahahaha ha heh... meh).

baby and bunny