Sunday, July 31, 2005

Nice is... Nice

riviera dog

Last Tuesday Jube and I woke up early and headed out to Nice. It only took three hours, so we arrived before noon. We arrived on the Promenade des Anglais, and then took the mini tunnel to the train station. When we headed into town to take a look around, I started crying. Jube couldn't believe that I was upset to be moving to the Riviera! "Come on, Gem," he said, "it could be worse. Don't spit in the soup!" We got some lunch and then it was back in the car to find the first apartment we were checking out. I won't go into details, but the next two days were devoted to looking at apartments, scoping out real estate agencies, looking at more apartments, finding out we were too late to get the one we wanted, looking at parking spots, and looking at even more apartments. We saw just about as many apartments as humanly possible in three days, and we still didn't get one. I did manage to become infatuated with one--a view of the moutains behind Nice, a huge bathtub, beautiful parquet floors--but of course it was too expensive for us, with no parking besides.

On Tuesday night, we ate at "Le Festival des Moules," where we had all-you-can-eat mussels and French fries. Then the night after we ate at "Le Bull" for 6.50 each. Those restaurants were the best part of the trip!! We also took lots and lots of pictures. I included one of la Promenade des Anglais for your viewing pleasure (it's an Italian dog). Next post I'll fill you in on what happened when we got back to Gallargues le Montueux!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Expedition

I know that everyone's been waiting impatiently to find out where we went on Sunday and now is the moment of discovery. We went to the Sahara!

les dunes

No, actually, le(s) Parisien(s) and I went horseback riding in Camargue. Camargue is the region in France that has its own cowboys, les gardians, and also their own race of horses. Camargue horses are small and white, although they are born brown. They are small because the bulls they have to round up are also small. Unfortunately we didn't get to attend a roundup, but we got to go on a glorified trail ride around "les etangs" (brackish inland water that comes from the sea and the surrounding canals) and even the seashore! The beach we were near was l'Espiguette, which is also home to "naturistes"--nudists! We didn't see any, although for me just going to the regular beach is halfway to l'Espiguette, with all the naked breasts you can see.

Jube didn't come with us, because horseback riding isn't his thing, and also because he had to stay at home to telephone realty agencies in Nice. Which comes to the reason why I'm posting so early: in half an hour, we'll be leaving for Nice, and visiting lots of apartments. So wish us lots of luck in finding the perfect home for the next year!

Also, my friend BB wants me to share the formula for figuring out the temperature according to a cricket's chirps, if you actually want to try it for yourself instead of thinking, like me, "He's chirping fast--indubitable proof that it is too hot!" You count the number of chirps in 15 seconds and then add 39 to get the temperature in Fahrenheit. Apparently it is accurate to within one degree, although neither BB nor I have actually tried it (and if I had tried it, it would have been the refrigerator, so it would have been accurate to within one tenth of a degree, surely).

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Cricket

the pool

The day before we moved out, it was so hot, I couldn’t fall asleep. Jube wouldn’t let me keep the fan on, either. “You Americans just consume so much energy!” he said. I don’t know how much energy I consume, but it was hot!!! I was sweating and I wasn’t even moving. I hate lying in bed and not being able to sleep… so I started counting sheep. But that never works. I started listening to the night sounds around me, and I heard a cricket. “How nice!” I thought, “It’s really summer now!” I started counting the cricket’s chirps. I remembered reading somewhere that a cricket’s chirping frequency is directly related to the temperature, and this cricket was really chirping away. “I knew it was hot in here!” I thought. But after awhile, the cricket started getting on my nerves. It just wouldn’t shut up! And then, suddenly, I had an epiphany and realized that it wasn’t a cricket at all—IT WAS THE REFRIGERATOR! Luckily it switched out of high-energy mode (who says Americans are the only ones who waste energy?) soon after I made the realization and I could fall asleep. Plus I hadn’t talked about the cricket to Jube so he couldn’t make fun of me (although after reading this entry, he might start).

Le Parisien arrived yesterday with his new girlfriend. Much to my (and belle-maman's) dismay, neither of us can detect a lisp! Jube says he can, but he's probably just being contrary. She is very nice, and from Martinique, so she can cook lots of exotic tasty spicy food for us. After they arrived, we went to the beach at La Grande Motte. I swam while Jube waded and les Parisiens tanned. After we got home Jube and I slipped into the pool to get rid of the salty hard feeling you get after swimming (or even just wading!) in the ocean (or the sea). It was wonderful! The evening air was cool, the water was still warm from the sun, and they served us our aperitifs in the water! Just imagine Gem and Jube on the edge of the pool, drinking coconut punch while the oldies talked on the terrace. Yes, a true luxury, drinking in our pool in the South of France!
Then we got out and ate croque-monsieurs that belle-maman had left a bit too long in the oven... but they were still very tasty. Tomorrow Jube, le(s) Parisiens, and I will all be taking a very special trip... but I don't want to give too much away! Hopefully I'll have lots of photos when I come back.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Gift Wrapping

One of the things I like about France is that, no matter what you buy, you can usually get it wrapped up as a gift for no extra charge. But sometimes the results are unexpected… Jube just finished up his year as a stagiaire (a student teacher). He was helped along by his tutor and he wanted to give her a gift. Soooo, we went to the English bookstore in Montpellier, "Book in Bar." It’s a great bookshop, even though the books are slightly overpriced. We found the book he wanted (Paradise, by Tony Morrison), and he paid, asking for it to be wrapped. “Oh, bien sur!” said the shopgirl, and proceeded to wrap while I browsed the store. About five minutes later Jube came to get me with a strange look on his face. When we had left the store and walked around the corner, he started laughing. “Look at the gift!” he said. And this is what we saw:

Wrapping Job

My mother thinks that it is a cultural difference, since the girl who wrapped it was English, not French. I just think that she had no clue about how to wrap a gift!!

In newer news, le Parisien and his new girlfriend are arriving tomorrow. The whole family is excited to meet her, no less because of her lisp. Le Pacha is cutting short his stay in Narbonne to stay just one night under the same roof with her, and belle-mère has already decided on the menu. She chose an “exotic” American recipe: Eggplant Parmesan. I am amazed that she is taking cooking advice from me!

Jube and I also booked a hotel in Nice for Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. We’ll be checking out all of the apartments we can! No worries: more news about the Lisper to come in the very near future.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

And.... ça y est.

tour de france haribo

We're gone! Farewell my beautiful apartment! Jube and I are living with his parents in the small town of Gallargues le Montueux while we look for apartments in Nice. That's right, Nice. The teachers' union called last week to tell him that he was "attached" to a middle school in the city. So we can finally start looking at apartments! As we were packing up, I found this "special edition" Tour de France version of gummy bears: gummy bicyclists! I took a picture of the package, and I was going to reconstitute one of my Tour pictures, but I got really hungry while we were packing and ate them instead.

All weekend after the Tour de France we cleaned and packed. On Monday, Jube's family came and helped us pack all of our stuff up and put it in a rented moving van. After we moved everything out, we took it to his grandparents' house in nearby Saint Jean de Védas. His aunt gave us some useful appliances (such as a washing machine and a real oven!!), so we moved those out too. So as you can see, I have spent some quality time with Jube's family in the past few days. And we are so grateful to them that we have decided to ignore all of the "You should have packed it like this" and the "Well, I'm not used to moving either, I just do what seems logique!" comments--or laugh at them instead, as Jube recommends.

Tomorrow they are going to Narbonne to drop off "le Pacha," Jube's younger brother. He's spending a week or two with a friend's family. Then on Friday Jube's older brother, "le Parisien," is coming to visit with his new girlfriend, "the Lisper." In fact, we haven't met her yet--le Parisien called to warn us that she has a "slight speech impediment" and not to make fun of her... so of course the entire family has been doing just that ever since. "Hello, my name ith The Lithper," for example... or, "Tha va?"

I had always heard stories about how hard it is to get along with/ live with the in-laws, but I have a great time. I'm just afraid of what they say about me behind my back...

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Tour de France

tour de france 2005.2

What a busy two days I've had! Yesterday we ate lunch at Jube's parents' house, and then they came to our house for dinner. Then, since it was Bastille Day (otherwise known as "the fourteenth of July"--le quatorze juillet) we went to see the fireworks. I saw the fireworks in Montpellier for the first time two years ago, the summer of 2003, and we couldn't see a thing. There was no wind, so the smoke from the fireworks hung in the air, obscuring the rest of the show. We saw lots of red smoke... green smoke... pink smoke... Unfortunately this seems to be a chronic problem in Montpellier, because yesterday the same thing happened. Disappointed, we walked home, stopping twice to listen to cover bands in the street. (They were covering songs I didn't know. They are allegedly on the radio right now, but I haven't been able to confirm or deny this rumor.)

Today Jube and I watched the Tour de France arrive in Montpellier. Sadly, the route they chose ignored the most beautiful parts of the city, so if you were watching on TV, you didn't see the best! Luckily for us, the route ran close to our apartment, on the Avenue de la Liberté. We biked there (how French! how “Tour de France”y!), so we arrived just in time for the Caravan. That means, just in time for the free stuff that the sponsors of the Tour throw out of their cars about an hour before the cyclists arrive. We were apparently not in the right spot, because we only got one packet of candy, one sun hat, and a pair of plastic inflatable noisemakers. Eh, no big deal! I came for the Tour de France, right? See the great picture I got? You’re lucky—the cyclists go by in about two seconds. I couldn’t identify Lance Armstrong until I saw him on the picture.

After watching the tour, we took the bikes in town. Jube needed to buy a new pair of pants for this wedding we’ll be going to in two weeks, and since it is the time of les soldes, we took advantage. So now there is one more Frenchman with navy blue striped pants. Nice, eh? I also sent an e-mail to the director of international studies in Nice. Who knows? I might be able to earn a Master’s equivalency in one year! Pretty sweet, eh? Or maybe I’d write a huge thesis and just end up not earning anything except for a degree that only works in France. Or maybe I’m too late to sign up anyway! Life is hard when you’re an immigrant...

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Dinner Party

dinner party

Yesterday we had a dinner party. Since I told all of my friends in the US that we are moving to Nice soon, one of them asked me if it was a housewarming party. Well, no, not exactly... more of a “farewell, my beautiful apartment” party. To be honest, I was kind of stressed out about it. Very stressed out about it. I’m not sure why, since Jube was cooking and the apartment was already spotless, but I was. extremely. stressed! Five of Jube’s good friends came over, which was certainly part of the reason. I am always nervous when it comes to groups of people speaking French. Normally, I'm totally fine when I speak French, because it’s (normally) a one-on-one situation: me and the waiter, me and the salesclerk, me and the librarian (you get the picture). But parties are really hard; there are usually at least two conversations going on and if you manage to pay attention to one of them then someone is sure to ask you a question about the other. Last night was a breakthrough for me, though. I understood just about everything everyone said, contributed to the conversation, and managed to feel like a good hostess at the same time! So here’s how it went down:

8:30: Arrival of Jube’s friends (“Sorry we’re late!”—yeah, whatever, all French people arrive about half an hour late).

8:31-35: We kiss everyone three times. That makes 30 kisses, 15 each for Gem and Jube.

8:35-9:15: Aperitif. Kahlúa (“Wow, exotic!”), beer, white wine, Muscat, liqueur de noix de coco, Pastis. Hummous (houmous—“This is great, where did you get it?”), chips, cashews, peanuts, crackers.

9:15-10:30: Main course (“Avertissement: we have no first course, so fill up on the aperitif!”). Rougail saucisse, a dish from the Reunion Island. I’d never heard of it either, Jube’s brother taught us. It’s great. Red wine.

10:30-11:00: Dessert: coconut and chocolate mousse gâteau, bought from the patisserie. Cider.

11:00-12:00: Coffee and chai. And lots of conversation.

And that was how it all went down!

We still haven’t cleaned the dishes yet…

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

What the Heck??

Going along with the "what I saw on French TV lately" post theme, here's a picture for you:

french fish

That's what I saw last night. Prime Time. Can you guess what they're doing?

Well, since you couldn't guess, I'll tell you. Those are French men and women (the blue ones from Pont-Saint-Esprit, the red ones from Chateauneuf du Pape) competing for the glory of their village. They were dressed up in fish costumes, and then ran an obstacle course. Pictured here is the first stop. The floor is rotating. They had to jump and grab a foam fly, then run through a bull ring, then go backwards in an innertube across a swimming pool, then run up a huge flight of stairs, and then slide down a big long slide, all the while keeping ahold of their fly. After each run, one was eliminated. So it was like musical chairs, but with a long obstacle course and with everyone dressed like fish and holding flies, sometimes in their mouths (mouche en bouche). I didn't get a picture of it, but when one finally won, he stood at the top of the slide, jumping up and down, while the crowd cheered. It's the only time I've ever seen anyone so joyful and happy to be forced to perform strenuous physical activity while dressed in a fish costume.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

I gots to have my Cat

I love Cat Stevens. My love is so deep, I thought it could survive anything. It survived Jube's mocking (I made him learn a song and was so proud of him he got upset--"you think this is hard? Gosh, I wish you would be so happy when I play really hard stuff"). It survived high school, where no one had heard of Cat and when I made a speech about him everyone was bored for 10 minutes. It even survived a really bad Mandy Moore movie in which they played "Wild World" by some girly band at the end. But yesterday, I thought my love was tarnished forever.

"La Taratata"--a kind of "Top of the Pops" but cooler--featured De Palmas last night. I wasn't really watching since I was reading a book on my bed, but I could enjoy the music without paying much attention. And then suddenly I heard the words "Cat Stevens." "Yes, that's right, De Palmas and Francis Cabrel will be singing a Cat Stevens song tonight!" (of course that was all in French). Wow was I excited! They're two pretty good singers and they are also good artists.

They sat down and played the intro to "My Lady D'Arbanville" on their guitars. And then Francis Cabrel started singing.

"My Lady d'Arrrrbanville, why do you sleep so steel? I'll wake you tomorrow, and you will be my feel, and you will be my feel."

Hmmm... I suppose that metaphorically "steel" works just as well as "still"... but "you will be my feel"? That makes the song dirrrrrrrrty! Luckily for me, De Palmas had obviously listened to the original version before and could reproduce Cat's English.

I must admit, at the beginning, I was nonplused. But now, "you will be my feel" has started to grow on me. It's pretty logical, actually--rhymes with "d'Arbanville" and makes the singer seem like a real weirdo. So, a big Merci, Francis Cabrel for teaching me ever new and exciting ways to enjoy Cat Stevens.*

*Also known as Yusuf Islam, whose next projected single is "A is for Allah."

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Les Soldes!!!

As you read in my last post, I am in love with Montpellier. However, there are some things that do not make Montpellier inferior to Paris... rather, they make me aware of the fact that Montpellier is neither the center of France nor the largest city in the country. Two weeks ago les soldes started in Paris (and most of northern France). We in the south had to wait for two. long. weeks. before we could plunge into our own consumer frenzy. Hmm... actually, when I think about it, it's probably a good thing that the sales didn't start until yesterday. The heatwave has lifted, so now we can enjoy the outdoor pedestrian shopping without sweating--and staining the new clothes we are only trying on.

Yesterday Jube and I ventured into
Montpellier centre ville to check out the sales. There was a dress I'd had my eye on for about three months--maybe even four! I couldn't buy it at full price. (It was simply too expensive for Gem, who hasn't had a job for three months--maybe even four!) Luckily, since none of the dresses had been sold in that long quarter of a year, they were discounted by 60%, and so I was able to fulfill my dream of owning a transparent orange 100% silk asymmetrical dress and afford a cotton sous-robe to go underneath it. (Sous-robe means “under-dress,” but it sounds way better than “a cotton slip,” doesn’t it?)

I wore the dress to the belle-famille’s house, where Jube’s mother ooh’ed and ahh’ed over how beautiful my dress was. “Oh, it’s too bad that you’re not invited to a wedding this summer!” she said, before realizing that, indeed, Jube and I will be heading to Mende for the aperitif of a wedding in a few weeks. “But, Gem, you can’t wear that dress underneath. You should simply wear a white strapless bra and some underwear!” I expressed my discomfort with wearing a transparent dress with nothing but underwear underneath. “That’s because you’re an American puritan,” she told me. “Well, I suppose you could buy a bustier and wear that instead.” It’s true that I never imagined that my mother-in-law would tell me to buy a bustier so I could show it off under a see-through dress…

Before you start thinking that I am uncomfortable with my body, I should tell you that I have finally decided I am not fat. And I’m glad that I am not as skinny as most of the French women I see around me. In the stores yesterday, they were all screaming and grabbing for the last T1 ([extra] small) or the second-to-last 36 (size 4? Size 6?). I nonchalantly shouldered them aside and chose one of the five remaining T3s or 42s, in any style or color that I wanted.

Ahhhhhhh! Bliss = les soldes!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Summer Plans

I know I haven't posted in more than a week, but it's because my mom was here visiting! Yay for visits! She and my cousin both came, and we've had a great time despite the sweltering weather. We visited the normal places--Montpellier centre ville, Pont du Gard, Avignon, Aigues Mortes, and the best was that we rented a car and drove to Barcelona for two nights! Yay for practicing my Spanish (boo for forgetting so much of it). I won't go on and on, because I think it must be amazingly boring to hear about other people's travels, but I had a great 10 days with my family. I think Jube was a bit overwhelmed by the girliness of the visit, but nothing too stressful.

In other news, he has finished teaching for the year! Now we have some vacation time to spend together. Of course, we will be spending it looking for a new apartment in Nice (or the surrounding area), packing up, moving out, unpacking, etc. Hopefully we will be able to find the time to go to Norway, but somehow I doubt we will be able to take advantage of the super low fares. Sigh.

I'm very sad to think about leaving Montpellier! I want to stay here forever and ever! I love this city, I feel like it's my home. I realized this while ushering my family to "my favorite place, my favorite market, my favorite restaurant... The English assistant at Jube's college this year told him she liked Nice much better than Montpellier. "Nice was much prettier, a nicer city," she said, adding the oh-so-original "Nice is nice." I must admit that I felt the sting of anger after he told me that. "How could anyone think that any other city in the entire world is better than Montpellier??" I thought. I know that Jube told me she liked it better to make me feel better about leaving, but I still feel remnants of jealousy that she got to work closer to him than I did, so the fact that she was dissin' my 'hood pissed me off (hehe).

On a better note, today I bought two books about traveling/working/studying in France to make myself feel better about the move. I hope it works!