Monday, August 29, 2005

No time for titles!

Here I am, in Nice, in an internet café, so this will be quick. Jube and I have started to settle in to our apartment. We have been swimming nearly every day, after buying some goggles in town. We have been taking care of administrative stuff (we spent all morning at the Prefecture the other day...) and relaxing. It is really feeling like vacation, finally, which is unfortunate since la rentrée is on Friday, when Jube will have to go back to work and I will have to start really worrying about getting my papers in order. I have been taking lots of pictures, and as soon as we have the internet at our house, I will post some of them. I hope that it will be soon!

Jube's family visited this weekend, and we visited some nearby picturesque villages and one big Principality. We took a free tour of the Fragonard factory at Eze, where I got some perfume (a nice gift). We also ate at an Indian restaurant, which made me very happy, since I adore Indian food. Since Nice is a bigger city than Montpellier, there are lots more "ethnic" restaurants here, and I am getting excited to explore them all. Well, we're off to explore a new oriental supermarket to buy lunch for today.

Friday, August 19, 2005

in weightlessness

les arceaux

After staying for one extra night in Gallargues, we are heading off to Nice tomorrow morning. Today we had a goodbye lunch with Jube's grandparents, and then went to see The War of the Worlds with le Pacha. Afterwards we headed into Montpellier, where I took tons of goodbye photos. We ran into my tutrice from my old job in Lunel--she hasn't heard anything about a new assistant coming this year, and said, "Even if we have a new one, she won't be as good as you!" Isn't that nice?

Anyway, tomorrow we are headed to Nice, Land of No Internet. Hopefully we will get it soon, so I can update this site. Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A Quick Rant before Bed

The Villa

Hello Everyone!

We made it home safely from Nice. Our "villa" has all of our furniture in it. We are currently back in Gallargues because Jube has to pick up his passport from the mayor's office in Montpellier. We also left a few things here that we need to take back with us.

The reason I am posting right now is not to rant about our day of unloading. It is not to complain about the six hours on the road either. It's not about how at dinner tonight everyone got in a fight because the France Telecom worker who called Belle-maman asked for our new address in Nice. No, it's about something much more important than that.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Or, H2G2: le guide du voyageur galactique. It came out yesterday, August 15, in France. I know that it came out about 4 months ago in the US, that it's apparently "not that good," and that that fact is officially Old News. But I'd love to form my own opinion! After spending years and years obsessed with Douglas Adams, including crying when I found out he was dead, I really want to see this movie. Unfortunately for me, I want to see it in English.

This is evidently impossible in France.

Usually I can find the movies I want to see in English by going to the "artsy" movie theaters (don't you remember them? The ones in the US that show weird French movies like Etre et avoir on hard seats with yellow subtitles--the only English movies they show are Australian or "good" movies like Lost in Translation). The problem with this is that H2G2 is not artsy enough to be shown on hard seats. To see it at all you are forced to go to a big theater chain and sit in huge comfortable chairs and enjoy the air conditioning--and watch it in French.

Ahhhhhhh!!!! The choices we make!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Decision

It looks like I'm headed to Nice tomorrow. I guilted myself into it with a little bit of help from the belle-famille. Stay tuned for my return (for one night) to Gallargues le Montueux, because afterwards we might have a bit of trouble getting our DSL hookup. Why? Let's just say that the last time we got DSL, we waited two months before we could finally log on. (Jube says I'm too nice--it was more like four months according to him.)

It all has to do with the politics of the telephone here in France. For years and years all telephone service was provided by France Telecom, which even today still has the monopoly on landlines (it runs you 13€99 a month for a dial tone). Then they charge you by the minute to make any telephone call at all, something like 0€03 a minute for local, and running as high as 0€36 to call a cell phone. Recently the phone service was privatized, so you can get much cheaper deals by paying another company to handle your calls--while still paying 13€99 for your telephone line, of course. What does this have to do with DSL? France Telecom has its own DSL service, which is not the cheapest. It is, however, the most convenient. To get DSL at your house, you must have a technician come to your house. This technician is a France Telecom employee, no matter what company you use. Get it? They can make you wait as long as possible. It's not the fault of the company you're using, it's France Telecom's fault. And lots of people give up on the cheaper DSL just to get some internet action at the house. We'll see what happens this time around...

You mean you didn't know we went to Nice last week?

Le College a Nice

You mean I forgot to mention that we went to Nice again to look for apartments? Hmmm... I think that is because I was traumatized from our first visit. Whenever I thought about going to Nice, I never visualized the city. I knew it was in the South, that lots of people liked it, that it had a reputation for being one of the most beautiful cities in France. When we arrived the first time in Nice, I was very upset. Personally, I think Montpellier is a much more charming city than Nice. Whenever someone new finds out that I am moving to Nice, they ask the fatal question: "Aren't you happy?" This holds true for Americans and French alike. I answer that I prefer Montpellier, and then comes the follow up: "But come on, it's much better than being sent to the North where it rains all the time." But honestly, if Jube had been sent North I wouldn't have had such high expectations.

But this is not the point of my post. The point is that we finally found an apartment in Nice! Not only that, it is a "villa." It reminds me of a vacation condo on a smaller scale. There is a swimming pool, a small private yard, and a parking space. The parking space was the kicker. Even though the apartment was not the cheapest we looked at, it ended up being cheaper because we wouldn't have to rent a space in a garage. The downside is that we are about 15 minutes away from Nice centre, because we're up in the mountains. Nice is a very congested city, bordered as it is by the sea to the south and the mountains to the north. Our "villa" is located on the mountainous western side of the city, so the reason for the 15 minutes is that we have to ascend to ear-popping levels to reach the apartment.

Tomorrow is the move-in day. I have not yet decided whether I will be going or not. There are several important reasons to go, among them:
a) helping Jube and his father find the apartment again
b) choosing how to arrange the apartment, and
c) helping to unload the moving van.

There are also several reasons not to go, among them:
a) I would be completely stressed out (see This Post to find out why)
b) I would be crammed into the small cab of the moving van with Jube and Beau-père for 3 hours, and
c) I would have to help unload the moving van.

I will be sure to keep you updated as to my decision.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Ô, les beaux kikis!

The nieghbors across the street have been on vacation for a week. They, like the belle-famille, have a small pool in their yard. Unlike the belle-famille, the woman sometimes sunbathes topless, which we can see very well from the upstairs rooms. However, as I said, she was out of the area for the past week. A group of youngsters has been using their pool. Now, the neighbors might have given permission to one or two of the preteens to swim in the pool, but we're certain that they don't have permission to climb onto the roof of the house and jump into the pool (which is about four feet deep), or to clamber up the wall around the yard before leaping into the water.

Beau-père and belle-mère were surprised three days ago to see, from the kitchen window, two pairs of buttocks wiggling right at their faces before disappearing behind the wall to the sound of a miniature tidal wave. They were even more surprised the next day to see first the backside--and then the frontside! "Don't the realize that our kitchen window looks right over the pool?" belle-mere asked the family.

Yesterday at lunch the two boys were back to their antics. Beau-père, belle-mère, Jube and I were all eating and talking about the boys in the pool. Belle-mère said, "If they show us their butts today, then I'll ask them to turn around and show us the other side like yesterday." We didn't have to wait for long. One of the boys climbed up the wall, pulled down his swim trunks, and wiggled his buttocks at the kitchen window. Belle-mère opened her mouth to ask him to turn around, when he did it of his own accord. We all started laughing, belle-mère applauded, and Beau-père slipped closer to the window and shouted, "Ô, les beaux kikis!"

The boy leaped immediately into the water to the sound of our laughter, and we didn't see another kiki all day.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Adventures in American Cuisine

The Kitchen

The above picture is a snapshot of Belle-mère's kitchen. As you can see, everything is color coordinated. Her appliances are green. The paint is green. The special tiles with French coqs on them have some green feathers. And I'm not saying I don't like it, because I think it's great. It really makes you want to cook--and what's even more important, it makes you want to keep things clean during and after the cooking process!

Today Jube and I wanted to give a little gift to Belle-mère, who was slightly stressed out because she was expecting guests. What better gift is there than a hearty, American lunch? We went to Netto, the discount supermarket "à la française," and bought all of the ingredients to make the most American meal of all: hamburgers and baked beans. Before we left, I described the beans to the family. Here is the conversation (I spoke in French, of course!):

Gem: "They're brown beans in a sweet sauce."
Jube: "Brown? You mean, red."
Gem: "No, I mean brown."
Jube: "You mean péteux?"
Gem: "I guess you could say that... yeah, they're farter beans."

To add some flair to the simple meal, I fried up some onions and mushrooms to put on our hamburgers. The entire family agreed that it was very tasty, although "now we understand why it's easy to be fat in America."

They even liked the farter beans!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Villeneuve les Maguelone

vignes et mer

This past week, Jube, le Pacha and I all went to Villeneuve les Maguelone, a small island near Montpellier. It is bordered on one side by the Mediterranean and on the other by les etangs. Jube swears there is a word for “etang” in English, and in fact is used by Edgar Allan Poe in “The Fall of the House of Usher” to describe the terrain upon which the house is located… This may be true, but when I think of that story I think of something scary, and there is absolutely nothing scary about les etangs. They are home to pink flamingoes and are very pretty.

The island of Villeneuve les Maguelone boasts the restored ruins of a medieval cathedral, a small community that grows grapes, makes wine, and takes care of a fishery, and some very nice beaches. The three of us parked the car and then hiked for two miles to see the cathedral. On the way, we passed the beach—and realized that there are, in fact, two beaches. One is the normal Mediterranean beach, with sand, blue water, parents and children. The other is home to “naturists.” We were very surprised to see about three naked couples during our hike, including one woman who ran the length of the beach and back again. Ironically for a naturist, she seemed not to have breasts au naturel. The cathedral was very peaceful, and we took lots of pictures around it. Instead of walking back to the car, we took the petit train, which was free for us since we had paid 4€00 for the parking lot.

On the way home we stopped at Palavas to get some ice cream. France has the best soft serve ice cream ever, called “Italian ice cream.” I had a pistachio and chocolate cone and Jube enjoyed a banana cone. Le Pacha, on the other hand, would not be contented until he found his particular favorite, double chocolat. It’s even more than brand loyalty—he refused three different vendors because they didn’t carry the exact kind he wanted. Luckily on the way home we found one stand that sold the double chocolat, and we drove home with a brown-lipped Pacha.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Le Mariage (Part II)

view of mende The last time that you read about the wedding, Gem and Jube had just noticed the wedding party outside of the mayor's office--and neither of them were dressed! We hurried to the free parking lot, with Jube asking Gem to lean forward and hide his head from the guests so they wouldn't know a) that he was still looking for a parking place and b) that he wasn't dressed up. We parked the car, pulled on our clothes really quickly, and then walked to the cathedral. However, the cathedral was practically empty except for two tourists. Jube had thought that they were finished at the Mairie, and would then walk to the cathedral, but he was wrong. We hustled back to the Mairie where we finally found the wedding. A friend's father was conducting the ceremony, which is a rarity in France. Normally it is the mayor, but since the friend's father was a councilman, he could get a special licence. The ceremony was much longer than normal because of this, with lots of references to the bride's parents, the groom's family, and even songs being played. Then they got down to business: "The contract you will be signing states that you will share all of your goods with each other, and when you die will go to your children, according to law number 1180" (this is an approximation, of course!). They both signed the contract, and then everyone applauded and went downstairs to wait outside of the Mairie to take pictures of the couple. Then everyone walked to the cathedral. It was interesting to see the wedding from an outsider's point of view--a whole troupe of well-dressed people walking through the tiny streets of a town, saying hello to shopkeepers and even having tourists take pictures of them. When we arrived at the cathedral, everyone took a seat and waited for the traditional wedding mass to begin. This was much more like an American wedding than the civil part--the bride's father gave her away, the priest spoke about faith, hope, and love... but also different, since the bridal attendants did not have to wear matching clothes, and because no one in the church knew the correct prayers or order of the mass (I think I was the only one, besides the priest!). But it was basically the same as any religious wedding ceremony in a church. Afterwards everyone headed up to the site for the aperitif. This is another difference between an American and a French wedding: there are two sets of guests. Both sets come to the actual wedding ceremony and the aperitif, but only the more privileged guests get to attend the real festivities. Jube had told me about the last wedding he went to--it ended at 5:00am and they had about 15 courses starting at 9:00pm and continuing throughout the night, including a lobster. I knew better than to expect that this time, since we were only invited to the aperitif, but I was still hoping for some traditional French cuisine. Boy was I disappointed! They weren't serving any champagne, and I'm not that into whisky, port, or pastis, so I got to have a beer (from a keg). Since Jube was driving, he didn't drink anything but fruit juice. The little hors d'oeuvres were basically what you could get in the US: mini pigs-in-blankets, little sardines-in-blankets, basically something savory in filo dough. We didn't get any wedding cake, either, just mini eclairs and mini fruit pies. But what was most disappointing was the location. The aperitif took place in the parking lot of a factory, so our view was of big trucks in the background. One of them was kept idling the whole time, perhaps to keep refrigerators running. I'm not sure. Then it was time for Jube and I to head home, three hours back to Gallargues, this time descending the tiny switchback roads. We made it back safely--and Jube assures me that he used to drive faster when he was younger. So I'm really lucky that I met him when he was a little bit older, I guess!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Just to heighten the anticipation...

A conversation from my past week:

Beau-pere: "Yeah, her sister is totally gaga."
Le Parisien: "I thought her mother was gaga."
Belle-maman: "Her mother isn't gaga, just a little bit zinzin, she has Alzheimer's."
Beau-pere: "But her sister really is zinzin, no question about it."

How are you supposed to learn French?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Le Mariage

mende cathedral

Last Saturday Jube and I headed to his hometown Mende for the wedding of two of his childhood friends. After our extremely stressful trip to Nice (we yelled at each other quite a lot, got lost, and didn't even find an apartment, which is why the last entry was pretty... brusque), I was very tired and not looking forward to the wedding. Nice and Mende are both about three hours away from Gallargues, so that meant another six hours on the road for me. Added to that was the fact that in Nice, I had (stupidly) only brought a pair of sandals--for three days of hard walking, yes--and they were also what I was planning on wearing for the wedding. On the bright side, I finally had the chance to wear my wonderful orange dress, and to see how a wedding works here in France. Oh, and I also forgot to mention--we also got to use Jube's new car, a Ford Ka. Don't worry if you've never heard of it. It's pretty French for an American car.

So we set off around 10:00, neither of us wearing the actual outfit because we didn't want to crease it before we arrived in Mende. We arrived about 1:30, after having to detour around the small town of Sommieres because of its village festival.

[My own detour: Oh wait, did I forget to mention that, although Nice and Mende are both about 3 hours away from Gallargues, Nice is about twice as far away in kilometers? That's because there are actual highways that go to Nice. Mende is nestled in a valley of the Cevennes, the central (and not very high) mountain range of France. Jube drove at amazingly high speeds throughout the dangerous ascents, grumbling every time he had to slow down (because you can't pass on a switchback road!!) for another car.]

We arrived about 1:30, and searched the small town for a bite to eat. We ended up at a kebab stand and chowed down. Then we switched parking lots for a free one, and happening to pass the mayor's office, we saw the wedding party! We were late!

......Stay tuned for the next installment! Did we make it to the wedding on time? Were the bride and groom angry that my dress was transparent? Did Gem manage to make a fool of herself in French in front of all of Jube's oldest and dearest friends and acquaintences? You'll find out all this and more............