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!