Saturday, December 31, 2005

Guest Post

This is the legendary BB with a guest entry. A lot of Gem's friends met in Erie, PA for a wedding of a mutual friend. The reception for the wedding starts in about an hour and I'm going to try to hook up with one of the bride's maids. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Back in the USA

I know, I know, no post for 3 days, but I've just been so busy!

Quick summary? Busy relaxing, eating, watching movies, and visiting Virginia tourist attractions. In fact, I multitask--I can relax, eat, and watch a movie all at the same time! On Saturday, Jube and I arrived after an epic plane trip to a warm house with baked potatoes and broiled steaks. On Sunday we toured Luray Caverns, where we got to hear "real rock music," played by an organ with mallets that strike stalactites. On Monday we saw King Kong, and today we went to Border's. In depth? See below.

Epic Plane Trip: About six weeks ago, our travel company called to tell us that our flight was cancelled. Refund? 3-4 months. In fact, all itineraries leaving from Montpellier were cancelled. Could we leave from another city? Oh well, I suppose that we could swing things so that you can leave from Marseille. At 6:00 in the morning. That means you have to wake up at 3:30am? Well, you'd better choose this way or your whole trip is cancelled. We accepted this without (much) complaint and showed up at 5:30am at the train station of Marseille the day of the trip--only to find that the SNCF had no record of our ticket. We had to buy last-second tickets up to Paris to catch our flight, then wait in line for an hour to get boarding passes, then wait for 20 minutes in a security line. Then we waited for another half an hour to take off, since the ticket counters were so backed up. (And a female security officer patted me down, randomly, I suppose: Je vais vous controller, mademoiselle.) Arrival in the US was much better than expected, since Jube came through immigration almost as fast as I did. When we got home, we ate good food and went to bed soon after.

On Sunday, we woke up and my mom decided that we would visit Luray Caverns. When I was young, I adored visiting the caverns! The magic had worn off slightly this time, but we still had a good time listening to our guide's southern accent (he called the caverns "cavruns" for the entire hour). That evening we ate barbecue and watched French Kiss. I was really disappointed this time around because I noticed easily that Kevin Kline has an accent when he speaks French!

Yesterday we spent the morning deciding which movie we wanted to see. My mother and I wanted to see Pride and Prejudice, while my brothers favored King Kong--and Jube wasn't enthusiastic about anything, besides enthusiastically against Pride and Prejudice. We ate Mexican food for lunch and then went to see King Kong. Boy oh boy was that a long movie! For dinner we ate sushi and lobster bisque. Yum.

Today has been even more low-key than the others. We went to Border's in the morning where I read Glamour; then we went grocery shopping. Jube and I are going to cook dinner tonight--rougail saucisse. Yum. If anything interesting happens this week, I'll be sure to let you know!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

24-hour Trip

I'm sure everyone's been dying to know how our trip went. Well, we arrived safe and sound at Dulles about 19 hours after we left Gallargues le Montueux the day before. Yes, there were some travel issues (including buying on-the-spot train tickets), but we finally ended up in The Plains, Virginia. That's it for now--more to come!

Friday, December 16, 2005

I'm So Excited... And I Just Can't Hide It!

I'm serious, no excitement hiding from me. There are a little less than 20 hours between my wake-up tomorrow to drive to Marseille and now, and less than 8 hours before we leave for Montpellier (and over 24 before we actually arrive in America) and I just can't wait!!! Last night I cleaned out the fridge because I was so excited; this morning I woke up at 5:45 and set off the alarm early (7:15) so I would have an excuse to get up. I had a really weird dream that was a cross between the Disney version of Robin Hood (with the snake that gets drunk) with a weird swan who thought I was hot. That's bizarre.

I got an e-mail from my friend BB today, who gave me his number and told me I could call him whenever. I told him that he just acquired a stalker, but I don't know if it was a joke or not in my current mood . . .

Anyway, I'm going to go check my bags again, and I'll see you on the other side!

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Today in my group class at France Télécom, I showed Bend it Like Beckham because they had begged me for examples of an Indian accent. None of the students had heard of the movie, and they really enjoyed it, although we were interrupted by an unscheduled video-conference call in the middle of the movie. (Alo? alo? Est-ce qu'ils parlent anglais? Mais on n'est pas chez France Télécom?)

Afterwards, we talked about the penchant we Anglo-Saxons seem to have for nicknames. If you don't remember, in Bend it Like Beckham everyone has a nickname. The main character is Jess (Jesminder), her friend is Jules (Juliet), her sister is Pinky (real name unknown) and her brother-in-law is Teets (Teetu). When I thought about it, everyone I know has a nickname, and many of them use their nicknames instead of their real names. I started remembering how on the first day of class, the teacher would call role, and we would tell her how we would like to be called. This doesn't happen very often in France; usually a French person will have a childhood nickname, but they drop it once they go to school. I asked all of the students what their childhood nickname was, and they were all pretty basic:

Cricri (Christine)
Cripoulette (Christelle)
Maya l'Abeille (Maya the Bee)
Lolette (Laure)

The best, though, was Sylvie. She explained that she had a wetnurse as a child, and this wetnurse was from Germany. "My wetnurse thought I looked just like a doll, so she called me poup
ée [doll] with a German accent, Poupie."

Unfortunately Poupie sounds exactly like Poopy. I did my best not to laugh, and I didn't explain what "poopy" means in English--but from now on, I'll always wonder what her German wetnurse really thought of Sylvie . . .

Workin' Hard for the Money

Since Jube and I leave on Friday for our long trans-continental trip, we have had lots to do this week: we have to pack, wrap gifts, make final (last-minute) purchases, and do laundry. This is already enough to do in one week, but we also have extra work--Jube has conseils de classe and I have extra hours for a man who wants to brush up for a job interview. We've been arguing about car use--I need it to get to work, but Jube hates to take the bus in the morning because it adds about 45 minutes onto his trip. I've been waking up early and dropping him off in town before heading out to Sophia Antipolis, which makes me grouchy since I lose a few hours of sleep (petty petty Gem!). Plus, for the laundry, we have to do it at night (after 8:00pm) to save money and energy, and then we have to hang it up outside. It's cooooold outside at 10:30pm (yes, it takes 2.5 hours for our old washing machine to finish its cycle). Luckily everything dries by the next night, so we are theoretically able to do one load a night.

Are you bored yet? You're still reading?

That's good, because yesterday we had a few hours of respite from our household chores, and instead decided to run errands! We went out yesterday to exchange Euros for dollars, rent Bend It Like Beckham from the video store, and buy some special rum from the store. We finished the first two of these tasks and drove into town to buy the rum when we saw the Christmas Market. There was a huge Ferris wheel, an outdoor ice-skating rink (the temperature yesterday was in the 50s . . .), and the traditional little stands with local products. Jube and I looked at each other, and decided to spend a little time at the Market. First, we rode the Ferris wheel. It was around 5:00pm, so the sun was setting, and we saw the sea and the city bathed in a beautiful light (poetic enough for you?). Afterwards we watched some kids skating in the rink and took a tour of the booths. I had some amazing cheese at the Franche-Compt
é booth, but it was too expensive so we didn't buy any. Instead we shared a gaufre à nutella (a freshly ironed waffle smothered in nutella) and walked slowly back into town towards the supermarket and home, where more laundry awaited us.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Was he really only talking about skiing?

Time for another anecdote about le Pacha!

The last time the belle-famille came to visit, it was for Thanksgiving. On our drive down to the city, we can just see the snow-capped peaks of the Alps. (The region where we live is called les Alpes-Maritimes, or the Maritime Alps--we have the mountains and the sea all in the same place.) Beau-
père absolutely loves skiing, as do his sons, and Belle-mère puts up with it tolerably well--she also enjoys skiing, but she takes time to visit the restaurants and shopping in the resorts.

ère hadn't started his annual obsessive checking of the weather at their favorite resort, Pralognan la Vanoise, but when he saw the snow, he hopped right online. The conversation at the dinner table was centered around skiing, about which slopes (pistes) they wanted to ski, what classes they wanted to take, and what they wanted to eat at the different restaurants. Le Pacha was particularly excited about retaking a class with a particular instructor who taught with a particular brand of Système D, or the school of hard knocks.

"You start off on a red slope, and by the end of the day, you're on a black one!" he enthusiastically told us. "J'ai vraiment envie de me taper la noire!"

Jube, Belle-m
ère and Beau-père burst out laughing, and I joined in a few seconds later as his unintentional double entendre registered in my mind.

He had just said, "I can't wait to do the black diamond," or,
"I can't wait to get a piece of the black girl!"

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I'm Comin' Home . . .

For Christmas.


I don't know if I've mentioned it on here before, although I know I've talked about the New Year's Eve wedding I will be attending. It's in Pennsylvania! I'm going to be visiting a town I've never been to before! Besides that, I will be opening lots of little presents at Christmas. The Christmases I've spent in France were really fun. La Belle-Famille is very welcoming, and I have experienced all the French holiday traditions: escargots, oysters, the cr
èche under the tree, the TV bloopers on New Year's Eve . . . But nothing compares to my childhood memories of stockings, fireplaces, the crèche on top of the TV, and our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of coldcuts and Californias.

I also absolutely love unwrapping surprises, which just can't happen in Jube's family. Everyone knows what they will get, and they only get one thing. That's fine if you want one big present--but I also love unwrapping my mother's practical gifts. We always receive toothbrushes, deoderant, and underwear, although she stopped giving feminine hygiene products after one ended up in my brother's stocking (he was extremely disappointed!). Jube doesn't understand that I want a surprise for Christmas. Every year, I try to give him hints, but he doesn't remember them. By the end of November, he is actually asking me outright what I want, and if I don't tell him, he gets upset. I know that Jube really loves me and cares about me because he can't stomach the idea of giving me a gift I might like only a little bit. But I like the surprise just as much! [Of course, he has also seen the home videos of my 10-year-old self almost breaking down in tears on Christmas morning because my step-father gave me clothes! It was a really good idea, but badly timed--one year later and I would have been overjoyed. And of course it was all caught on camera . . .]

In order to go back to the States, I had to get my papers in order. That means: a trip to the Prefecture. Ugh. In September, I had received a récipissé allowing me to work, and expiring in December. I was told to come back two months later to pick up the permanent resident card. I waited a bit longer to give them more time, and made the decision to venture back today. Yesterday we called them to make sure we knew the opening times. The first time we called, we were told that they were open between one and two pm, but "why are you asking? The times are written on the récipissé." Uhh, no, they weren't. We decided to call back again to clarify this, and were given a totally different response: "You are not to come back unless you have received a convocation in the mail." By this time, I was ready to cry and I hadn't even been to the Prefecture yet. It didn't seem to be shaping up as the best bureaucratic trip ever.

We arrived at around 1:15pm, and waited in the relatively short (!) line
. When it was our turn, I opened my mouth to speak, and this came out: "Bonbonjour madadame, je mumble mumble carte de séjour mumble mumble a pas recu une convocation mais mumble mumble." Jube looked at me, horrified. He quickly took over and explained that all we wanted to do was pick up my resident card. No, it wasn't ready yet, but they extended my récipissé, which is just as good (except that it means we have to go back in another 3 months). I couldn't believe myself--even if the Prefecture experience isn't bad, I manage to create my own problems. After that harrowing linguistic experience, Jube got his international driving license with no problems, and we came back home. I just want my family to know what I went through for them. Maybe they can buy me some presents to make up for it!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

joueur de bande

I have been working at France Télécom for about two months now on a 40-hour contract (called a mission in French--I love saying "I have a mission at France Télécom"). The building is "secure," meaning that I have to ring a bell for the secretary to open the doors for me, and wait for someone to let me into the work area. My students were very surprised to find that I use actual audio cassette tapes for their listening activities, and not CDs, and so I have to ask the secretary for a tape player.

On my first day there, I realized that I didn't know the French word for "tape player." I knew the French for CD and DVD player, lecteur CD/DVD (CD or DVD "reader"), and VCR, magnetoscope, but not tape player. I decided to go with lecteur cassette audio, or "audio cassette reader." The secretary didn't seem to understand for a minute, but then said "oh!" and got me a tape player. This happened for the first 4 weeks, and I assumed that everything was going well and I had guessed the right word.

Last week, when I asked for the lecteur cassette audio, she seemed put out. "You'll have to ask Christian for that," she told me. "Oh, no, wait, he's not here today, is he? Well, I'll see what I can do." She called another secretary in the room, and asked her for a magnetophone. That's right, not a lecteur cassette audio, but a magnetophone. So for a whole month I had been asking for an audio cassette reader, and instead of correcting me the first time, she just let me go with it. Now I know better, and I asked her for a magnetophone today (because Christian is hardly ever there). She is very nice otherwise, and she probably was too embarrassed to correct me after the first time she heard it, so she came up with a novel way of demonstrating the right word. Thanks, France
Télécom secretary!

EDIT: Jube has informed me that we can use lecteur cassette as well as magnetophone. Good to know!

Monday, December 05, 2005

What a Weekend!

Artsy Carlton

Wow! After the weekend I just had, going back to work (on my long day, too) actually felt like a break!

Last Friday, we were woken up by next-door-neighbor/mother-from-hell's screaming at her children. We attempted to bang loudly on the wall, but it seems very thick and solid. She must really have a thrash-metal voice! Friday afternoon, it rained and rained and rained. It rained all day long; when I headed home at 3:00pm it hailed! Then, back at the apartment, we cleaned, since le Parisien and his girlfriend were due to arrive the next day at 9:00am. Unfortunately for them, the 14 hours of rain had flooded the airport, so they arrived late, around noon. They came back to the apartment and we ate lasagna, and then we headed out to be tourists.

We toured le Site de l'Ancien
Château again, and then we visited Vieux Nice and the newer Pedestrian Zone and the main shopping street, Avenue Jean Médecin. Le Parisien loves to shop, so we went in to almost every store we saw. Then, we ate dinner in town at a Japanese Steakhouse, "Zen." It's the kind where they cook everything in front of you, and le Parisien fell in love. The cook catapulted pieces of shrimp into our mouths and cut lobster tails with such amazing dexterity that le Parisien called about five of his friends to describe the action.

Afterwards we went to a bar with live music, the Thor. It was rather smokey, and there was a drunk "dragueur" who would dance to all of the songs and play air drums in between hitting on any woman he saw who wasn't holding on to a man. I had my hand in Jube's all night, and the Lisper was pressed up tight against le Parisien to avoid his advances. We saw Oneika, who told us about her latest news, and le Parisien was very charmed--"You must have fun with a girl like that around!" was his summation.

We woke up relatively late on Sunday and went to Cannes. The weather was wonderful, but since I was still very tired and my feet were killing me from our Saturday afternoon/evening, I was in a bad mood. We had fun walking the Croisette, though, and took some photos of the Carlton Hotel (see above).

After lunch, we went to Monaco. Yes, yes, I know that I said Monaco "wasn't very charming," and I wasn't too thrilled about going, but it was le Parisien's vacation, so we went. And once we got there, we went up to the old part of town, where the palace is, and were very pleasantly surprised! It is, in fact, a cute little village, with a huge (and beautiful!) aquarium/oceanographic museum, a cathedral, and of course the Princely Palace. Le Parisien bought tons of postcards to mail them with Monegasque stamps. Jube and I were standing in the middle of the central place when an extremely short motorcade came by--one police scooter, one expensive black car, and another expensive black car following it. That's right--I saw Prince Albert!* At least, I'm pretty sure it was him . . . I saw a bald man in the back of the second car.

Le Parisien was so busy writing postcards that he didn't see the prince. He took such a long time that Jube and I were reduced to making fools of ourselves right outside of the palace, in the hopes that Albert would come out to watch. Here is a photo of Jube en train de faire le con:

Monaco Cannon

You can see the lower, "uncharming" part of Monaco in the background. Then we went to the grocery store (exceptionally open on Sunday's for Christmas!) to buy shrimp for le Parisien's famous carry crevette. Yum!

*I was listening to the Riviera Radio morning show on the way to work the other day, and they had Prince Albert as a guest. I was amazed to hear that he has a perfect American accent--and then kicked myself! I mean, come on, I'm sure Princess Grace didn't speak with some weirdo European accent with her kids at home . . .

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Modern Woman

Today, I picked Jube up after work. I finished at 12:30 and he finished at 3:30, which gave me a good two hours to shop for Christmas gifts before I had to be in town to pick him up. I priced a few gifts and treated myself to something (for the first time in months!). Then I drove downtown and waited in front of the lycée for Jube to come out. I had to keep my eye on the door, since lots of students were coming out and I didn't want him to miss the fact that the car was parked right in front of the school.

He finally came out (10 minutes late!) and hopped into the car (he found it without too much trouble), and we started for home. He made fun of me, calling me a "modern woman."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, look at you!" he said, "Picking your man up from work, driving your Ka, listening to the radio . . ."

I just shrugged it off. When we got home, he grabbed my purse for me, and started laughing.


"The Modern Woman!" he chuckled. "Look in your bag--Salman Rushdie and Cosmopolitan!"

At least the Cosmo was in French . . .

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Weekend with the In-laws


This weekend was full of fun! Jube's family arrived on Friday night, and we had the full Thanksgiving dinner. On Saturday morning, we went to Menton in the morning and played tourist. On the way down, we saw the above billboard--it says, "Gini veux tu m'épouser," or, "Gini will you marry me?" [No, it did not say Gem . . . ] I managed to snap this pic during the afternoon on our way to Grasse, where we quickly headed to the Fragonard shop and bought some soap as a gift for Mémée. Then we went to Vence for a gros apéritif at Belle-maman's relatives' house.

We had a good time there, and the ap
éritif was so gros that we didn't eat dinner, either. Instead, we drove through the streets of Nice to see the Christmas lights. They just lit them on Friday, so Jube and I hadn't seen them. The palm trees on the Promenade des Anglais were covered with small white lights, on the trunks and on the leaves, which made them look like fireworks! Then we came back home and went to sleep.

Nice Mediterranean

This morning we hiked to the top of the mini-mountain that borders Vieux Nice, le Site de l'Ancien
Château. In fact, we drove the car halfway up and hiked the rest of the way! At the top there is a man-made waterfall that is lit up at night. You can see it from almost everywhere in the city. There is also a big park and a cemetery up there, and when the weather is sunny, there are beautiful views (see above picture for confirmation). Today was chilly but sunny, and the Mediterranean was a beautiful turquoise.

Afterwards we came back to the apartment and ate a tasty raclette. For anyone who doesn't know, raclette is a notorious dish from the Alps, involving potatoes, pork cold cuts, and cheese that you melt yourself. (The word raclette comes from the verb racler, "to scrape;" you scrape the melted cheese off of its little dish onto your food!) When my father, an extremely picky eater, came to France, I specifically asked Belle-
mère to prepare a raclette, since I knew he would love the do-it-yourself cheesy (fatty!) goodness. Then they left, and Jube and I have been moping around since then, not wanting to get ready for classes tomorrow, but too tired to go out and do anything else, either.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving Dinner

preparing the turkey

This is a picture of the turkey before I baked it. I gave it a nice massage with oil and scented herbs and stuffed it full of bread. Then it got to go in the sauna for about 3 hours. And afterwards, it got to undergo surgical weight loss. It was very tasty!

I freaked out about 45 minutes into the roasting because there was no juice to baste it and it didn't looked cooked at all! I called my parents, who reassured me that it would turn out fine. And it certainly did, no small thanks to the thermometer that my mother sent it to me when I couldn't find one in France! All of the guests enjoyed it, and the pumpkin pie was authentically delicious. Yum! I also made green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Miam! On my way home from work, I stopped to buy some cranberry sauce. I had searched everywhere, and finally asked the English video clerk where to find it. There were tons of other products too, like Dr Pepper, Worcestershire Sauce, and salad dressing--even cream of mushroom soup! I had given up on making the green bean casserole without cream of mushroom soup, since I couldn't find it, and I finally decided not to buy it either because it cost about 3 Euros per can! The cranberry sauce cost 2
90, but I ended up buying it anyway. It was worth it.

Now I think the turkey chemicals are kicking in, because we all settled down to watch television (although there is no parade or football game) and are quietly dozing off . . .

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Cagnes Stairway

I haven't posted yet this week because I have been busy working! I finish after 7:00pm on Monday and Tuesday. When I arrived home at 2:00pm today and entered the apartment, I was surprised to find it so bright. At that moment I realized that I hadn't been at home in the afternoon for the week. I've been going to bed early to have enough energy for the next day, since even when we start later (around 11:00am), our next door neighbor yells at her children at 8:30am. She manages to scream loudly enough to wake up both Jube and me, and we can make out whole sentences, as well. She usually uses the following phrases, in random order: "J'en ai marre! J'en ai ras le bol! Je n'en peux plus! Mais dépechez-vous! C'est pas possible, ça! Non, mais! Allez, allez, on se dépeche, là!" This is something like, "I'm fed up with you! I can't take any more! You're impossible! Let's go! Hurry up! Come on!" Well, honestly, nous aussi nous en avons ras le bol! When we see her walking in the parking lot or pass her on the stairs leading to our door, she always seems very demure and "French," with only a discreet bonjour. If she only knew that we knew!

I've also been busy mentally preparing for Thanksgiving. I haven't actually started cooking anything yet, since we won't pick up the turkey until tomorrow, but we went shopping today to pick up fresh vegetables and spices. We went to Leader Price, so it's not the classiest, but is by far the cheapest--all of the side dishes together cost less than the turkey! I don't think that cooking everything will be the hardest part. The most difficult will be cleaning our apartment. It's not the cleanest it's ever been, and Belle-maman is a pretty tough critic. Ever the procrastinators, Jube and I have been talking about cleaning for about a week, but haven't started yet. Please, don't judge us--we've been working hard! In fact, the simple act of posting right now is just another example of my procrastination. So I'm going to sign off and get to work cooking dinner. Maybe I will actually start cleaning tonight. Maybe we'll finish it 15 minutes before la belle-famille arrives. I'll let you be the judge.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Nice Saturday

Jube and I woke up early yesterday and ventured into town to find a butcher. Why did we need to find a butcher? Because I am going to introduce Thanksgiving to his family, and turkeys are not easy to find at the supermarket in November. We found a butcher's and ordered a turkey (minimum 3 kilos--6.5lbs) for next Friday. The butcher couldn't tell us how much it would cost until he got in touch with his "suppliers." He'll call and leave a message tomorrow. Let's hope it's not too expensive . . .

On to Thanksgiving for a moment. It is a holiday that is relatively difficult for the French to understand and relatively hard for an American to explain [e.g. "It's not a religious holiday," I say; response: "Then whom are you thanking?" Good question!]. Added to that is their inability to pronounce Thanksgiving: it ends up something like Sahnsgeeveen. Since "saint" is pronounced (something like) "sahn," and saints' days are celebrated here (think of Toussaint--All Saints' Day), le Pacha asked which saint's day it was--Gavin, perhaps? So la belle-famille is coming to Nice to celebrate Saint Gavin with me by eating a turkey. I'm sure we will all enjoy it very much. Jube even bought a "spice bread" scented candle to make the apartment smell like America.

We also headed out to Cap 3000 yesterday. Cap 3000 is a shopping center on the outskirts of Nice. We bought a gift for the wedding, and I found my belt! Here is a sneak preview:


I know you can't see either the belt in its full glory or the dress, but it gives you an idea of my outfit. (Add in the earrings and a pair of black slouchy boots and you have the whole picture!) When I bought the belt, I spoke to the saleswoman in French (of course!), and Jube talked to me in English the whole time, making fun of me "pretending to be French." He said the words "French" and "American" so much that as we were leaving, the saleswoman asked if I were French. I was forced to answer negatively, which cracked Jube up for the rest of the night. "Even if you don't have an accent, I manage to give you away!"

Friday, November 18, 2005

Doctor, Doctor!

Yesterday, I went to the doctor. It was probably the best of my medical experiences in France, although there was one major drawback: America bashing! Let me explain.

I made an appointment for 11:30am. I arrived 15 minutes early, armed with a book, ready to wait for a loooooooong time. However, I was seen immediately, and was out even before 11:30! The docteur was a woman, specializing in sports medicine, although she is obviously qualified to do general check-ups. We spoke about my medical history, and then she listened to my heartbeat and breathing, took my blood pressure, and felt my legs. She told me, "
Do you play any sports? I didn't think so! We French are very skinny. You, mademoiselle, have to be very careful about your weight. It's not like America here! No eating between meals, you can have 4 a day--that is American, right? In France, we only eat 3. 3 meals a day is best."

But, but . . . ! I wanted to protest, "Just because I'm American doesn't mean that it's in my genes to be obese! And besides, we only eat 3 meals a day." It wasn't the worst I've ever experienced. Living in France has given me an idea of what it is like to be an immigrant in the US, and although it is sometimes disagreeable, it is always enlightening.

Before I left, she wrote me prescriptions. Besides my usual, she asked if I wanted anything else. I was extremely surprised! Why would a doctor ask me if I wanted another prescription? and then I remembered--in France, to get Advil or Tylenol or Asp
égic (plain aspirin--Jube's favorite), you have to have a prescription. That is the reason that the French go to the doctor for every little cold--because they need Dimetap! Unfortunately, before I had managed to grasp the reason for the question, I had confusedly mumbled, "Non, merci." Luckily I have enough Advil in stock to keep me for awhile!

UPDATE: No, you don't NEED a prescription to get Tylenol or Advil, you just have to ask the pharmacist and she will give it to you. It's BETTER to have a prescription because then it is reimbursed by the government.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Ho Hum

I'm going to be heading to the doctor's office in half an hour (just a normal checkup, don't worry about me) and as I was waiting, I watched Les Maternelles, a show that is ostensibly for mothers. I like it very much, because there are cute little documentaries of kids at school and "testimonies" (temoignages) from women about all sorts of things. At the end of the show the hostess (whose idol is Oprah, she mentioned today, which is pretty amazing because no one in France knows who Oprah is) announced the following"Calls to Testify:"

Nos seins
Il me trompe. Et alors?

These translate as:

Our Breasts and
He's cheating on me. So what?

Maybe these would be topics in the US, too, but they seemed really funny to me. It reminds me of the "Best Of" news segment I watched at the end of the television season in Montpellier. A "Best Of" the news? Yes! And the best of the best was the following headline:

Invasion de chenilles

Caterpillar Invasion. Not only are they eating all vegetation, worse, they bite!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Monday, Monday

Mondays are the worst days of the week. I know that you've heard this said a million ways (by Garfield, too), but I have a specific reason for it: I leave home at 8:00am and get home at 8:30pm. I begin work in Sophia Antipolis, go back to Nice after lunch, and the go back to Sophia for an evening class. You can check out a map of the area here (it's about 17km one way, between Nice and Antibes). I pay 2€60 in tolls and use up lots of expensive gas, all just to add more stress to my day (and earn a few sous*).

Yesterday was the worst Monday yet. After a three-day weekend, I didn't feel like going back to work. What's more, I started a new morning job "in company," which meant that I had to find the company myself. I managed to arrive at the new company on time, but the building was completely secured. (Sophia Antipolis is the "Silicon Valley" of France, so most of the companies make use of magnetized cards to enter the parking lots, the elevators, and miscellaneous other places.) I pushed the intercom button of my company, and let it ring for about a minute. No one answered, so I pushed the button again. By this time, there were about 3 cars behind me, so I backed up and parked on a dirt pulloff by the road. Muttering in English under my breath, I stomped past the barriers and started to search for the company.

In this particular building complex, there were three or four different companies, and of course there were no signs anywhere pointing me to "mine." I walked all the way up to the parking lot where I should have parked, with no indication of the right direction. When I found the company, I was about five minutes late. I entered the building, but here again the doors were locked against spies, without a secretary on the exterior. I found a door with the company's logo on it with another intercom button. I didn't have high hopes, but I pushed this button, too. I pushed it again and again, each time that it stopped beeping. Finally someone opened the door (in my opinion surprised that I had the stamina to keep annoying them) and asked me to follow them upstairs to the secretary's office. By this time I was 15 minutes late.

They didn't seem to have any clue that an English teacher was coming to give group lessons, but I asked for my students and one of them was at work, so I could teach him. He explained to me (in French) that someone--he implied some disgruntled employee--had put glue in the lock of the secretary's office, so they hadn't been able to enter all day. Indeed, our lesson was interrupted by loud banging and drilling noises from down the hall. When I left, they had managed to open the door and (allegedly) they were ready to open gates and doors for authorized intruders. As I left, I couldn't help thinking about what would have happened if I were a client. I'm already dreading my return next Monday . . .

*I was going to say "bucks," but Euros aren't bucks, are they?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

November 11, 2005

November 11, 2005, Menton

Since the weather yesterday was absolutely lovely, Jube and I decided to take advantage of the holiday to go to the Friday market in Ventimiglia/Ventimille, Italy. The market is well-known (notorious, even) in France for its cheap
contre-façon--"counterfeit fashion." We left around 10:00am, stopping to get gas before taking the highway. We saw a sign that informed us of "serious traffic jams" ahead, so we exited at Menton. We stopped to take some pictures (one of them seen above), and then headed onward to the border.

Once in Italy, we had to decide which route to take to Ventimiglia--the high road or the low road. We picked the low one because it seemed faster (a tunnel through the mountain instead of driving up and down the mountain). However, halfway through the tunnel, we ground to a halt. It took at least a half an hour to get through the tunnel, and at least 20 more minutes to get into town. When we finally thought we found a parking space, an Italian man appeared out of nowhere and stood in the middle, shouting, "Bettina!" He wouldn't move for us (and we didn't insist very much, both Jube and I being rather nonconfrontational with strangers). So we tried to get back into town, and somehow took a wrong turn and ended up on the high road out of town! We passed a long line of tourists going into the city, and Jube and I had an argument about taking a U-turn and going back into town or not. We ended up back in Menton, where we parked the car and took the train into Ventimiglia. This was a very, very good idea! We paid about 8
00 for our round-trip tickets and didn't have to worry about parking once in the city.

By the time we got to Ventimiglia by train, we were ready to eat since it was about 2:00pm! We covered a lot of ground and finally decided on a relatively cheap pizzeria. Jube had a gorgonzola pizza and I had lasagna and steak. Afterwards, we headed to the market and checked out everything they had for sale. I was particularly searching for earrings and a belt for a wedding I will be attending on New Year's Eve, but found only the earrings. I decided against a fake
contre-façon Louis Vuitton bag for two reasons: first, I think that (fake or not) they are really ugly, and second, if you are caught by French customs, you have to pay the price of the original as a fine. (I have to admit that just the idea of breaking the law makes me want to buy a contre-façon wallet or something, though!)

Italian Earring

We also bought a bouquet of flowers, because as soon as we got home we left for dinner at Jube's relatives' house. Frances's grandfather was the cousin of
Belle-mère's grandfather, and they have somehow kept in contact through the years. We met their son and his girlfriend, and ate an unpretentious French dinner (apéritif, endive salad, lasagna, and store-bought ice cream). We sat down at the table at 8:30pm and got up from it at midnight. The three-and-a-half hours of sitting gave me a stomachache, which didn't disappear until about noon today. Despite that, we had a great holiday, and are glad that we took advantage of the wonderful weather since today it is grey and rainy.

Friday, November 11, 2005

November 11, 1918

November 11th, the stores are closed in France. Everyone is happy to have another holiday to help recover from the longer Toussaint holidays. In America, the Armistice of WWI is nearly forgotten. For my family, it is harder to forget. My grandmother's first memory is of the Armistice celebrations. She has told me many times:

"Of course, I was only 2, almost 3, so I didn't know what they were celebrating, but I remember how happy everyone was, what a wonderful time we all had. I found out later that it was the Armistice."

This weekend, my grandmother is celebrating her 90th birthday. I am very disappointed--of course!--not to be able to go, but I am thinking of her just the same. This post is dedicated to a wonderful woman who still manages to make the entire family burst out laughing with her stories.

I love you, Grandmommy.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Jumping on the Bandwagon

Lycee Massena

After receiving e-mails and instant messages asking if I am safe and sound after these few weeks of rioting, I figured it was time to let everyone know that yes, I am fine. Both my mother and Belle-maman called us yesterday to tell us that the riots had spread to Nice. We haven't heard anything, no contact with any dangerous rioters. The reason I haven't posted since Sunday is that I started a new, intense work schedule this week--I end around 7:30pm on Mondays and Tuesdays from now on, and when I get home I'm ready for bed. So, there is no reason to worry about us. [Not to completely ignore the problem, here is an interesting editorial about the riots that I largely agree with.]

In other news, Pitchounette, the little cat, has disappeared. When we left two weeks ago for vacation, she was playing around our ankles; when we got back a week ago, she was gone. I am very sad, although probably she just got tired of hanging around our house when there was no one to pet her.

After all of that depressing news, I will leave you with an amusing anecdote. Background: Jube teaches at one of the richest high schools in Nice, Lycee Massena. Lots and lots of the kids are of Italian origin, since Italy is so close. The last test he gave them asked them to analyze an ad from a magazine. It was an ad for sunscreen, and had the objective of the camera looking up into the face of a stereotypically extravagant Mediterranean beach bum (probably Italian--dark hair, hairy chest, deeply tanned . . .), with the caption, "Hellos pretty ladee, I am rubbing your backs with lotion, no?" "Our lotion protects from some sun irritants--but not all." Here is the answer of a 15/16 year old Italian girl (edited):

The picture shows an Italian man, Italian because of his big hair, big hands, and left hand which seems to say "What do you want that is more than simple?" The ad shows the efficacity of the skin lotion because of the comparison between the Italian man with dark skin and the English which would be white. This ad makes me want to buy the lotion and it would be good for students and teachers too.

I'm not sure what grade Jube gave her, but we sure had a good laugh last night!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Weekend in Nice

After the annoyance of no work/no pay on Wednesday, I showed up on Friday ready to teach. Fortunately both of my students were there, and worked hard for their two hours. What's more, I have about eight new hours of work per week, so I will be a busy bee. Even better, I was paid!! Of course, since I had worked about twenty hours in October, I didn't get paid very much. But it's better than nothing.

On Saturday, Jube and I slept in, and then went into town to deposit my check. Our bank is on Rue Lepante, which also happens to be the music store quartier. So while I was waiting in line to deposit my check (only to be told that I wasn't allowed to do it in person, I had to fill out a form and put it in a drop box), Jube was checking out Guitar Maniac to find a new cable. Why does he need a new cable when he already has at least thirty? I don't know, I didn't ask, and he didn't explain. Afterwards, we hit the shops together, but didn't buy anything.

Last year I gave up eating at fast food restaurants because I read Fast Food Nation and right afterwards watched Super Size Me. I actually managed no keep this resolution for six months, but I weakened one evening and scarfed down some KFC chicken fingers. Since then, I've kept to the resolution of "once a month," and I'm planning to give it up again for New Year's. I hope I can be stronger next time. I wrote all this to tell you that we ate at McDonald's yesterday for lunch.

When we got home, we received phone calls from our respective families. Le Parisien was going to visit us for November 11, which is another holiday (yay!! Armistice, anyone?), but he informed us yesterday that he is not coming. My mother called and advised me on the best way to make a turkey. Finally, le Pacha called just to talk.

After that, Jube and I heated up leftovers for dinner and settled down to watch something on TV since it was raining. . . again! There was absolutely nothing on television that we wanted to see. We had the choice between:

Les 500 choristes ensemble (500 Chorists Sing Contemporary Hits with Stars)
Rugby (France v. Australia)
Le Temps Meurtrier (a TV movie about a murder, I guess)
A Documentary about Versailles (which we would have watched except that it was only an hour long and we had been talking to our families on the phone)
and Charmed

So what did we end up watching? No guesses? Un an et demi de la vie de Metallica . . . la suite (A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica . . . Part 2). Not only did we watch it, I asked to watch it.

Jube hadn't watched it since his high school years, which meant that he hadn't understood everything (the French subtitles are only there for part of it, and they are very very bad), and of course I had never seen it. I'm starting to feel like I know these guys after two or three viewings of Some Kind of Monster and now this. Who knows what we will see next week--Part 1, perhaps?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Back Home . . .

Today was a hard, hard day for me. After getting home late yesterday afternoon, Jube and I lazed around, eating the food Belle-maman had packed for us, and then went to bed early. Why early? Because I had to work at 9:00 the next day!

I woke up early, trying to relax (I was stressed about the class because I hadn't had much time to prepare), but I only succeeded in drinking a lot of coffee, which didn't help very much. I drove to Sophia Antipolis and arrived early enough to make photocopies--but wait! No one was at work except Laure, my French boss! There were no other English classes like normal. I was immediately worried that Monsieur Hernandez wouldn't show up. But that was good--because if the students don't cancel 24 hours in advance, then I still get paid! Suddenly I was less worried than hopeful.

By the time the clock read 9:30,
Karen, my English boss, called M. Hernandez's cell-phone. "No, I called and left a message on Monday. I have to work in Marseille today."


Since no one had been in the office since the Friday before (they were all on vacation for Toussaint--All Saints' Day--which was Tuesday), no one had listened to the messages.

I drove home again with the knowledge that I had wasted an hour's worth of gas and 2.60 in tolls. Not even the prospect of another day off could cheer me up.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Last Day of Vacation . . .

Montpellier's Chamber of Commerce (I think!)

Last night Jube and I went out with Popo and her man. We met at one of the nicest Irish pubs in Montpellier, Fitzpatrick's, whose sign you can see (if you look closely) in the above picture. We sat and talked for awhile, about vacation, work, visiting, de tout et de rien. We stayed in the pub for about an hour and a half while it rained heavily outside. After the storm had passed, we headed back to the belle-famille's house, where they had been waiting up anxiously for us. Le Pacha called me into his room, and whispered to me, "Je t'adore! I'm glad you got home safely!" Unfortunately, his adoration was not to last long. This morning at 8:30, while Jube and I were trying to enjoy our last opportunity to sleep in, he burst into our room.

"Did you have an accident last night? Your bumper is totally ripped off! What did you do?"

Now, it was bad enough that he woke us up by accusing us of reckless driving. The worst part is that I was sleeping without a shirt on. I swear that this is normal behavior, since the new comforters that Belle-mère bought are extremely hot. I was rather groggy and didn't grasp what was happening, but Jube started screaming at le Pacha about knocking on the door.

Well! That is the way to end family harmony! I got up and got dressed, while Jube checked his car for damage (nothing a serious bricoleur like Beau-père can't fix) and Belle-mère yelled at le Pacha for not knocking. He insisted that he had knocked, which changed the tone of the conversation.

"Well, did they say 'entre'?"

"No, but I knocked!"

"You have to wait until they tell you to come in!"


Ater that, le Pacha wouldn't talk to any of us for about two hours, until we started making a lemon meringue pie. "If Gem loved me, she would make another pumpkin pie."

At least he likes my food!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Une Soirée

It seems that Jube has quite an extensive social life in Montpellier. In Nice, I have Oneika and some other anglophones I met through her--and some French, as well--but Jube has no one. He lucked out and is working in a very nice lycée, Lycée Masséna, but all of the other teachers are much older than him. As soon as we arrived in Montpellier, he called up his mendois friends. Popo and her conjoint just bought an apartment, and Jube was invited to help them lug boxes from the old to the new one. Luckily for me (because I am the laziest person in the world, even trying to get out of my own deménagement), I had to go to my bank and close my old account. Le Pacha came with me, so afterwards we got to hang around in Montpellier while Jube worked hard at Popo's apartment.

When we got home to Gallargues le Montueux, we ate a wonderful tartiflette prepared by Belle-mère, and then Jube told me that we were invited to Popo's housewarming that evening--and he had volunteered to bring the dessert. "We'll just pick up a pie from the supermarket," he told me. But I knew (or at least thought I knew) that was a trick. Either we had to bring something from the boulangerie or I had to make dessert. I thought this because every time we had been invited to eat at a friend's house, the dinner was amazing. Recipes were demanded and given with an almost ceremonial precision--"but remember, this chicken comes from the butcher and I ordered it a week in advance so we could have one with less fat" (these people are not 50 years old, I swear!). Our conversation around the table centered on food; food made that night or food eaten earlier, food that was good or food that was inferior. For example, the last time that we ate at Ghee's house, we ate samoussas fait maison. They were baked, not fried, to be less fatty; they had replaced the spicy peppers with almonds; they had big problems with the dough because they had bought it round, not square. Ghee's girlfriend then launched into the meal she had eaten at her grandmother's house the week before, which had been so full of fat that she couldn't move afterwards. Then the conversation changed to cooking utensils; about what you can make with a wok and what you can't.

So of course we couldn't bring a cheap pie from the supermarket! Luckily, I had a plan: I would wow them all with my American ingenuity and make a pumpkin pie! I made it all, from scratch--from a real pumpkin! (Belle-mère made the dough--store-bought dough is allowed, but homemade is always better.) I slaved away and made it, and it was beautiful. Orange, creamy, the crust lightly browned, it smelled just like Thanksgiving.

When we arrived at Popo's, I was surprised not to see the apéritif ready. Everyone was tired and sweaty from having moved, and they were drinking some wine, but out of plastic cups with no munchies. I pulled out the pumpkin pie, and was gratified to hear their compliments (and their anticipation, since none of them had eaten pumpkin pie before). We waited for about half an hour, and the remaining guests, who were bringing the apéritif, showed up. What a surprise! They had a package of hot dogs, to be cut up to make cocktail weiners, some Mexican tortilla chips, and a store-bought Spanish tortilla. We had that finished off in a jiffy, and then two of the boys disappeared to get dinner. Boy did I ever feel dumb when they came back with five pizzas from the corner joint! We sure didn't talk about food at the table, since we were crouched around the coffee table without plates! I started to feel extremely embarrassed about having made a pie, worrying about my outfit, and somehow having believed all of the baloney I had read in such books as A Year in Provence, French or Foe?, or Le Divorce (especially Le Divorce). Did we talk about food? No, except indirectly to ask if the refrigerator was plugged in. Did anyone ask the recipe of the tortilla? Well, since it came out of a package, the answer sure was no!

When we finally ate the pumpkin pie, everyone oohed and ahhed about it, and (yes) asked for the recipe. But I'm never believing another thing I read about French dining habits!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Nîmes: Ville Propre?

maison carree roof

This week has been chock-full of vacation moments. On Thursday, the whole family packed into the car and we headed to Nîmes. I'm not sure if I've said this before, but Belle-mère prefers Nîmes to Montpellier. She says that Montpellier is a dirty city. (Jube says that she prefers Nîmes because it is about 10 minutes closer to her house.) The mayor of Nîmes has declared war on sidewalk doggy doo--not by fining dog owners, but by hiring a cleaning crew who comes through every day. Every time we go to Nîmes, Belle-mère mentions how clean the streets are, how you can look at the buildings without worrying about dirtying your shoes, and how you want to look at the buildings because even they are cleaner than Montpellier buildings. This is the usual Nîmes conversation, and Thursday was no exception. We walked around the city, window-shopping and picking up le Pacha's Roi Soleil tickets at the FNAC before heading back to the car. As we rounded the corner of a street, the biggest, wettest, most disgusting doggy diarrhea caught our eyes. It had been stepped in several times, so half of the street was infested at a length of about six feet. We all burst out laughing, and Belle-mère admitted that even in Montpellier she had never seen half of the road covered in caca.

As we were discussing this, walking in single file along the right side of the street, a young man passed us on the left. Obviously the mayor's campaign had worked, because he didn't give the street a second glance. Just as he walked by us, his foot slipped in the mess. By chance we had all been looking in his direction (it was the direction of the poop!), and we all saw his leg fly up. He half fell on the ground, catching himself with one hand. We all burst out laughing, but immediately tried to hide our amusement. He blushed very red, and Belle-mère tried to make him feel more comfortable by telling him to play the lottery (I guess that bad luck in one area means good luck in another). As he hurried away, we let our laughter out. I don't think that any other trip to Nîmes will equal Thursday's!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ask Mémée . . .

Here in Gallargues le Montueux, a small town outside of Montpellier, everything is going well. Belle-mère is demonstratively happy to see us, while le Pacha and Beau-père are more reserved. I have already introduced le Pacha to the joys of carving a pumpkin--his smile as he pulled out its guts was priceless. Belle-mère laughed as she watched us working on it, telling the others that "The children are amusing themselves." Still, she was the first to go outside and look at the lighted Jack o'Lantern.

We have already visited Jube's grandparents, Pépé and Mémée, who have been experiencing tough times lately. Their beloved cat Clafoutis was run over by a car last week, and Pépé has to have insulin injections every day from a visiting nurse. Mémée is not pleased with these nurses--"They think they sprang from Jupiter's thigh!"--and even less with Pépé's dietary restrictions (no salt, no sugar, low-fat). She feeds him her pie crusts ("it's just the edge!") and "doesn't notice" when he sneaks slices of her salty bread.

Mémée is also the originator of many interesting phrases (like the cuisse de Jupiter I mentioned earlier). She informed us that her priest had told her that the sin of gluttony did not include "the appreciation of good things." It's only when you eat too much and make yourself sick that it is a sin. She then told us that "the fat priests are the best."

Earlier we had been talking about Spanish tortillas. They are traditionally made with potatoes and eggs, have nothing to do with Mexican tortillas and everything to do with French omelettes. Belle-mère wondered aloud why they are called tortillas. Mémée answered matter-of-factly, "Well, they can't call them omeletas, can they?"

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Vacation and the Big Lebowski

I am about to go teach five and a half hours of English to business professionals. Jube is already on vacation. That means he's still in bed while I've been awake for about half an hour, making breakfast and lunch for myself, petting the neighbors' cat, and chatting to still-awake friends in the US. Imagine my joy when I checked my email and received NO JUNK MAIL!, just little notes from people I actually know (Jube, BB, and my mom). When I get home this evening, I will pack, and then Jube and I are headed to Montpel' for a week. I'm going to go wild!

I'll leave you with the results of the test Jube sent me in the mail. Feel free to ignore it, because I just need to preserve the proof that I beat him (he got 80%).

The Stranger

You scored 100%

You are the omniscient narrator! Your perfect performance is every bit
as stupefying as any I've ever seen. You are both a hero and a noble
role model for anyone who aspires to a true understanding of this
spectacular work of art. But, I'm rambling again... I've done
introduced you enough.

My test tracked 1 variable How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 96% on Lebowski lore

Link: The Big Lebowski Test written by JoeCoolJoe on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Friday, October 21, 2005


Not only do I have a job, I have a commute. Every time I work, I drive about half an hour to get there. There is really only one problem with this: the radio in our Ford Ka has some kind of short circuit that causes it to click off every now and then. Usually we can turn it back on, but sometimes it stays off for the duration of the car trip (like when we moved from Montpellier to Nice. . . yeah, three hours with no music).

Anyway, yesterday, as I was driving home, I was lucky enough to be listening to the radio (Europe 2). The host came on and talked about an artificial intelligence program on the internet. "You think of anything and then it asks you twenty questions about the thing. The scary thing is that it really guesses it!" she explained. "You can find it at the website trois w point vaincu point net." ("Vaincu" means something like defeated, vanquished, beaten. Sounds fun!)

It seemed pretty interesting, so when I got home, I typed it Hmmm. . . this address doesn't seem to exist!

"Jube? How do you spell vaincu?" I asked.

"Vaincu? Comme vaincre?" he asked me. "V-a-i-n-c-u."

Hmmm. . . still no luck. I tried, although I didn't think that making it feminine would change anything (besides being pretty sexist!). Finally, I turned to google in desperation.

I searched "vaincu intelligence artificielle," but that didn't work. The presenter had mentioned that the program was American, so I tried "artificial intelligence" or something like that. This time, I figured it out.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! "Vingt q!" I told Jube, "like twenty!"

"What, twenty asses (vingt culs)??"

Ha, ha, ha.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Rain, Rain, Go Away . . .

Last night I went to bed at 9:30pm. Although my parents are still in bed by this time, and for most of my childhood it was "Lights out by 9:00!", it's pretty early for me nowadays. But I was tired. Why?

Last Wednesday, I started working. I had Thursday off, but worked on Friday. On Saturday, Jube and I visited Peille and Peillon. When we got home, there was a message on our answering machine inviting us to a party in town. Of course we headed down, and stayed out until about 2:00am. Sunday we woke up late, and did nothing all day except prepare lessons (Jube had about 500 tests to grade for Monday). All in all, a busy weekend.

This week I really began working. The hardest part about teaching English is that I don't know anything about the language. What's a phrasal verb? What's a modal? Harder than the "what" questions are the "why"s: Why do you need to use an auxiliary in a question? Why doesn't "run away" mean the same thing as "run for"? I don't know! But I'm learning.

Today I had two students. One is a captain on a boat--in the winter, he fishes, and in the summer, he takes tourists to view the calanques, which is why he wants to learn English. The other is unemployed. He left his job as a maitre d'hotel six months ago and is improving his English skills to get a new job. I am collecting stories as I go: two Moroccan Ph.D. students who explained Ramadan to me . . . a father who manages his daughter's basketball team . . . a researcher for France Telecom who reads Harry Potter in English "so I know lots of words like 'wand' and 'sword' and 'spell' but not the words I need for business" . . .

But what I wanted to say was that, after having fallen asleep at 9:30, I woke up at 4:00am to hear rain pouring on our roof. It was raining so heavily that I imagined there was a leak. Thankfully this was a complete fantasy. It is still raining now, and it is due to continue tomorrow, as well. If you are having better weather then I am, take the time to enjoy it. I miss the crisp air of the Ohio autumn, the gorgeous turning of the foliage. Here, all we get is rain.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

"Peille" de Chats


On Saturday, Jube and I made an afternoon of Peille and Peillon, two mountain towns about half an hour away from Nice. The snap above is a view of Peillon, a spectacularly picturesque "perched village" that is gorgeous from far away. As we were driving up to it, Jube told me, "You have to walk up." I was ready to take a few pictures from afar when he told me it was a joke. We drove up some winding switchback roads (Jube is used to it, the mendois) and parked at the top. The town was not quite as amazing up close. The wood shutters were all very worn and the stone walls crumbling.

However, Jube and I are not cowards, so we plunged into the tiny village streets. They are made of cobblestones when they are not slabs of raw stone formed into steps. This town is steep! We climbed all the way to the top, and didn't meet anyone on the way. We were very surprised not to see any stores; no boulangerie, no restaurant, nothing but a closed-for-the-season inn. On the other hand, we did see lots and lots of cats. Tons of cats! In most French towns, you have to watch your step to miss the dog turds on the ground. In Peillon, they were cat craps! It was amazing. We saw at least 10 cats, who all stared at us while we walked around the city. I think we might have seen 10 people . . . but we might have seen less. It seems like we saw more cats . . .

After Peillon, we headed to Peille. From a distance, Peille is much less impressive than Peillon (I like seeing how many times I can confuse you with the words "Peille" and "Peillon"). Up close, it is lots more agreeable. We saw only two cats, and one dog (a bichon frise!) who barked at us. We saw several stores and passed a baby shower in the town hall. We climbed all over the city. On a good day, you can see the Mediterranean, but we weren't able to see the Baie des Anges, since it was getting dark and cloudy by that time. We also almost froze! The weather was much colder at 600 meters above sea level.

When we got home, our own cat was there to welcome us. Her name is Pitchounette, and she is actually the neighbors' cat. We don't feed her at all, but the siren song of Jube's guitar calls her over.

Mean Guitar Player

Friday, October 14, 2005


Two weeks ago (right after our computer caught its nearly-fatal virus), Jube and I went to Menton. I liked Menton very much. It is a small town near the Italian border about a fifteen minutes' drive from Nice (by highway--half an hour on the free road). We went in the afternoon. Summer was officially over, but it didn't feel like autumn yet. We wandered all over the city, discovering a beautiful centre ville full of stairways. Both of us felt closer to Italy, with colorful buildings and religious icons to be found everywhere. (Of course, neither of us has actually been to Italy, so I suppose it resembles what we imagine Italy to look like.)

Mary's Address

In the commercial center of town, I ate some real frozen yogurt sold by an Italian man
. It was wonderful! I had it with dark chocolate sauce. We wandered around the city, window shopping and enjoying the end-of-summer rush of locals visiting their favorite cities. We considered hopping over to Italy after we finished our tour of Menton, but since it was late afternoon we decided to head home instead.

A Peek at the Chapel

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

When did I last post???

I can't believe how long ago I last posted. I would like to say that lots has happened between then and now, but really not a whole lot has. One very important event took place, though:

I got a job!! Hooray!! I now teach business English to adults for about 10 hours a week. It's not too bad, and I can take vacations whenever I want to! I only started today. I prepared a lesson the way I would have for the students last year, but when I arrived, I discovered something amazing: my new students want to learn! They specifically asked for homework! Of course I didn't have enough prepared because I had underestimated their levels of English and enthusiasm. Next time I will be completely ready, though. I am very very glad to have a job now--and also glad that in about two weeks I'll be on vacation.

We'll be visiting my favorite city in the world, Montpellier. There, I will (finally) close my bank account and spend some freshly-earned money at the Polygone.

Through Oneika, I have been meeting some really nice people in Nice. One of them studied in Montpellier 2 years ago, so we have been having lots of discussions starting with "Remember that guy (that restaurant/that store/that etc.)." She also prefers Montpellier to Nice. Oh yes. I knew I wasn't the only one!

Jube thinks that my constant Montpellier meditations are sabotaging my ability to enjoy Nice. But I know it's not true. Montpellier is just... well... better!

Whenever my family comes to visit, I will ask them to confirm this for me.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Yard Sale

Yesterday Jube and I went to a yard sale. It was more like a church rummage sale, but it was great fun. I bought something that brought be back to my younger years... Sailor Moon graphic novels! It's really funny. I remembered thinking (oh so many years ago!) how I would love to read the original copies of the show I was obsessed with. Then I remembered that the first time I came to France, I wanted to buy new copies of the graphic novels--if only I could speak French! And then yesterday I saw the four novels, and I realized--I do speak French! So today is devoted to the reading of these delightful books. Hooray!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Virus Blues

I've got the blues. My computer is no longer connected to the internet. It is no longer connected to anything! How depressing! I am in the city right now, at an internet café, trying to figure out how to fix my laptop. Unfortunately Jube thinks we will have to reinstall everything, which means losing all of the pictures we were about to burn to CD. Oh well!

In other news, I watched Peur primale yesterday--that is Primal Fear for all you English-speaking folk. The last time I saw it, I was with hot Boston Robyn, and Jube fell asleep. You might be interested to know that he fell asleep this time, too!

Right now I am in a new internet café. The lovely Oneika brought me here, because she has a hook-up with the owner. The proprieter is an old Chinese woman who speaks broken French. She just left to take a package to the post office--"Wait for me here, faites comme chez vous! I will be back soon!"

Even though I like the atmosphere here very much, I hope that I will have my own internet back up soon.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Papers, papers...

I have been dealing with lots of papers recently. It all started last Tuesday, when Jube and I headed to the Prefecture. Why Tuesday? Jube starts work at 11:00am on Tuesdays. Since the last time I was at the Prefecture I waited in line for 2 hours just to ask a question, we decided that the fastest way to get it would be to show up early. The building opens to the public at 9:00am. We arrived at 8:00, and there were already about 15 people in line before us. We were waiting at the gates that encircle the bureaucratic complex. We watched hundreds of employees arrive, not even glancing at the poor suppliants waiting outside. At 8:45, the gates opened automatically. The first few in line sprinted to the next barrier while the rest of us followed (without letting anyone pass us, of course!) more leisurely. We waited the final quarter of an hour pressed up against each other. Finally a security guard unlocked the door to the Prefecture, and everyone rushed inside. The most desperate were, like me, the immigrants. The system is:

Open Hours: 9:00am-2:30pm, no one new accepted inside after 12 noon unless with a letter or ticket. How do you get a ticket? You wait in line until you reach the two workers who look at your documents and approve your passage to level two: Actual Contact with those who create residency permits, etc. BUT, if you arrive without a specific document, then you are banished for the day.

So that's why I actually ran down the hallway to the foreign affairs line with the others, as Jube went to make last-minute photocopies. Luckily I had to wait about 5 minutes, in which period of time Jube was able to finish the copies and meet me back in line. When we finally got to the desk, we miraculously had all of the necessary documents and were issued a number, which was called in about five more minutes. So at 9:15, we were free to go, and I had the receipt that proves I can work in France legally.

I was so pumped from the no-tears approach to French bureaucracy I decided to try my hand at actually finding a job! Jube and I went to the Rectorat on Thursday to see if there were any open assistantship positions. Unfortunately, the head of the program was not there, so we left my precious CV, lettre de motivation, and photocopies of my brand new workin' papers and went back home. I admit to a bit of disappointment at not getting a job immediately. We will call soon and harass the program until they give me a position.

When we got home, I received a huge letter in the mail from the Department of Health of the Department of Alpes-Maritimes. More papers! This was a very depressing one to fill out, since I had to admit to everyone that I was sans emploi (that's right: UNEMPLOYED!). I managed to find all of the numbers and references asked for, and I will relinquish my carte vitale in order to get a new one. We'll see how long it takes.

And that was my week in Papers.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Jube: "Gem, did you know that as I improve at the guitar I start preferring different picks?"

Gem: "Hmm? That's interesting."

Jube: "Yeah . . . I'm getting picky! Hahahahahaha!"

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Dream

The other night I had a dream. I was at a soccer match, a match between the French national team and some other country. It must not have been very important or popular, because hardly anyone was in the stands. In fact, at first I thought it was a practice! I somehow was seated right next to the soccer field. There I was, rooting for France*, when what should happen? Coupet**, the goalie, was injured! Since Barthez**, the original goalie, is still suspended for spitting on a referee, there was no backup! What could la France do?

Thank goodness for Zinedine Zidane**! The captain of the team knew exactly how to solve the no-goalie problem: Call on Gem! That’s right. Zizou looked up in the stands and saw the American answer to his prayers. I was rather flustered at first, since the last time I played goalie was as the counselor of a summer camp (I totally blew those 10-year-olds out of the water!), but I was up to the task. I entered the game hesitantly, and managed to save quite a few attempts to score. Since (even in my dreams) I am not a very experienced player, I let three balls escape me. But the rest of the team supported me and we still won!

At the end of the match, Zidane approached me, shook my hand, and congratulated me. He announced over the stadium microphone that I deserved the most praise of all the players since I was very inexperienced. The crowd cheered me and the team lifted me onto their shoulders! As I was carried around the field, I couldn’t help thinking, “Le Pacha will be so jealous! He will be so surprised to see me on television!” And then . . . I woke up.

This was the dream that made me realize just how immersed I am in French culture.

*Thanks to le Pacha I know lots of soccer cheers:
Allez les bleus!
Et un!
Et deux! Et trois zéro!
Allez Pai

**I remember the days when I didn’t know who they were . . . ahhh, quelle naïveté!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Our New Home

Our new villa is right next to a preschool, a “maternelle.”

“No problem,” I said to Jube, “We’ll just see some cute little kids when we catch the bus.”

“I had to observe a maternelle class last year, Gem,” he told me. “Every time they have recess, they scream for the whole hour!”

Nahhhh, it’s not that bad. I don’t hear them at all. I’m sure they do all scream, but not at the same time—until the school bell rings to summon them back inside.



Seriously! I thought the Rolling Stones had just arrived onstage or something!

No big deal. There is only one recess in the morning, one at lunch, and two in the afternoon. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Monday, September 12, 2005


I have been smelling lots of perfume lately. It started in Eze when we discovered that there was a Fragonard factory that gave free tours nearby. Of course we had to go! Beau-père was charmed by our guide and bought some men's eau de toilette for himself; le Pacha bought his amoureuse a small tin of "solid" perfume, and belle-mère bought her friends rose-scented eau de toilette and shower gel. The perfume is not made at the factory in Eze, where they specialize in beauty products and soap. It seems that they only employ "jeunes filles," since all the tour guides and workers were pretty young women.

Perfume Museum

A few days later we headed to Grasse, the biggest perfume-town in France. According to my Hachette guidebook Provence Côte d'Azur, Grasse produces two-thirds of the perfume in France. My Fodor's France 2005 says that even Dior and Chanel produce their famous scents here, but that they do not have tours. Since we couldn't tour these famous factories, Jube and I (without the belle-famille this time) toured trusty Fragonard again. This time I wanted to hear the tour in English, although I had understood perfectly well the Eze tour in French. We waited an extra 15 minutes (which was pretty hard on Jube!), and finally a Fresh Young Thing announced the start of the Engrish ranguage tour. Jube, Gem, a young American couple and two older British women joined her. We discovered that she herself was not a native English speaker--she was Japanese! It was quite fun to hear her cute accent, although the British women couldn't understand everything. We saw some old drawings of perfume makers from the 19th century, and even then Fragonard employed jeunes filles! The women, in their long skirts, tossed flower petals onto rendered pig fat in the drawings (the job used not to be as glamorous as today!). Quite an enjoyable time was had by Gem, while Jube tried hard to understand the guide's accent.