Friday, March 31, 2006

Fine French Food

Julie and all of you who wonder about French food, this one is for you!

I was invited to a French culinary school for dinner last night. It was a fantastic 5 course meal. Finally, I understand the reputation of French cuisine.

The appetizers, well, I have no idea what they were, except for a smoked fish in cream and more cream. But cream is a good thing. It was followed by veal with a tomato puree which wasn't very good.

However, my main course was awesome! I had veal with liver, baby onions, eggplant and basil in a light cream sauce. The veal was perfectly cooked. Personally, I liked this part of the meal the best, but the cheese and dessert part was good, too.

For those of you who don't know, the French serve cheese between the main course and dessert. I love cheese. It is one of my favorite things in life, so I liked being able to choose from 8 different varieties.

And they certainly didn't slouch on the desserts. There was a strawberry tart, chocolate tart, chocolate cake, banana soup, and about 10 more choices I can't remember. The banana soup one of the most unique flavors I have ever tasted and it was heavily spiked with rum. Alcohol in the dessert is always a good combination.

It was a really nice experience!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Hail + Running = Pain

I went running today and it started hailing when I had about a mile and a half left. At first it just seemed like a massive thunderstorm (usually a pleasant surprise because I haven't heard thunder very much in France), but the hail wasn't far behind. I must say it was a first. I have never been exercising outside when it started hailing and it is not an experience I would like to repeat. It felt like a million large needles where being hurled at me. Take my advice, don't run in hail, trust me.

And for those wondering, the picture is of the object that will eventually kill me. This is a pole in the metro. Said pole is home to a billion fingers a day and then mine. I am sure I am going to get some terrible disease from these cursed poles and die in France.


Originally I wanted to be a princess, because, well, it would be cool. Especially since I have seen a lot of castles and a lot of royal gardens (my personal favorite of the two). However, after thinking about it for a while, being a princess seems like a really bad idea.

First of all, back in the day, they had to get married very young. Secondly, they had and still have to wear horrible outfits. Finally, if they don't produce an heir, they are in deep trouble. On the other hand, princes have it made. Just look at prince Harry. He parties all the time! Nodody wants him to get married or have babies. Yup, I think I want to be a prince.

Monday, I went to Versailles with Sasha (an American student studying at Cergy) with every intention of finally viewing the castle. I almost did it too, but the 20 euro fee turned me off. Instead we just walked around the gardens, which are immense to say the least, and ate a cafe on the grounds.

It was a beautiful day, except for the wind. Mon Dieu, the wind. I have been told several times by many people the wind is amazing at Versailles, but for some reason I never gave it a second thought...until I felt it for myself. I have no idea what atmospheric or climate conditions cause this phenomenon, but it is truly unbelievable. Most of my pictures are blurry because I could not hold my camera still long enough to capture the shot. I know why the royality wanted to build a palace there-to escape the summer heat. Well, they're not the only smart ones; I know where I will be in July!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

I'm So Exciting

I did almost nothing this weekend and it felt great! I know I don't work much, but I do "go" a lot and I think I just needed a small break. Friday night I went out for curry with Dan and Marion and their friends Charlotte and Florian. I always have a good time with them, but I think I need to apologize to Marion. We were talking about politics and we all sort of ganged up on her. I felt bad the next day sans alcohol.

Saturday I slept until 11 and then sat at my computer all day looking through jobs and trying to adjust my c.v. I hate looking for jobs! I seem to do it very often and I am tired of it. If anyone reading this would like to give me a job, I would be extremely thankful. I still don't know if I will stay here for another year or not. If I can find a decent PERMANENT job in the U.S. I would be home in a heartbeat, but I just don't want to arrive without some security.

Sunday I cooked dinner for the American students because they came to my classes and spoke about American students. I thought I owed them as much.

Well, that's it. I know, you are jealous.

By the way, it is warm here! I got to wear flip flops for the first time since November. Warm weather is such a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

No Smiling Please

I know I am back in France. How, you ask? Let me tell you. I went shopping today at my local market and noticed a kid, around the age of two, staring at me. Being the polite, southern, semi-lady, I smiled. The kid, being an ill-bred French brat, scowled at me. About this time, the father turned around and looked at me. I smiled at him too and guess what? He scowled. Then the daughter turned around and looked at me. I didn't even bother smiling at her because I knew my odds of having a smile returned were pretty skewed; she didn't let me down. She shot me a seriously evil glare. I can't blame them though, if I was French, I would be pretty upset too.

I would like to thank my French friends again for being such good people or I would have a real problem with this country. They do make up for all the disappointments.

The picture is of a business in Amberg, Germany.

Vacation Plans and STRESS

In 3 weeks, I am going to Italy for a two week vacation - alone. I am more than a little excited and nervous because it is my first solo "vacation". Moving to France and uprooting my whole life doesn't count as a vacation. The Italy vacation still needs a lot of planning; I only have train tickets so I still have to decide how many days to spend and where to spend them. Milan is the only definite destination at the moment, but I would like to hit Bologne, Pisa, Florence, Naples, Pompeii, and Rome. If anyone has any suggestions, please, I am all ears, or if someone would like to join me.....come on!

Amberg, Germany

Because I needed a break from France, I spent the weekend with my cousin, Gary, in Germany. We went to Amberg, Germany (one of the few cities which still has a complete wall surrounding it) to eat at a French restuarant. I know, I live in France, but this is a special place. The owner is a French guy who has lived in Germany for a number of years. He is a great host and the food is really good, too.

Other than that, it was a pretty uneventful weekend, nice and calm. I got to go shopping in American stores on the military base in Germany where I bought massive amounts of mac'n'cheese, peanut butter and tide. You know, the staples in life. I also ate at Taco Bell for the first time in 7 months. Mmmm.

The only negative thing about the whole trip was the train ride back. For some reason, I got stuck in a smoking car! Yes, these nasty things still exist. I don't care how much you like to smoke, riding in one of these cars is HORRIBLE. I covered my face with my coat for four hours and I still had the worst headache when I got out in Paris. I am not against smoking; I think if you want to smoke, you should, but my God, not on a train. Please!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Leisure Weekend

Since I work so hard, I am going to take a long weekend and go to Germany. Wait, I don't work hard because I live in France and work with French people and they don't work. Sorry, I am just a little irritated with the protests and the tear gas and the rubber bullets being fired into crowds. I need a break from the whining so I am going to visit cousin Gary in Germany. Hopefully, I will get to run on the treadmill some.

Have a good weekend everyone!

The pictures are of a store front and a lovely building in the Marais.

There's Nothing Like Southern Hospitality

I had planned on seeing the Picasso museum today but due to the strikes, it was closed. Instead my friend, Seb, and I went to Musée Carnavalet. It is nice because there are rooms decorated in the various period styles. Also, there are many paintings and models of how Paris has looked throughout its history. These pictures are from the courtyard. The statue is Louis XIV.

However, the best part of today was meeting some Americans from Mississippi. It was nice hearing a Southern accent again. Two American students and I passed them while we were looking for some place to eat and being Southern, I just started talking to them. Obviously the whole family was on vacation and they seemed to be having a good time. We told them goodbye and walked on.

After a few feet, we realized the father was following us up the street. He asked us to come back and speak with his daughter about moving to Paris. He explained that she is 18 and wants to move to Paris to study. Apparently French wine was very friendly to this man and he was quite intoxicated, so I wasn't really worried that he had followed us down the road to talk to us. We went back to the restaurant where the family was eating, spoke with the daughter for about 15 minutes, and decided to eat there. The father kept thanking us, and I think, had I not known he was three sheets to the wind, his behavior would have seemed excessive, but hey, I'm in France.

The family left; we had a very French dinner, meaning we ate for about 2 hours and I went to get the bill. Here's the great part-the man had paid for us without even telling us. How cool is that?! I love Americans!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Almost T-Shirt Weather

Today was the perfect, almost spring day. The sun was shining, the wind was calm and the temperature reached a balmy 8 degrees Celsius. I went running in a T-shirt! In order to take full advantage of the day, I went to a metro stop located far east of the Seine. Determined to walk the entire length of the Seine in the Paris city limits and take as many river shots as possible, I wore my sneakers and had my camera in tow. I was about 5 minutes into my walk when I saw the "perfect" picture. I tried to turn my camera on and nothing. Nil. Zip. Freaking out and thinking my camera was broken, I failed to notice the fact that my battery was missing. Since I have one of those lithium ion batteries, I can't just buy one everytime I forget it, so instead of looking at lovely pictures of a beautiful, almost spring day in Paris, you get to look at this nice winter shot of Germany. Sorry!

In other news, students are protesting at the Sorbonne and have been for quite a while. They are making history because they are actually sleeping in the school. 1968 was the last time students were able to occupy the Sorbone during protests, so again, I am experiencing history in the making. Unfortunately, the police decided to use tear gas today. The unfortunate part was my location when this occurred. I decided, since it was such a beautiful day, I had to see Jardin du Luxembourg which is very near the Sorbonne. Wrong place, wrong time.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Turkish Toilets, Yay or Nay

Alright, I do love Paris, however, there are several things I find very irritating about this wonderful city. Two of my most constant complaints concern the utter lack of technology and/or progress. I know Paris is an old city, but give me a break! Modernize a little.

My first complaint (I have a HUGE problem with this too) are Turkish toilets. What the...Why, why, why? I can't imagine anybody, especially any ladies, who would want to go out and drop a chunk of change at a nice restaurant only to go the the restroom to find that the proprietors, instead of installing toilets, have settled for a huge hole in the ground. Granted, most Turkish toilets do have skid pads for your feet, but let's be honest, it doesn't erase the fact that you have to do your business in a hole. Plus, if you add a little wine to the mix, well, let's just say, it complicates matters. I know most men don't have any problem with this, but really, it is just a recipe for disaster for women. So listen up Paris; get rid of these! Now. Nobody thinks they are charming. Turkish toilets are archaic and have no place in the civilized world.

My second major complaint involves the amount of time it takes to repair, fix, restore, clean, etc. things. Samaritaine (pictured above) is supposed to be closed for ten years so the fire escapes can be updated. TEN YEARS?! I pass by it about 3 times a week and I never see anybody working on anything. Get with the program, Paris! It is the same with all the monuments under construction. Most of them either have been under construction for 10 years, or will be under construction for 10 years! I am so tired of hearing, "No, that is closed for the next 7 years." Hire somebody to fix this stuff! Better yet, hire some Americans. We work at least 40 hours a week, so we could probably shorten the repair time by a few years.

Ile de la Cité Night Shots

Poetry is not a talent of mine, but if it was, you would be reading a poem here instead of this little paragraph. Ile de la Cité and Montmartre are my two favorite areas of Paris, but there is no place quite like Ile de la Cité at night. Every view is breathtaking. It is literally an island and the lights reflecting off the Seine are amazing. Notre Dame is majestic; the gargoyles are appropriatley creepy in the moonlight. The views from Ile de la Cité are fantastic as well. Everything is very picturesque from this little piece of Paris and, ever the tourist, I comply with the feeling by taking a lot of pictures.

Painless High School Memories

Brookland High School was a terrible school and I had a pretty horrible time in high school as most people do. One of the only cool things about Brookland was the fact that they actually hosted exchange students. When I was 16, Judith came from the far away country of Germany to spend some time in an American school. How and why she ended up in Brookland is still a mystery to me, but I am really glad she came. Since that year, I have seen her twice. The first time I met up with her was in Germany about 6 or 7 years ago. This week I got to hang out with her again in Paris. It was so cool! She hasn’t changed that much and we got along great. I was really nervous about meeting her again because I was afraid we would be so different and not have anything in common, but everything was fine. It all felt completely comfortable. We joked about seeing each other every 6 years, but really I think that is a good idea. Of course I would like to visit with her more often, but it would be really cool to meet her again in a different country the next time we get together: United States, Germany, France, and next…..

Art Days

Since it is free the first Sunday of the month, I went to the Louvre (yawn) and then to Musée D’Orsay Wednesday to see the Pissarro and Cézanne exhibition. Pissarro is my favorite Impressionist and I feel like I discovered him. He painted many scenes of Pontoise which is about a mile from where I live. The exhibit was really interesting because the museum hung Pissarro and Cézanne’s paintings side by side. This doesn’t sound cool, but trust me, it was. Pissarro and Cézanne were friends and often painted the same scenes and by hanging the two artists’ similar scenes next to each other, you are really able to observe all of the subtle differences. The best painting was a large painting by Pissarro. It is part of a private collection so I doubt I will ever get to see it again. I wanted to take of picture of it, but the security guards were having none of that.

The first picture is pretty explanatory, but the picture is the Musée D’Orsay. It looks pretty good for an old train station, huh?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

My Camera is Cool

My favorite toy is my camera. Certainly one of the best things I have bought myself in a while. I love playing with the settings. I almost always get good shots and occasionally, I get some "artistic" photos like these. Notice the camera in the first shot? Actually, I was just wasting time while my friend, Seb, talked on the phone. The people in the cafe probably thought I was really strange, but hey, what else is a girl to do on a rainy day in Paris?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Birthday Hyacinth

This is one of my birthday presents. I love it because my room has smelled like a garden since I received it. Also, it reminds me that, although I can't tell it by the current weather conditions, spring is right around the corner.

More Fun Blunders in French

Saturday I went to Montmartre and took pictures of Moulin Rouge. Unfortunately, Moulin Rouge is in a really seedy area. There are tons of, um, adult shops on both sides of the street offering everything from the very mild to things only legal in countries where Michael Jackson is considered royalty. I am pretty open minded and I think some of the store fronts are a little over the top. However, the median of this road is lovely. It is huge and there are plants and flowers and park benches; it is really quite pleasant. I try to avoid both of the sidewalks because most of the stores are really foul, but I do enjoy walking down the median.

Several store owners shout what their store has to offer to pedestrians on the sidewalks, but in the median, you are usually safe from the cat calls. Or so I thought. Saturday, a man came up and told me about his store. My French is terrible, but I understood him. I just laughed and said no thanks in French and kept walking.

Well, he kept trying to sell me ticket to the shows in his store and wanted to know why I didn’t want to come; if I was shy; etc. He wouldn’t leave me alone! He kept walking beside me, taunting me. Finally I had enough, but as I mentioned, my French is terrible, so all I could think to say was, “Je ne voudrais pas regarder les personnes qui ressemblent aux chiens!” He looked really confused and walked away muttering French.

First, let me translate and then I will explain myself. I told the man I didn’t want to watch people who looked like dogs. What I meant and couldn’t say is that I didn’t want to go into an “adult” shop and see foul people doing “things” for money. (I am not judging anyone, but it is just not my scene.) Of course, my grasp of French is not good, so I had to settle for what popped out and it worked. I am sure the man thought I was crazy, but who cares. The end result, him leaving me alone, was what I wanted and I got it.

Saturday night I went to an Irish pub with Marion, Dan and their neighbors to listen to Irish music. I took my camera for the specific reason of taking Dan and Marion’s picture because I do not have any of them, but after two pints I forgot I had a camera. Marion reminded me as I was leaving, but I had to run to catch the last train. Oh well, next time.

We also talked about going to Ireland for Bloomsday. I really hope I get to go. For those of you who know what that is, well, you are nerds too.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Funny Yet Depressing

Usually, I don't eavesdrop, but when you are constantly surrounded by a language you don't completely understand sometimes it is hard not to pay attention to people speaking your native language. Today was one of those days. I was in the computer lab, working on lesson, when another teacher from the American Northeast came in with two students. They were interviewing the teacher and wanted a quiet place to record the conversation. The interview was in English and as we were the only people in the lab I couldn't help but overhear. I think I remember this correctly, but let me just enter this disclaimer: An almost verbatim converation.

Interviewer: Does your family visit you often?

Teacher: No, not really. I go home for about 5 weeks every summer, but my family doesn't visit me here.

Interviewer: Do you have any family here? Did any of your family move to France with you?

Teacher: Well, my girlfriend of five years moved here with me, but she is not my family, just my girlfriend. No, I have no family here. I am just here by myself.

WHAT? Excuse me; your girlfriend moved from her home to another country, half way around the world, and she is not your family? You have been together for 5 years and she is not your family? WHAT? I wonder if this lady knows how lucky she is to have such a considerate partner? Ahhh, if only all women were so fortunate.

FYI, the pictures are from a real, open air French market. These markets are great, a little smelly, but great. You can find everything there. The people who work the market travel around from town to town and usually visit each town at least twice a week.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Teaching, Blah, Blah

I taught a lesson on Southern culture today and it was a good lesson, but after saying everything for the fourth time, I lost interest and just couldn't wait until the day was over.

I really don't know how I got into teaching. I remember being 14 and wanting to be a psychologist. I read all of Freud and Jung by the time I was 16, graduated early so I could hurry up and be a psychologist.

Somewhere between graduating with a B.S. in psychology and grad school, I decided I didn't want to be a psychologist. I wanted to travel and see the world. I went back to school one day to talk to a professor and BAM!, literally the next day, I was in grad school, studying English. Once into my coursework, I remember thinking, "Yeah, English, I like it and maybe I can travel and teach." But I never thought I would be a teacher (a little part of me just died while writing that sentence). I thought I would do the teaching thing for a while, travel, then get a "real" job.

I didn't realize until it was too late that I would be in debt up to my eyeballs and unqualified for anything other than working at a car dealership (not that I have anything against that, I just want people other than me to work there). I despise office work. I can think of several torture devices I would rather encounter than to ever work in an office again.

So here I am, two degrees poorer, without a clue what to do next. I don't hate teaching, but I am not good at it and I don't want to do it for the rest of my life. But no profession really gets me all hot and bothered.

I wish I had some master plan or some magic pocket I could stick my hand in and pull out some fantastic idea, but I don't. Right now, I would settle for something that didn't make me physically ill and paid well. Anybody else ever feel this way or have any suggestions?

By the way, the picture was taken in Chartres cathedral. I think it is one of the better ones I have taken, and like the Winged Victory of Samothrace picture, I feel its power. I especially like the little man to the left who is looking up in awe.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Crazy Weather, Part Deux

Well, I woke up to a snow covered parking lot. I could not believe it! It snows all the time here, but it never really sticks. The temperatures in the Paris region are really mild and while it is cold enough to snow, it usually melts upon hitting the ground. Not last night, though. It was a real mess too, slushy and slick. Throughout the day, it continued to snow intermittently. The sun would come out and melt everything and then it would snow again. Strange, strange weather.

Speaking of strange, I had a very weird dream last night. It started with my upper right canine tooth coming out. Not the whole tooth, just the visible part. I put it back in its place in hopes that it would regenerate and went to my orthodontist. The receptionist told me my orthodontist couldn’t see me and I should come back in two weeks. I tried to explain to her that it was an emergency because I didn’t want to lose a tooth and to just ask him if he could squeeze me in. She went and spoke with him, came back and told me to fill out a credit application. I filled out the credit ap and left. I was very careful chewing for the rest of the day and tried to draw as little attention to my wobbly tooth as possible. At the end of the day, the receptionist called me and told me my orthodontist could fit me in and I should come in immediately. When I arrived, the receptionist winked at me, said, “I guess he had a chance to look at your credit ap,” and took me into my orthodontist’s office. He was super nice, gave me some tea and interviewed me before fixing my tooth.

I have no idea what this dream means. Am I about to lose a tooth or win the lottery? Am I worried about my credit or about my oral hygiene? And why my upper right canine? Who knows, but it was a right strange dream and it was one of those that lasts all night.

While we are still on the topic of strange, I found a type of chocolate I don’t like. It is 75% cocoa, extra bitter and it just tastes wrong, wrong the way flat soda just doesn’t taste like real soda. The flavor was still there, but something was definitely missing (yes, I know, sugar). I went ahead and ate the whole bar just to make sure I didn’t like it and I didn’t.

As you can probably tell, I had an extremely uneventful day. Hope yours was more exciting.