Monday, May 30, 2011

The beginning of our roadtrip: Chartres Labyrinth

Great day for driving!
Hicham and I decided to go on a little road trip.  That is why I haven't blogged in a few days.  It was inspired because we could leave on Friday during the day, which would make the trip worth it.  We had to spend Friday morning at the Prefecture (after going there for even 10 minutes, you feel like you need a vacation!) to get my new green card.  That requires it's own post, and in order to keep this one positive, we will just move on...

So, after going to the prefecture, getting road-trip snacks, packing up the car and going to the doctor to discover that I do indeed have carpel tunnel, we hit the road! Destination: The beach!

 But before heading to the magnificent West coast, we had a couple of fun stops to make on the way.  It is about 4 hours from Paris to Saint Malo Beach.  Since it was also a Friday (and on the way), I wanted to visit Chartes again, home of the famous labyrinth - also the one that I have tattooed on my right shoulder. They usually have it covered in chairs, except on Fridays.  I am sure I am not alone in not understanding this since it seems that a)it is totally beautiful b)they market this as a reason to come c)there are more chairs already available than there are people in the entire village and d) it is the Chartes Labyrinth!  Many books have been written about it and it is more famous than the church itself, so the only day it is walkable being Friday is absurd.  As always, to see the BIGGER version, click on the picture.

But anyway, it was Friday and so we went!  Here is the church from far away:

Here is one of the cute cobblestone paths

The gorgeous Chartres Cathedral built 1893-1250:

We were very fortunate to get there before they started putting the chairs back on at 6:00 pm.  Sabine got to 'walk' it on my back in the backpack.  Hicham enjoyed it too.  Shortly after we finished, the man put just enough chairs on the it to deter anyone from taking the journey.  So, we took pictures:

Sabine Arabella

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Slow Motion Culture Shock or how Being in India is Easier than France (psychologically anyway)

 French cultural cues are often the same as American cues, but the ways people react to them tells a very different tale.  This is why culture shock comes in slow mo.  The experience of culture shock is different than that of more obviously different countries or cultures.

I would rather eat here, it would be more fun anyway.

You can accept even the most uncomfortable situation in some places simply because you KNOW you are not in a Western mindset environment.   When I was in India/Taiwan/Nepal/Thailand, it was clear I was practically on another planet. There are OBVIOUS signals that the mentality is different, the right way of doing thing is just so wrong.  People pulling you by bike in a cart  BAREFOOT while dodging sleeping cows in the middle of the street.  People throwing their babies in your arms to get a picture.  Children sweeping the train car for coins.  Men sitting on each other's laps.  And on and on and on.  There is less judgment, more going with the flow, more acceptance as you eat spicier than hell food on the hottest day you have ever experienced in your life on an aluminum plate with your dirty hands.  You just smile and do it!  Hell, they are smiling all the damn time, why shouldn't you?

Me in India (in the center)
But eating dinner in France can startle even the most cool cat.   BECAUSE IT LOOKS THE SAME as an American eating environment, one has certain expectations.  When your water glass is emptied, the waiter will come and refill it without being asked multiple times, when your plate is clean the waiter will get the dirty plate out of your face without being asked multiple times, when you go to wash your hands in the bathroom there is soap, when the restaurant is virtually empty the next customers will not be seated at the table 2 inches away from yours, when you order a cocktail there is more than one cube of ice, your dinner is brought to within 30 minutes or they will apologize and offer free dessert, when the meal comes it is not usually oversalted and overgreasy and child size portions and doesn't run you thirty dollars ... when... when.... You get the point.  My experience eating out in Paris has inevitably been miserable.

When those expectations are not met throughout the course of the meal, I get crabby.  I get snarly.  I get critical and bitchy.  I start a running monologue about the restaurant, the waiter, the cook, the other diners, the time, the service etc.  It seems I just cannot have a nice time in a French restaurant, even if I go in with the idea that I must turn off the judgment and just go with the flow.   Now, don't you want to go out to eat with me?

Knowing how the scenario is likely to play out, I  put on my big fake smile and go in focusing on the fact that I am not home making dinner and then cleaning the kitchen.  That should be enough to quelch the complainer.  But no - each time, amazingly some new way to piss me off will occur and then the floodgates open.

Last night, for example, we went out with our lovely friend to celebrate her birthday.  We returned to a restaurant that we really liked from having cocktails there once.  It is a cool as hell restaurant, really.  Three nights a week they even move the furniture, have a dj and people "dance".  I want to check that out sometime.  Pics are below.  As always, click on the photo to see it up BIGGER.

Beautiful Restaurant called Delaville Cafe, Paris.

Anyway, I discovered something very peculiar.  It was something called a "Children's Meal".  I searched my memory, yes, I know those two words - but for almost three years, they have never quite gone together.  Did this mean, what I think it means?  Wait hold on, it's fuzzy.  A meal just for a kid?  This is the first time I have ever seen that in France.  I was inappropriately giddy at the idea of a something geared toward kids here, so much so that I didn't really think about what I was ordering for Sabine.

Of course, we did have to bring our inflatable high chair as restaurants just don't have them.  (As a side note, EVERY SINGLE restaurant in Turkey had highchairs, even the coffee shops!).  But I expected that,  but then the other shoe dropped.  I am not sure why I didn't bring my camera last night, because Sabine's "meal" is almost indescribable.

I wouldn't feed that shit to a dog, let alone a growing child.  For 14 dollars, she got ONE repulsive frozen greasy breaded fish stick and a cup of slimy old french fries.  She of course devoured the fries because she had not ever had the option at so much grease in her life.   Now you are thinking to yourself, why didn't I just send it back?  The truth is, I don't have an answer to that.  I was just trying to be positive.  See what happens???  I ended up giving her vegetables from my plate and bread from the bread bowl.  

Therefore, we don't often go out to eat because it just isn't enjoyable.  I can do dessert and I can do coffee, and happy hour is always fun. But restaurants, just no.  It is fine because I like cooking and knowing what I am eating anyway.  We both like eating healthy, that includes both physical and financial health! 

So to that end, I think the issue of living specifically in France (or anywhere) and the rage that can build up when dealing with a different culture  is often related to expectations.  This is especially true when it comes to Western countries that are still traditional (like France and Italy).  It may look like what you know, it smell like what you know - but believe me, a foreign country is still foreign even if it doesn't seem like it.

As a side note, one book that helped me immensely with understanding some of the French ways and the why's behind them was Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong.  Absolutely engaging and entertaining.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fluenz Language Learning Software Review or Learning French like an adult!

I have tried many different methods including various books, software and classes.  By far, the best system for me has been the Fluenz Language Learning software.  WORTH EVERY PENNY!

People always ask me how I became fluent in French so quickly.

Okay, that is not true at all.  I am not really fluent and well, I have been here for 2.5 years, so not so quick either.  I have a long, long ways to go.

Learning another language takes time, effort, discipline and practice.  Because I live in France, I have been forced to practice or in other words LIVE HERE therefore use French.  Discipline comes and goes as motivation comes and goes.  After going to a party where I am mainly baffled by 90% of the conversation, I vow to study the moment I get home.  As for effort (trying), that just means I devoted attention to it instead of other things.  For example, I can either listen to podcasts of "This American Life" or I can listen to  Coffee Break French.   For passive learning, Coffee Break French is brilliant.  I could listen to CBF when cleaning the kitchen, sitting on the metro, etc.  But, to really take language learning to the next level, one should devote "active thinking" time to French while not multi-tasking.  That means really giving yourself over to working with the language.

So, when I discovered Fluenz (especially after that joke Rosetta Stone), I was beyond thrilled.

In looking at their website, I copied the paragraph that sums up why Fluenz works for me:

Our philosophy is simple: we think of ourselves when we design our programs. We look at each language, be it Chinese or Italian, and take it apart from the point of view of English. We ask ourselves common sense questions: How does Italian work? What's challenging in Spanish? We then create a path through each language that makes sense to an English speaker trying to learn it. This takes a lot of time, but it's the only way it can be done.

The key for me was that they explain French using English.  Learning through immersion works great... if you are 12.  Adults learn by fitting new information into what they already know.  In my French classes here in Paris, I would supplement their strict French only stance with my French learning books that offered explanations in English.  This would enrage the teachers, but short of ripping the book out of my hands, they could not stop me from referencing it.  They would rather spend 30 minutes explaining something in French rather than letting me just read one paragraph explaining it the same damn concept in 1 minute.  Mais, non!

Fluenz is an interactive tool which incorporates natural conversations along with simple English explanations which allows me to absorb the language without analysis paralysis!  There is no memorizing 8 verb tenses and then filling out a page of busywork to practice only to completely forget it all the moment you actually try to use it because all you can remember is ALL the variant possibilities AT THE SAME TIME!

Fluenz breaks it down for you.  Teaches you how to use the language so that you can use it.  Immediately.  Yes, Immediately.  Are there tons of repetition in the exercises?  Yes, absolutely.  But it is not the same word with 8 different endings all at one time.   You don't get bored, it actually is fun.

With Fluenz, you practice it ALL too.   Listening, writing, reading, comprehension and speaking using interactive software.  You must be on the ball to use Fluenz, this is active learning.  You cannot do Fluenz and think about what you are going to eat for dinner.  It takes concentration and gives back an open door to another world!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Biking (with) Baby in Paris.

Hicham on his bike
Biking has been a big part of Hubba Hubby's life since he was a little kid.  Growing up in Eastern France, he and his brothers would spend summers biking in the Les Vosges Mountains (the twin of the Black Forest Mountains in Germany), racing bikes and he even partook in some of the Tour d' France 'stages' for weeks at a time.  Even now, he bikes to work every day, rain or shine.  Sure, he could take the metro which would take him about 45 minutes, but the bike only takes him 35 minutes.  And he has a shower at work too.  Paris is not the most bike-friendly city like Amsterdam or Portland, but bikes are normalized here and so drivers are more prone to see them.

I was super excited when I got my own bike someone was selling second-hand with a babyseat attached, bike helmets, locks and oh yes, a basket! It is a real old-school bike directly from Holland.  Sturdy and heavy as hell.  It rests here with the other bikes in the "bike cave" which is exactly what it is called. 

My bike is the one on the right.  She was pre-named, Giselle which is fine by me.

Biking along the Seine River

Two blocks up from our apartment. 

Since I was eager to ride Giselle around, but not that comfortable with Paris traffic, we had been sticking to bike trails and our little suburban roads. 

 But today was the day to meet new, exciting challenges!  Today was the day to bike in Paris proper!

It takes about 30 minutes to go the five miles to the Eiffel Tower from our home by bike.  All that green you see is the infamous Bois de Boulogne, one of Paris' urban forests/parks.   It is really, big and has a horse-race track and two lakes.

Now where?

Today, I went through the forest to the other side!  I met my personal "biking in Paris challenge" and I have a iconic photo to prove it.   I will admit though that most of the trip was tree lined and without cars and the parts that were roads had bike lanes - so, it was pretty smooth sailing for me and Sabine.

And that is how biking should be, easy and fun!

Friday, May 20, 2011

DSK, Infidelity, Censorship, Feminism, News and Aljazeera (Lots o' links)

Dear Reader, As I preview this blog entry, I realize it is too long.  Too much information.  Too unfocused.  It should be perhaps three separate blog entries, but it isn't.  Sometimes things just flow, overlap and connect.  That is what happened here.  Feedback always appreciated!

I would like to comment on the news' all-consuming 24/7 coverage of the recent accused rape case of "DSK".  For one thing, the former head of the IMF is French and so his arrest has been much debated here in France.

Since my knowledge of the French political system is being gained at a snail's pace and really, I can't vote anyway - it is more of a hobby.  I basically learn about it in real-time; as controversies or political races arise - which keeps my interest more than a "Politics of France" textbook likely would anyway.

So, this is a case, er, ahem ... or controversy in point.  This French Socialist Presidential candidate, leading in the polls vastly was already a known womanizer!  He cheated on his THIRD wife three years ago, asked for forgiveness and the French just shrugged this off with seemingly anti-puritanical pride.  They even have laws that prohibit the media and news agencies from discussing public figures' private lives.  This is leading to a current debate about the media and those in power having a cozy, inappropriate relationship.  In other words, reporters may not report on many topics such as those deemed private by the rich and powerful.  So much for free speech, right?

Strauss-Kahn has been married three times. His wife is Anne Sinclair. (Time)
Sounds like censorship to me, but the French seem to embrace this with fervor and outdated notions of personal privacy rights.  Yeah, sure, but for who?  Not likely for the wife, whose husbands' infidelities are shrugged off by the general population who says gallantly, " Vee are not like zee Americans, what our leader's do in zee bedroom is none of our business". Who gets shamed in this situation?  I think it is the wife for whom society turns it's back on as they clap and cheer for a man and tout as worthy of leading a country.  WTH?

I think someone who is capable of cheating on their partner and/or sexually harassing their subordinates (as was the case with DSK) speaks to their character.  I know that there is no perfect person and we can't expect our leaders to be perfect either, but that behavior tells me they are not worthy of trust.  If he can't even be faithful to his wife and family, why should he tell the truth to millions of strangers?  I wish so much that Bill Clinton had been above this, but unfortunately he wasn't and I lost respect for him.  It just isn't right to have sexual relations outside of marriage but it is particularly bothersome when the relations are not of equals.  And, really, who can be equal to the president?  Okay, maybe another president or prime minister.  ANYWAY....

Most French people are very upset with the way Strass-Kahn was 'treated' like a criminal, hand-cuffed in the perp walk.  According to the talkingheads on French TV, since he is so damn "important" he should be treated as a fucking VIP.  Anyway, they say, he wasn't proven guilty so why is he treated like a criminal?   It is hard to believe he is not guilty of something since he was trying to scurry off onto an Air France plane the day it happened.  But also, no mention of the real victim in the early reports of DSK's assault, the woman.  This shifted due to some pro-active French women's groups.

One good thing that came out of this for me personally, was learning about these French Feminist groups (another concept lost on most French women) who spoke on behalf of the woman who is accusing DSK of inappropriate sexual conduct. and   I am eager to get more engaged in feminism here in France.  I have been told with great pride by several French women that they are "NOT feminists and don't want to be!"  I will devote an entire blog, maybe MORE about the sad state of feminism in France.  Though it appears that feminism in the USA is getting more regressive everyday.  But that deserves it's own blog, let alone blog entry.

To make this whole DSK thing even more offensive was HOW MUCH coverage this piece of crap 'news' piece is getting.  Yes, he was one of the world's most powerful men blah blah blah, but Obama made a historical speech about the state of affairs in the Arab world THE SAME DAY which was barely spliced in between images of badboy DSK on all of the English speaking News Channels here.  That is a big, damn deal.  What he said about honoring the borders that were agreed upon by Israel  pre-1967 war.  That is HUGE.  This is an issue that should have trumped the DSK scandal 100 times.  But that would require money to make a real story out of a real story.

I really, really detest mainstream media.  I know it is cheaper to produce repetitive news filled with soundbites instead of deep analysis and reseach, so that is why I rarely watch it.  For one thing, I always feel depressed, dirty and despondent after viewing the "news".  The information they provide only makes me ask MORE questions.  Questions which I think I shouldn't have to ask.  What is the background (ethnic battles), how is it effecting the animals (forest fires),  where are the people living (foreclosures) and so on.

That is why I usually watch Aljazeera.  I feel informed after watching their news reports and always cry during their investigative reports.  They really produce amazing news.  They answer questions I don't even have.  They interview people we don't usually hear from, they talk about topics we don't usually think about much (diamond miners live's in Africa, women in Egypt, etc).  They provide unbiased, thorough coverage that makes you think and reflect long after watching.

And what they don't have matters even more: anything at all that looks like Faux news.  I mean Fox news.  They don't have hysterical people interrupting each other, saying hateful, unproven opinions and calling it news.  Actually it is pure folly to even compare Fox News to Aljazeera, they just aren't even in the same league.  Aljazeera does the news better, even if it is bad news. Watch Aljazeera streaming live

When ALL the other stations (CNN, BBC, CNBC, France 24, Sky, ABC) were blathering on repeating the same crap over and over, pontificating over what MIGHT happen to DSK, Aljazeera was informing the world about what WAS happening all over the world.

If you want to learn more about WHY Aljazeera is only available on-line to Americans and not on cable, Aljazeera Blacked out by Big Corporations  It really is pathetic, but typical especially since Aljazeera highlights much of the corruption in the USA and Big Corporation's evil doings.  

Despite the Arab name, it is international news. For example, two American stories I "enjoyed" were:   BP spill effecting humans, Hollywood and the War Machine.  But Witness is my favorite show on Aljazeera. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

For the Birds

Since leaving North Carolina two and a half years ago, there are some things that I have gradually (not gracefully) let go of.  For example, driving my Corolla, Amy's soups/dressings/frozen foods, seeing the stars at night, Marshalls & TJ Maxx (not Big Lots - still miss it big time!).  But one thing I just haven't (and likely never will) learn to live without is seeing birds outside my window.

I think this might be genetic.  My Grandma Delores sits and looks out at her birdfeeder at the multitude of birds she attracts with her birdfeeder daily.  When I visit, it is an on-going topic of conversation.  "Oh, look at the robin" "Quick, there is a blue jay!" or "Finch alert".  My other Grandma NeeNers told me about the hawk in her yard.  But beyond the genetic disposition, one of my fondest living memories of life in Durham is laying in bed being awoken by the cacophony of a hundred different birds.  Laying there as the sun grew stronger and the birdsong grew quieter is a joyous and wonderful way to start the day.  Our house was backed up against a mess of chaotic, uncut, untrimmed, untouched trees which you could hardly walk through.  I know because a few times Olivia (dog) wandered off, I would go searching for her in this twisted mess of branches and vines.

This is one of my greatest losses, blessed birdsong.

When a friend moved into her own house with yard early this year, we got her (at my insistence) a birdfeeder.  And believe me, they are not easy to find in France nor are they cheap.  But, projecting my own desires on to her, we got her one after much searching.  Funny but true, at the store, we asked the clerk if she could tell us where they were and she said, oh no, they don't sell birdfeeders, just cages and so on.  A few moments later, I see a couple of different types piled up on top of some dog food.  I say to the lady, well what about those?  Oh no, those are just displays!!!!  So, after talking to the manager, he agrees we can buy one of the displays.  That is why her birdfeeder did not come in a box!  We also got her a big bag of birdfeed, knowing she might have a hard time finding it.

Back of my building view (private yard), cute - but no bird feeder or bath :(
I decide a few weeks later, that I am going to get my own bird feeder, and put it on my fourth floor window.  Occasionally birds fly by, one of them is bound to see it and come visit.  From there, word will spread to all the other little cuties and they will flock to my window like birds to a feeder. 

I decided to avoid the shopping trap ("the" as if there were only one) and I went online to buy a suction cup, clear feeder.  I found a cool non-profit like the Audubon Society in the states.  Of course, they had a little store on their website.  I chose the "apartment dweller" birdfeeder (making me giddy with visions of songbird greedily gulping down the seed from my 4th floor window and then thanking me with some pleasant trilling each morning).  I also added to my basket a big bag of seed, skipping the small one.  I was worried I might run out and not find more soon enough thereby losing the birds' interest.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Having Faith

Last night I went to one of the monthly "Mom's (or Mum's depending on who is organizing it) Night Out".  This is one of many, many organized events by a group called MESSAGE, a support group of mothers for mothers.  The only stipulation is you gotta speak English.  There are about 2000 members mainly from the US and the UK.  However, I have enjoyed meeting women from all over the world at different gatherings.  There are playgroups, walking groups, holiday events, wisdom filled forums and mom's night out just to name a few. Okay, anyway, that is not what this post is about. BUT it is a really cool group to be a part of.

So, as I was saying, I was at a mom's night out with 5 other women.  I was actually talking to a French mom who had lived for a good amount of time in Amsterdam and was married to a Brit.  Her daughter is 5 months old.  She told me her daughter was called Angelina Reina.  The Angelina part was chosen for similar reasons to Sabine.  You can't fuck it up no matter what your accent is.  You should hear how many just wonderful names in English are slaughtered with the French pronunciation.  Aurore, one of my all time favorite names sounds like someone is gagging on dry toast when they say it.  Of course, the same can be said for some French names.  Hortense while not exactly the most adorable name in English sounds very cool in French.

The French mama was telling me about her daughter's middle name (Reina) and that it was BOTH her grandma's first name.  Weird coincidence, non?  She then went on to tell me in pretty graphic detail about how difficult life was for one of the Grandma Reina's.  Her mother had been born just after WW2 ended.  Her G-ma had 10 children in all, all growing up in either a war time or post-war time, and all growing up in severe poverty.  As in, not enough food.  As in malnutrition.  As in skinny as a bean pole.  And then she commented that she looks at her little Angelina and feels so happy that her daughter 'has it all'.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My French Dental Journey ... 5 dentists in two years (riveting reading here folks!)

I have what they call, “soft” teeth. While my teeth are generally straight and relatively stain free, they are fragile as a robin egg. True story, I broke my tooth once eating bread. Okay, it was a little seed in the bread, yes, but still it wasn't like corn nuts.

I have spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours getting work done on my teeth. Having had dental care in the States, Taiwan, Honduras, and now France you could say I am one of those medical tourists. Without a doubt, each of my teeth (the remaining ones anyway) have multiple fillings. Most of the silver have been replaced and I have now 5 crowns. I am so good at being a dental patient that I have been able to tell the dentist what I need done before they even look in my mouth, not based on pain, but based on the fact that a tooth hasn't been worked on in a while.  It is not because I don't take care of my teeth or don't brush, I just have soft teeth.

So, when I last had dental insurance in the states, my dentist and I made a dental plan which I couldn't complete because surprise, surprise! I reached my limit and so had to pay out of pocket. I remember I did some temp work to make extra money to pay at least to get the most important stuff done – but what could I do after that? It would have to wait until next year when the dental insurance started new again. Of course, by then I was no longer working there and didn't have any more coverage. So it goes...

A few YEARS later, after moving to France, I had my big chance to see a dentist for free (well, you know I don't really mean FREE because people here work very hard and pay into the system). That would be the beginning of a journey that would I am pleased to report end, happily. But, if you care to join me down French dentist memory lane, c'mon.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Rage of Sabine

Another photo entry I am afraid.  I have some other things to share and get off my chest, but that will have to wait because we are going to get our butts outside and enjoy this absolutely magnificent day.  So, here is a quick photo entry which I think is really bittersweet.  I tried to put a cute ribbon in Sabine's hair.  She just cannot stand stuff on her head.  Her sunhats with velcro don't stand a chance on her!

Please note these nine pictures were all taken in less than a minute.  I mention this for two reasons: I did not subject her to the agony of ribbon on head for an extended time and wow, how expressive is this child?  The other thing that is amazing is that she can fall on her face, blood coming out of her nose and she barely makes a whimper.  But this, well - this is just sob worthy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Before and After: The Fava

Fava beans are good.  I like them in in stews, soups, stir-fry, burgers - they are just so multi-purpose.  Even though we eat them all the time, I buy them either in a jar or frozen (left).

On our last visit to Hicham's parent's home, his mom made a delicious dish including a bean that I could not recognize.  When I found out, it was my beloved fava, I almost farted with surprise.  Thing is, they were fresh fava and they tasted completely different than I was used to.

I pressed for more info.  Yes, I could buy them at a local farmer's market.  And goodness knows, Paris is full of them.  I was decided, I would simply go to the market and get some.  But the bean dish was perhaps the only good thing that actually happened during that disaster filled weekend - that I forgot all about it.

Fast forward several weeks.  Hicham went to the store to pick up a few things.  He returned with these enormous green beans.  What the hell?  The little weight and price ticket informed me that they were in fact, FAVA beans!  I don't know what I expected them to look like fresh.  But definitely not that.

Before and After Photo:
The giant bean shell can contain only one bean as seen in this picture.  Though generally it does produce about 3-5 beans.  That entire large red bowl is full of the shells.  It produced exactly one cup of beans.

Artsy shot of Fava.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cuteness and Grandeur

Life has been so wonderfully bright and sunny.  Sorry to all of my American friends who cannot look out the window and report the same.  However, it is not that common that the sun shines in Paris - so, I get to mention it with absolute glee.

Lots to share, but sorta limited on time at the moment, but didn't want to wait another day for an update.  Once it happens, it is a slippery slope and I want to keep this blog a happenin' place to be.  So, Another photo essay entry.  I hope that is okay - oh, wait, no I don't.  It is okay - because it is my blog and I do what I want... hmmmph.

So, we were once again totally delighted to have the warm company of two friends again for a day, a night and a morning.  Steve and Genevieve have been in France for about a month. They have had an amazing trip.  We got to see them at the beginning of their incredible journey and sadly, now at the tail end.  It was a beautiful day and so after lunch, we took the 15 minute train ride to Versailles.

I have been inside several times and just could not stomach the shuffling through the magnificent rooms yet again.  So, S & G went inside to be amazed at the dazzling rooms and we were very, very happy to spend time in the magnificent gardens... except that it was one of the exceptional days were they had light shows and fountain shows accompanied by music and all kinds of other stuff (cool stuff and had we more time, yes, sure but only an hour, nah - and it was about 12 US dollars to get this area instead:

I mean isn't that just lovely?  It was one of the the king's lakes.  When S & G called to tell us they were done being wowed by the glorious castle, we went back to the entry of the vast (understatement) gardens to meet up.  We took a few pics there.  Because it was close to closing time, there were very few people there.  This made the environment feel so much more authentic and how do you say? Bourgeois.

Behind us is the long lake, you can rent boat boats and paddle around there.   Steve, Genevieve, Hicham, Sabine and me.  I am standing like a wanna be catalog model (maybe JC Penny).  But if you click on the picture, you can see Sabine's lil fro.  Anyway, S & G look very good here so, voila.  I should add that all those green trees behind us are not just trees, but immaculately pruned and designed unique gardens.  Really, these gardens are exquisite.

Sabine and Hicham.  She practiced her stairs some more and more and more.  After that day, she is officially an expert.

Friday, May 6, 2011

My Favorite Building in all of Paris

Even though I have lived here for almost three years (one summer and 2.5 years in our current abode), I can still be taken aback by some of the sights here.  Some bad, some good and some downright breath-taking.  My all-time favorite building falls in catagory three. It's address is 29 Ave Rapp.  It is about 2 minutes away from the American Library.  We get to see it each time we go and I always stop to admire it and like good art, each time I see it I like it more and more.  I also notice new things about it.  It is worth a few minutes to really look at these pictures, there is just so much love and care that went into creating this building's facade.

I have always wondered, who?  why?  what in the hell?  I mean, a TWO HEADED TURTLE?  Luckily, google maps, led me in the right direction (ha ha pun intended).  From locating the address on google maps, it appears I am not alone in my mild obsession with this art nouveau fantastic building.  Many others have taken photos of it too and even credited the original designer Jules Aime Lavirotte.  So, a simple google search of that name led me to more information about Jules.  And voila, the guy designed at least nine other buildings. includes all the addresses and so, I will begin my quest to seek and find each of these mythical buildings in Paris.

I am pretty thrilled at the prospect, not gonna lie of a mini mission.  As my favorite tv character would say, "Set a course" (Capt Janeway).  Here is the first of nine (can't wait to get to Seven of Nine - another Star Trek reference tee-hee).

Nine Building Photo Series: One

Built 1901:


             Another Angle.

Please click on the photo to open it up to it's original size and enjoy all of it's glorious details: 

                         Check out that cool interior ceramic ceiling.  And people actually get to live here.
                          Hello 112 year old two headed turtle.
Saved the best part for last, the entrance.  You can't just call it a door either.  It truly is an entrance.

I am here where they are

Tonight, while I wait for my very non-French whole wheat muffins to bake, I was surfing the net.  Yeah, I could have been studying French, but decided that I was just too tuckered out for such effort.  It has been a bit of a long day, I taught my two English as a Second Language classes, cleaned the entire balcony which was desperately needed,  etc etc.  

So, I spent some time reading, one of my favorite easy-reading with meaning websites about American liberties being demolished for the sake of 'security', looked at some amazing flickr photo groups posting pics of abandoned farm houses in NC, watched our beloved First Lady getting her groove thing on as she builds awareness around public health and obesity.  This is a pretty good snapshot of what I do on the web.  Tonight I realized how completely American centered it is.

What does it mean to be American? When we first moved here back in (gulp) 2009, I was reading Durham's Herald-Sun online EVERY SINGLE DAY.  I read the Indy too.  I mean, you can't go cold turkey on community can ya?  Well, the repercussions were severe.  I would read about all the things I couldn't do, see, be a part of and I got severely depressed.  Hicham said I had to stop reading that stuff because I don't live there anymore.  So, I did stop at least reading local news.

But, I still feel so very connected to the USA, even if I don't participate in daily life there, contribute to any real community or support any local restaurants.  I feel as American as when I left.  Hell, maybe even more so since I am constantly faced with 'their way' of life and lifestyle.  Like how they have no screens on their windows, how you will get tiny glasses of water everywhere you go and I am the only one who gulps it down in one second, how they often wear thick scarves on 80 degree days.

The internet helps keep this identity strong, very strong.  But is it real?  What am I gaining by knowing evil John Ashcroft took a job with evil Blackwater.  Does it matter, really that women's rights to abortions are being stripped away at every turn?  What can I do about it here anyway?  What do I lose by not knowing what is going on around me, here where I live?

I am not unusual, living in a cultural bubble.  Most American women I know here, married to Frenchies live similarly.   Of course, there are exceptions, those who speak French fluently, those who have been here for more than 10 years and those who just adore France.  I am not any of those women... yet.

What is also interesting is how much each country pushes for integration and assimilation.  I had to take a two day long French culture class, learning about history and rights.  I have adjusted certain things to be more culturally correct.  I will do the bisous (the kiss kiss thing at first meeting), I do make more of an attempt to look "effort-filled" stylish when going out (though my New Balance shoes do tag me as foreigner) and I will follow their many absurd informal rules (ex. not sitting on the grass) and informal customs (giving correct change or be met with contempt).  I even trill, "bonjour!" upon entering a bakery.  Of course, I use my worst accent ever so they know immediately, I am not going to rush over and hurriedly tell them what I want in a matter of fact kind of way.  No, no, no (say it fast to sound French).  No, no, no, my version of bonjour tells them, I am an idiot and can't even say 'hello' correctly, so don't expect too much.

The USA is not unique in wanting new-comers to embrace American ideals.  Of course to me, it sounds easy.  Hell, it sounds like a privilege.  Everyone wants to be free right? But the French also feel this way.  Except their version might be, everyone wants to be French right?   Their notions of superiority are no different from our own.  I mean, they can admit that the best technology is developed in the USA, but they are catching up again.  Anyway, they have very progressive ideals and over 500 types of cheese!

So, I seem to be working the "We" vs "Them" dichotomy to the point of exhaustion.  I say "we" like I matter to America, which I don't.  I don't shop there, I don't work there, I don't own any property there, I don't even have a car there (gasp)!  And unfortunately, I don't see a return date for a long- long time, if ever.  I say 'them' like they are over there.  Well, they are not over there.  I am over here and I am here where they are.  My 'we' are far away, so maybe it is way past time I start changing my concept of we.  

Yeah, after two and a half years, I start to realize this on a whole new level.  Seems a little slow, doesn't it???  Well,  I was distracted by being pregnant and having a baby, so much of my energy was birthing,  breast feeding, soothing and general baby stuff and my identity was that of a new mom.  Now that Sabine is older and I am getting back into the groove of thinking again (just kidding)... actually, having Sabine has made this identity question even more powerful.  I don't see anyway to end this blog entry really because it is an on-going issue.  Any insights would, as always, be appreciated.

This btw, is not to say, that I will not continue to point out the often bizarre and sometimes charming cultural differences - cuz I am still a big-mouth American even here in hushed toned France;)  Just building more awareness of my place in the world divided up by immigration, laws, beliefs, cultures, governments and other dividing lines that most of us don't even have to question.

I do know one place that I am completely "at home", with my beloved husband and daughter.  Awe :)

At the famous Angelina's Restaurant in Paris (wearing my New Balance shoes!)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Extra Good Oatmeal.

Well, since it does have the word 'kitchen' in it, there is some implication of cooking from my blog's title.  I do really love spending time in the kitchen, yes even cleaning actually.  Put on some music and do my thing.  Whatever that thing is, there is a sense of accomplishment at the end.  Whether it is soup,  a loaf of banana bread or all the dishes done - there is a beginning and an end.  That is nice.

So, I am not going to add recipes everyday, but when the mood strikes.  The mood has struck today and anyway, Sabine is busy right now.

She is in her room doing her thing and we have big plans today to go to the American Library of Paris when she emerges.   I don't particularly like to disturb Sabine when she is in play zone by herself.  I want to encourage alone time and that means I don't go into her room or check on her while she is in there.  It is a completely child friendly zone and with the exception of the dirty cloth diaper bin (with lid) there is nothing she can't touch.

My recipe of the when I feel like it is called:

Extra Good Oatmeal:
2 cups of steel cut oats (NOT instant)
1 cup water
2 cups apple sauce
1 cup finely shredded carrots
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cup raisins
1 tsp cinnamon

overly mashed banana for extra sweetness (optional)
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract (optional)
1/4 cup wheat germ (optional)
1/4 cup ground flax seed (optional) 
also: walnuts, coconut, apple pieces, blueberries, anything really!

It is tricky making oatmeal look as good as it tastes in a picture.
Cook on low to medium for about 5 minutes - stirring frequently. If you prefer mushier consistency then 10 minutes would be better.  Because there are raisins, carrots and applesauce, there is no need to add refined, processed white sugar. 

Top with yogurt and almonds if you want.

Believe me when I tell you, unless you are gluten intolerant, this breakfast will make you feel good!  And keep you going for a long time. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Been a bit dull around here anyway, so we eat:)

I know globally the last few days have been exciting for many, many people.  What with a royal wedding and with Bin Laden officially killed (or dead), emotions have been running high lately.  Not so much here in our little corner of the world.

So, as mentioned, it has been a bit dull around here, meaning that the apartment is clean, we have groceries, there is dinner in the crock pot, laundry is caught up, been working on my volunteering and well, simple living stuff.  But someone recently did ask me, well what does she eat then?  Of course, this came after it was discovered that Sabine has never eaten a chicken nugget.  Yeah, she doesn't eat chickens, cows or pigs - anything that can walk basically.  She does like eggs though and cheese - so she enjoys some animal products occasionally.  Sabine also eats yogurt every morning with oatmeal and fruit.   So, I figured that might be blog worthy.  Is it?  Well anyway, here are some pictures of Sabine and that cute lil red fox is always blog worthy.  So, here is what my little veggie-bine ate for lunch today.

I said, "Hey girl, are you ready for lunch?"  She put her hand on her hip indignantly.

This was her plate:

She had red beans, potatoes, avocado, raisins and corn.

Of course, the raisins were gone first in 30 seconds even though she eats them one at a time.

Finally, one morsel at a time, clean plate and full belly.

One happy Sabine:)

Monday, May 2, 2011

May Day 2011 Photo Slide Show

Thought it might be nice to add some photos of our day at the park. But also thought it would be cool to make a slide show instead of you scrolling down the page. Unfortunately, the quality of the pictures is lower. It helped when I uploaded it to youtube first as a viewing platform.   You can increase the size by clicking on the little arrows in the bottom right hand corner (you probably already knew that though).

 Not sure that this is something that I will do again anytime soon. But hey, at least now I know how to do it. Would love your feedback. Do you think it is preferable than just posting the pics?

Hope you enjoy the pics. They do get a bit artsy towards the end.
 Take care and Happy May Day.