Sunday, January 29, 2006

Bad Weather = Good Food

Jube and I were hoping to go skiing this weekend after our last disastrous attempt. Unfortunately, the weather this weekend was terrible. On Thursday night it started to rain on the coast and snow on the high grounds. It was actually snowing near my little villa when I got home! Of course it didn't stick. Jube and I had been hoping for a snow day on Friday, but we didn't get one. With our skiing plans scrapped, what were we to do?

Hmmmm . . . We decided to pretend like we were in the Alps and eat a tartiflette. Tartiflette is one of the best French inventions ever. It is made of potatoes, onions, cubed smoked meat, and cheese. To quote an online recipe, "If you're looking for a balanced, low-fat meal to help you with your healthy diet, tartiflette is not for you*." Thank goodness Jube and I were looking for the fattiest comfort food in the world to help us with the depressing weather! We headed into Vieux Nice to buy some "farmer's" cheese**, which of course makes better tartiflette. When we got to the cheese seller's stall, Jube forgot what kind of cheese makes tartiflette! Luckily he had his American gourmande with him who remembered that it was reblochon. We bought our tasty reblochon and then went to the video store, where we rented The Tai Chi Master to watch. If we really wanted a themed evening, we should have rented Les Bronz
és font du ski, but we didn't think of it. Here is a photo of the finished product:


Looks pretty good, huh? (Please notice the raw material used behind the tartiflette. Yep, those are the original potatoes!)

Now I would like to write an ode to Asian food stores in France. Oh, how I love them! They smell really good when you walk inside, and they have aisles and aisles of mysterious products. Sometimes these mysterious products are labeled in English, making my job easier, although sometimes they are translated into French . . . which is hard for me when the French word for "okra" is some strange Asian transliteration. But usually I get by fine, finding everything I need for my strange Indian, Chinese, Japanese, R
éunionais, or Mexican (!) meals (or attempts). We usually also find something that we just can't resist, like Green Tea flavored Fig Newtons or frozen spicy meat-on-a-stick hors d'oeuvres. This time we bought sesame oil, bean sprouts, tiger cat shrimp, rice vinegar, and Chinese cabbage. Tonight we celebrated theChinese New Year with sesame shrimp, fried rice, and "fortune cookies." (Actually, these seemed a lot like gingersnaps, but since I made them according to the recipe I will continue to call them fortune cookies.) And that's about it for this weekend.

Tomorrow I go back to work. Only two more weeks and two days until vacation . . . wish me luck!

*My translation.
**When I was little, I thought that "parmesan cheese" was really "farmers and cheese." I just thought of it when I wrote that translation of fromage fermier.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Jube was born in Mende, a "lost village" in the middle of nowhere. It also happens to be situated in the South of France. His family and he speak French with a heavy Southern accent, so I picked it up, too. One of the peculiarities of the accent is that the "e"s on the end of words are pronounced. This is especially true when they are upset.

This evening I heard a loud "Merd-UH! Bordel!" from the kitchen.

I have learned not to respond to these outbursts because they're never anything really serious, like I think they are from their volume. Probably the trash bag leaked a little bit or I forgot to soak a pan before Jube had to wash it.

Today I had my own "merd-UH" moment. I was driving to work, which includes driving around a traffic circle. I never learned how to deal with traffic circles back in the US, because we don't really have any. I just copy other French people, which involves going whenever you think the next person won't hit you. Well, today there happened to be two moto-police standing in the traffic circle. I pulled out, and they immediately waved me over. "Merd-UH!" I thought. He asked for my license and registration. I handed him the papers for the car, my American license and my passport. (Yes, this is legal, as long as I exchange my license within a year. Unfortunately I haven't been able to change it yet because I don't have my permanent residency card. But I'm still allowed!) He stared at the passport and license for about 30 seconds. "Mademoiselle, are you American?" he asked me.

Ummmm, WHAT? If I were French, why would I hand you an American passport and an American license and speak French with an accent? Although it's true that I hadn't said anything except "merd-UH," and that only to myself before I rolled down the window...

Anyway, the result was a ticket for
90€!! It's only my second ticket ever, and the first one was in the US. How annoying.

As I drove away, I looked in the rearview mirror. The police had already pulled over two more cars! The only thing I can think of is that driving on traffic circles AT ALL is illegal in France. You just have to hope that the police already have their victims when you drive by.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Beer Flu

The threat of bird flu has been a popular subject on the French news for months now (as I imagine it has in America and the UK as well). Every night the anchorpeople talk about how many cases there are, how close they are to France, and what the risk is of getting it. We hear the words "grippe aviaire" repeated at least 15 times a day.

Le Pacha doesn't believe it.

"Listen to them!" he said. "They're not saying grippe aviaire, they're saying grippe
à bière." The whole family laughed and told him that they're not saying beer flu! He refused to believe us. We searched for references in the paper--"grippe aviaire," it said it right there in black and white.

"Well, maybe in the paper they say bird flu. But listen closely--all of the newspeople say beer flu."

Ever since then, when I talk about bird flu, I call it grippe
à bière. No one has ever corrected my pronunciation, or even looked at me strangely.

EDIT: I just used an online translator for
grippe à bière, and it came back as "seize up with beer." Isn't that great?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Skiing, or the Rally of Monte Carlo

Jube and I woke up this morning at 7:30am. That's right, we woke up at 7:30 on a Saturday. Why did we do that? To go skiing, of course! Isola 2000, the most southern ski station in France, is only an hour and a half from Nice. Since it snowed early this week, almost all of the pistes were open, and the weather report predicted sun with highs (in the mountains) of 2 degrees Celcius. Jube's family loves skiing, and I was pretty excited about our ski trip en amoureux. We drove out of the parking lot at 8:20; we were back 2 hours later.

What happened? At first, everything seemed to be going fine. We stopped for gas on the outskirts of Nice, and as we drove along we could see the snow-covered peaks of the Alps getting closer and closer. The sun was shining on the mountains, and they glistened temptingly in the distance. Then, suddenly, the traffic ground to a halt. We drove in deceiving spurts. First, we were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, with no one getting anywhere. Then we were driving along at 90km/h without a care in the world. Every time this happened, we thought, "Ah, it's cleared up, we can get going now." And then we would see the taillights flash red in front of us, and Jube would pound on the steering wheel in frustration. Finally we decided to turn around at the next intersection and head back home when we realized that we would only be able to ski for 4 hours at most. We finally caught sight of a bridge that crossed the river Var near the town of Gilette. (Do you think that's where they make the shaving cream?)

As we made the U-turn, we saw some policemen directing traffic over the bridge, and some people with cameras gathered around. Then two muddy sports cars revved their engines, and we realized that it was part of the Rally of Monte Carlo. We had some vague knowledge of the Rally's existence from the news reports we had heard all morning. This threw Jube into even deeper spasms of frustration. "Of course we went the only day it would be blocked!" he raged. "Stupid jerky road!" (He actually said "route
à la con!" but I figure my translation is good enough.)

So we just arrived back at the good ol' villa. I wonder what we'll do today . . .

Thursday, January 19, 2006

My Thursay

I feel bad that I haven't posted anything lately. Let me tell you why:

Last weekend, I got sick. I kind of felt nauseated, but not enough to stop me from eating or to actually make me vomit. I just felt very congested, with a major (non-stop) headache. I felt so bad that I considered calling in sick on Monday and going to the doctor. Miraculously (and I'm serious here) I woke up feeling fine--no headache, just some major snot. [I have a really gross confession about it that I'll post at the bottom of the page so if you don't want to read it you don't have to.*]

I've been working ever since. I thought it might interest you if I told you about my day, since I always say I work, but I don't really describe it in detail. Keep in mind that today is not a typical day, because I don't have typical days; my schedule changes pretty constantly. Today was, in fact, a pretty nice day.

9:20am: Wake up. Ahhh how nice it is to be able to sleep in! 9 glorious hours of sleep!
9:30am: Eat a bowl of "Chocolate Coated Rice" in bed while finishing Douglas Adams's The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.
10:40am: Leave for work. 15 minutes from my house to the highway; 7 minutes on the highway; 7 minutes to my workplace.
11:09am: Arrival. Photocopies and last-minute lesson planning.
11:40am: Student arrives, 10 minutes late. Great! I only have to teach until 1:00pm! We talk about the past simple and the present perfect. Wow.
1:00pm: One student leaves, a new one arrives. We also talk about the past simple and the present perfect, with some 1st and 2nd conditional and modal verbs thrown in. Double wow.
2:30pm: I record my lessons and leave for lunch. Today I ate at Courtepaille. It was my first time, and it was great. I ate grilled sausages and French fries, with salad and a hot pecan brownie with ice cream. I read Dostoevsky's The Idiot and relaxed until 4:00pm.
4:05pm: Arrival back at work. I prepare for my new student--a video! No grammar! When I was in high school and college, I used to love it when we watched movies in class. Now I see that the teachers loved it too, because it means you don't have to prepare anything.
5:30pm: Student arrives. We talk and watch the movie (it's about Wales).
7:30pm: Student leaves and I clean up the office.
7:37pm: Student shows up again, claiming that the door to the building is locked. I clean up faster.
7:40pm: I release student and head to my car.
8:10pm: Home Sweet Home!

I hope you enjoyed that. My day was nice, especially since it started off with breakfast in bed. 11:30 as a starting time might be my favorite--it's still the morning, so you don't feel bad about not doing anything before, but it's still late enough to laze around at home. (Jube took the 8:36am bus into town, but he finished at noon. I don't feel guilty about not dropping him off.)

*The Really Gross Confession: I had been trying to hock a loogie all weekend, because I just couldn't breathe out of my nose. Unfortunately, no loogie could be hocked because I couldn't suck it down the other way, either! When I woke up on Monday, I could feel that sucker moving around in my sinuses. My throat was RAW from all the loogie-hocking I had tried during the night. Suddenly--Eureka! I would BLOW my nose! I did that, and within seconds an absolutely humongous glob of snot popped out. Like really, really huge. About an inch and a half in diameter. I wanted to show it to Jube, but he's kind of squeamish about that kind of stuff, so I threw it away... but that night, when I got home, I picked the kleenex out of the trash and looked at it again. It was that prodigious!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I knew watching Star Academy would come in handy!

Yesterday Jube and I watched Le Déclin de l'empire américain (also known as The Decline of the American Empire). It is a Canadian movie, but French Canadian, so it is entirely in French. I thought Jube would be proud of me for picking out a French language film, because I usually insist on getting American or British DVDs and watching them in English. Plus, this movie was nominated for an Oscar and won lots of other awards, which my latest pick (Spanglish) did not. However, he grumbled as we rented it because "they'll have accents."

We settled in to watch the queb
écois discuss their sex lives. I didn't find their accents to be too difficult to understand, in part because I had followed semi-religiously last year's season of Star Academy. For those of you not living in France, I'll give you a quick summary of how the show works: a group of about 16 "students" live together in a "chateau" to learn how to become "stars" (hence the name, Star Academy). Every week three students are nominated for elimination according to their evaluations. This is the most gripping episode of each week, in my opinion--the students have to prepare a short piece of song and dance and perform it for the "professors," who then decide who the worst three were. On Fridays there is a huge variety show where the students perform with real stars (last year they included Madonna, Mariah Carey, and Céline Dion). At the end of the show, one of the three nominated students is saved by the public, and another is saved by the non-nominated students. (Phew! What a long explanation it turned out to be!)

Anyway, the reason I say that this year's season helped me to understand the movie last night is because one of the students who made it pretty far in the game was qu
ébecoise, and spoke with a really heavy accent. Her accent was much heavier than the ones in the movie last night, so I hardly had any problem at all understanding. Jube, on the other hand, who dismissed my devotion to Star Academy as frivolous, trash TV, had some major oral comprehension problems, even asking to rewind once and wanting to put on French subtitles (unfortunately for him, this DVD didn't have any special features like subtitles).

So I just wanted to give a big Merci, Star Ac'! You help me with higher forms of culture now!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Yesterday I did the same lesson with two groups of students. It is about the "Slow Food" movement, which was created in the '80s to oppose fast food. The phrase "to counter the American invasion" appears in one of the documents.

In the first class, a middle-aged man read aloud about the philosophy of slow food, breaking off to add editorial comments. For example, after he read, "the traditional image of the family eating together around a table is disappearing," he looked up at me and said, "I am agree." He did this a few times, and was quite interested in trying to provoke me. "Yes, what is the traditional American foods? It's just hamburgers, eh?" However, he loves debating in class, and enjoyed answering me. At the end of class he thanked me for the interesting material.

The other lesson is an individual course with a young man in his 20s. He loves to talk, and unlike many of my students, loves to ask me questions. As he read the offending phrase about Americans, his voice trailed off and he glanced up at me, as though afraid he had offended me. I couldn't help but laugh, and he assured me that he didn't feel that there was any American invasion going on--"I like action films, but there are no French action films, so I have to see American ones--but that is not America's fault." Wonderful!

Of all of my students, none of them has exhibited the "anti-American" sentiments supposedly exhibited by the French. They all love to tease me about McDonald's, though . . .

Friday, January 06, 2006

Nous sommes des gourmets pas des gourmands... je vous le jure!

designer fashion

Does this look like a designer handbag to you? It did to me because of the luxurious image I gave off by flashing my "Canet" logo walking through the streets of Nice. Canet is an artisanal pastry/chocolate shop. Whenever we walk by their window, we are amazed by the gorgeous cakes on display. They all have poetic names (i.e. coeur fondant--melting heart) and amazing presentation . . . with prices to match. One of our favorites to look at is a hemisphere of red mousse enclosed in a matching hemispheric grille of dark chocolate--you can see right through it! Unfortunately there were no remaining mini-cakes of this variety when we got there, since all of the cakes are (rightly!) made fresh every morning. Here's a peek of ours:

Just a Peek

When we got home, we settled down for a gourmet dinner. We started with an ap
éritif of homemade (by Belle-maman) fois gras and champagne (don't tell anyone, but it was vin mousseux). Then we ate my tasty eggplant and zucchini casserole with spaghetti. We finished up with our gateaux from Canet. This was all eaten by candlelight--blueberry-scented candlelight. You are allowed to envy me . . .




I finally went to the lab today. When I went to the doctor she just wrote me a prescription and then told me to go to this random "laboratory" for a blood sample. Of course I put it off for weeks and weeks, but today was the last day I could do it without getting up really early (my new schedule is crazy--I work nights 4 days a week and start between 9 and 11:30 every day. I say crazy, but I guess it's kind of normal, eh?).

Afterwards, I had about half an hour to kill before I picked Jube up at work, so I went to the train station. Why would I go to the train station? Well, you can find both English language magazines and vending machines, both good things for killing time. There are also lots of people going lots of places, and I like to imagine that all I have to do is buy a quick train ticket and then hop a train anywhere and then I would be just one of them--but they don't know I'm not one of them, so it's perfect anonymity. That might not make sense, but I like train stations. So I was reading my European Time and eating a "lion" candy bar when a young woman approached me.

"Excusez-moi, I'm a journalist and I'd like to ask you some questions. Is that all right?" I explained that I was American, and she might prefer a French person to answer. She seemed a tiny bit let down but continued anyway. "What do you think about the events that happened on the train this weekend?"

She was referring to an incident on New Year's Day when a gang of about 30 youths "rampaged" through a train. They stole things, beat people up, and even sexually assaulted a young woman. When the police were called, only two were sent (for a train of about 12 cars, obviously not enough), and they arrived late.

Well, what can you think about events like that? "I don't approve."

Her expression brightened slightly--I obviously knew how to speak a little French and I knew something about French current events. "Do you feel safe riding trains?"

"Well, I used to ride trains all the time, and I never felt unsafe. I think that the problem was that not enough policemen were sent and they didn't arrive on time."

She got a big smile on her face. "Oh! Well, you speak French really well, not much accent... Do you mind if I record you?" With that, she whipped out a microphone with "RTL2" written on it, one of the biggest talk radio stations in France. "Now, repeat what you just said. Now, what do you think of M. Sarkozy's proposal to put more policemen on trains?"

She even asked me what I thought of M. Sarkozy's politics, but I played it safe and told her I couldn't vote here. I guess I might get famous, now!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Long Post

Okay, now I have some time to sit down and describe my wonderful, chock-full, two American holiday weeks.

On Christmas morning, we all opened our presents. What a haul! I got lots of books, some CDs, a copy of The Big Lebowski (plus accessories), and . . . A TRIP TO NORWAY! Isn't that the best? I'm very excited about our trip, although it will take place in late April and might be colder than Nice . . . hehe. I also got Bride and Prejudice, which my mom and I enjoyed, and then we headed to my dad's house.

Christmas Holdem

There, we lazed around, played Texas Holdem (they had total poker faces, as you can tell), and watched Spinal Tap. I had a girls' night out with my grandmother, aunts, and cousins. Fun, although I didn't realize how much I had stuffed myself until I stood up and almost vomited. But I didn't, so the night ended well. Jube and I went to Maggiano's for dinner one night and ate for the next few days on our leftovers. I also watched Team America, World Police. I'm still not sure of how I feel about it . . .

Then we grabbed a flight to Cleveland and a car to Erie. It was gray, cloudy, and cold, but I got to see lots of people--BB, Nicole, Maria, and even more! I even helped Maria pick up her marriage license (she had almost forgotten to do it, and we arrived about 15 minutes before the bureau closed!). That Friday night, we went out to a Mexican restaurant. Oh how wonderful it was! There were six of us, and we ordered a pitcher of margaritas, but our waiter told us that we would need two pitchers. When the two pitchers arrived, we realized that we only needed one pitcher--but we managed to polish it off anyway, somehow avoiding diabetic shock and alcohol poisoning.

Wedding Kiss

Saturday was the wedding. The church wedding was at 2, and the reception was at 8, which gave us enough downtime to hook up with more friends! The reception was wonderful. The couple had rented the lobby of an old theater, which sounds weird, but was actually gorgeous. Everyone ate, danced, and counted down the new year. Afterwards, Jube and I slept for about 3 hours before heading back to the Cleveland airport for our 10:30am flight to Dulles.

New Year's Eve Wedding

Then we spent about 24 hours traveling before we got back to our good old "villa." We managed to pick up some frozen pizzas before getting home, and I dropped into bed at 9:00pm. That just about brings us up to speed!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Just a Quickie

Jube and I arrived safely in France after another marathon trip (Erie- Cleveland- Dulles- Paris- Marseille- Nice), although I couldn't hear out of one ear and he had neither slept nor graded papers on the plane. More about our trip later, I've just started a new grueling work schedule (no days off??? Seven hours of work a day???). I simply wanted to share a little story from my day that illustrates my new obsession (even more obsessed, yes) with the English language.

I don't know if the song "Lonely Day" has made it big already in America, but I heard it for the first time tonight as I pulled up to our apartment (find lyrics here). Since I had just finished two hours of explaining comparative and superlative adjectives to M. P
ècheur, I was absolutely horrified to hear a chorus with repeated misuse of the superlative. How am I supposed to do my job when System of a Down won't take their status as role models seriously?

Come on! "The most loneliest day of my life"?? Not even funny!