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.