Sunday, February 26, 2006

Vacation Recap

Our week in Gallargues went really well. On Wednesday, Jube, Belle-maman and I all went to Arles. The day was kind of gray and rainy, but we had a good time wandering the streets. Also, the Arles museum was free for the day, so we got to check it out.

On Thursday, we went to
Nîmes to meet some of Jube's friends, Herbé and Caro. They are a couple of music teachers who Jube met when he was completing is first year of stage in Alès. They have decided to get married this summer, and so they had come to Nîmes to de-PACS. PACSing is basically a civil union. Homosexuals can enter into a PACS, as can heterosexuals. It provides some of the rights of marriage, notably (in teachers' cases) benefits on where civil servants are placed throughout France. Herbé and Caro had PACSed a few years ago so they could both work in Alès; Jube and I PACSed in December 2004 so he wouldn't have to move to Paris (and I wouldn't have to move back to the US). Herbé told us that it was really funny when they went to de-PACS; both of them were smiling and holding hands, and the civil servant in charge told them that they didn't have to de-PACS since their marriage would automatically cancel it. But since they had driven for an hour, she did it anyway.

Jube and
Herbé originally bonded because of their love of guitars. In fact, Herbé saved up his salary for two years to have a guitar made especially for him. It cost him €3,600 (check it out here and here). After having a quick drink in a café, we all went to a guitar store. Caro and I chatted about her wedding plans while Jube and Herbé drooled over the instruments. Let's just say that when we entered the store, it was light outside, and when we left, it wasn't. Luckily that means that I can drag Jube to the mall with me whenever I want and I won't have to feel guilty.

Afterwards we went to Montpellier to have dinner with another couple of Jube's friends. These are friends that he's had since he was about 6 years old and they all lived in Mende. I've always had a hard time enjoying our dinners with them. This is because when I first met them, I couldn't speak any French at all; and then, even when I could speak some French, I discovered that half of the time they talk about "the good old days" when they harassed their German teacher or wrecked a friend's motorcycle and lied about it. Last night was really great, though, because we talked more about the present instead of the past (although there was an involved conversation about the new stores opening up in Mende).

All in all, we had a really great vacation, although I'm still not ready to go back to work tomorrow!

Monday, February 20, 2006



Jube and I are taking advantage of our holiday (paid for him, not for me) to spend time in Gallargues le Montueux with his family. While we're here, we get to do lots of great things: have our hair cut by Belle-maman, have our car fixed by Beau-papa, make plans for our trip to Norway, and eat Belle-maman's good food . . . or at least, most of her good food. Lately, we have been eating sausages, pork loins, lasagna, pizza, and soup. What's missing?

The poultry! That's right, cases of avian flu have been discovered in France. The Belle-famille no longer buy poultry at the store; the news warns us to stay away from the municipal pigeons; and le Pacha has been (jokingly) considering calling the police because a neighbor hasn't cooped up his chickens yet. Yikes! It was very sad when Jube and I drove past the marshes by the sea on the way back from Montpellier today. When we looked at the beautiful pink flamingoes, we couldn't help thinking about how they were going to kill us all someday soon.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Bravo pour votre français!

Since I've been on vacation, I've been soaking up the French coverage of the Olympic Games. I've always enjoyed the Olympics, but lately I have found myself glued to disciplines I never would have watched before . . . cross country relay, for example, or the biathlon. 2006 was the first year I watched the opening ceremony, and the first year I watched both the short and free programs for men's figure skating.

Why did I watch both? Well, the commentators in France are amazing, way better than in the US. One is called Nelson Monfort, and he basically falls in love with each participant. Philippe Candeloro is the other. You may remember him from the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, when he won the bronze medal when he took on the roles of the three musketeers in his free program. (That's what I remember him from, anyway!--although he also won a medal earlier, though I don't remember which games.) Imagine: Nelson melts for each new skater, and Candeloro makes snide remarks about their skating and explains everything. Television magic!

On Tuesday night, after our wonderful Mexican meal, Jube and I caught the late-night showing of Turin's free program. Johnny Weir of the US came in 2nd, and Nelson kept enthusing about what a wonderful skater he was. "Oh, Philippe, he's giving us such a show tonight! I'll be so surprised if he's not on the podium come Thursday night!" Philippe was more objective: "And this is a triple flip, well executed. No quadruple jump, though."

After his program, and his 2nd place finish, Nelson kept shouting (in English), "I love you, Johnny! I love you!"

Philippe said, "Look, he's saying, 'Nelson, I love you too!'"

They even had the chance to interview him--which was done entirely in French! Johnny Weir's French was not perfect, but he didn't have a bad accent, and (above all), made the effort. Philippe kept asking about his performance, and Nelson kept congratulating his French. At the end of the interview, Philippe wished him luck for Thursday night's decisive programs.

Nelson said (and I quote!), "Bravo pour votre français!"

To Nelson's great disappointment, Johnny only finished 5th at the Olympics, despite his "nearly flawless" performance (thanks again, Nelson!).

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


My bouquet

Since my last post, Jube and I have par-tayed! It's Carnaval time all around the world, and both Nice and Menton have their own celebrations. Here in Nice, it's more traditional, with parades during the day and at night. In the afternoon, the parades have floats that are decorated with flowers, for les batailles des fleurs. The floats throw mimosas to the spectators for the whole of the parade, and then at the end, rip nicer flowers off of their floats and throw them to the crowd. Of course, just to have standing places for this parade, you have to pay
€10! Jube and I paid for the opening of the carnaval, because we had never done it before, but we haven't yet seen the nighttime parades. (Check out fraise's different posts for some pics, commentary, and videos about the celebrations at night.) You can see a picture of the bouquet I gathered above. It's so big and beautiful because I screamned and begged the performers on their floats to throw the flowers to ME ME ME, and then I snatched them out of the air just in front of old grannies and little kids getting flowers for their grannies. But my bouquet is gorgeous, don't you think? Especially the glittery lettuce...

Bresil aux couleurs de Menton

On Sunday we went to Menton, where there is a Lemon Festival. There are huge gardens with different scenes made of lemons and oranges. The theme this year is "Brazil," which is why you can see a representation of the giant Brazilian Jesus made almost entirely of citrus fruit. It was really fun to see all of the things they came up with, including a plantation-like house with jazz players outside that represented New Orleans, and a bridge with a gondola in a lemon-colored river that represented Venice. (Secondary theme: Mardi Gras celebrations from around the world.) After viewing the gardens, we watched Menton's parade.

Leader of the Orange Throwers

Here, they threw oranges, not flowers, which was rather dangerous if you didn't know one was heading for your head. (I got two because I shamelessly flirted with the orange thrower boys--see above for the leader of the pack.) This parade was really fun, especially because there were no barracades separating you from the performers. The kids all had cans of silly string that they used to spray the floats and the spectators (Jube hid behind me a lot because he had worn his leather jacket and didn't want it to be ruined.) We had a really good time at this parade, although we probably wouldn't do it again because it was so expensive (€14 for entrance into the gardens + parade viewing!). The only downside was that we parked really far away to save more money, but at least we had some exercise.

Finally, as you may remember, yesterday was Valentine's Day. I had to work until 7:45pm, and then there was a backup on the direct line into the city, so I didn't get home until 8:30 or so. Luckily the restaurant we had scoped out earlier served until 11:30pm, so when we got there at 9:30 it was still hopping. It was a Mexican restaurant! I love Mexican food, and it's pretty hard to find in France. In Montpellier, there was only one real Mexican restaurant; in Nice, there are probably about four. The food isn't very different at these restaurants from what you can find in the US; the big difference is the price. I paid €14 for my big plate of flautas, and Jube paid €17.50 for his fajitas. When we had finished our food, I was looking forward to a gooey plate of refried ice cream or something like that, but Jube told me that it was too expensive. I tried to resign myself to the no-dessert ultimatum, and we drove home. Once we got back, Jube opened up the fridge, and there they were--two little cakes from Canet! They were good, too. What a nice present! (Sorry, no pic th
is time--they were scarfed down very quickly.)

Friday, February 10, 2006

What was that again?

Yesterday, I confessed to Jube that sometimes I lose track of what my students are saying in class. That's really bad because I'm supposed to listen carefully and correct their mistakes. What can I say? Sometimes they tell me the most boring things, and talk for a really long time. I can't help it!

Jube told me that sometimes he does the same thing, especially when the English assistant is in class helping out. A few weeks ago, he used one of my lesson plans with the assistant. The kids got to read some genuine personal ads and then write their own. They read them out loud and then chose whose is the funniest and whose is the most attractive. Jube zoned out while the assistant did the activities with them. At the end of class, they asked him whose he liked the most. Caught off guard, he said, "Uhh, I like Julie's the best!" The students looked at each other and smiled.

Later, reading through the personal ads, he realized that Julie's looked something like this:

35-year-old English teacher WLTM a young girl with blond hair and blue eyes.

Should I be worried? More importantly, should any of his blonde, blue-eyed students be worried? I laughed for about 5 minutes when he told me this story, and then wondered if I should buy some hair dye and contact lenses . . .

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Parking Lot Prediction

lucky charm

Last week I went to the supermarket to buy some food. Not a very unique trip, really; I go to this particular supermarket about once or twice a week since it's near my workplace and it has cheap gas (well, cheaper gas). On this particular day, I got out of the car and was hailed by a short old woman. Somehow she could tell I was foreign, even though I hadn't said anything. She started by asking if I had ever visited Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (The Saint Marys of the Sea, a town in Camargue), and was very surprised when I said that, in fact, yes, I had! This quickly tipped me off that she was a gypsy, or a tsigane as she called herself (in fact, she called herself la mamie tsigane, the gypsy granny). The reason I figured it out is that Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer hosts a huge gypsy festival every year, and there are always gypsies hanging out there. You see, one of the Saints of the church, Saint Sarah, is the patron saint of gypsies, and they light candles in the church basement and accost every tourist who comes to visit the town.

When she saw that I wasn't disgusted or frightened or just plain old not interested, she immediately launched into telling my fortune. She told me that I was a sensitive person with an open spirit and lots of other stuff like that. I thanked her and walked away when she said, "Wait, wait, mademoiselle! I'm receiving three letters in my mind!" I felt like I was on Crossing Over with John Edward! How could I walk away from that?

"I'll tell you the letters, and you tell me if they have a meaning for you," she said. "The first letter is . . . G!"

Wow, I thought, she got "Gem" on the first try! "Yes, yes, it means something to me," I said.

"The second letter is . . . J!" she pronounced.

Impressive! I thought. "Jube" on the second try! "Yes, that one too is meaningful," I said.

"And the last letter is . . . F!"

Hmmmmmm . . . "Not so much," I told her.

"Well, I got two out of three." [She seriously said that!!] Then she told me that the letters were very important to my "sentimental" life (I think in English the best translation is "romantic"), and that all my plans for the future would turn out all right. Then she gave me a lucky charm, "bound with nine prayers." [Yeah, it's just a plastic bead ripped off of a necklace for a little girl, as seen above.] Then she said, "Whatever you want to give to the gypsy granny is fine, because I know you are a generous person with an open heart and you will give whatever you can to the gypsy granny."

Well, normally I wouldn't give her anything (I'm that generous, yes!), but since I had really enjoyed myself for the past five minutes, I dug into my change purse and gave her two Euros. "And you don't have any restaurant gift certificates?" she asked me. I think she could tell from my face that I didn't want to give her anything else, and more asking would get her nowhere, so she then said, "You are a good person. You come from a poor family but you will end up rich! Thank you so much and give whatever you can to other gypsies when you see them in memory of your gypsy granny!"

We'll see how well my future plans work out, and then I'll think about giving to other gypsies in your memory, Mamie Tsigane.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Tout schuss!

Today Jube and I went to Isola 2000 for the day. We skied, we ate tartiflette, and we got back home tired and cold. But it was a fun day.

Sorry that I don't have any anecdotes--oh, well, I kind of have one. Jube has his own (amazing) skis, as pictured above, whereas I have to rent all the equipment. I wear a pretty small size shoe (35/36 in France, 5/6 in the US), but I am a normal sized person. I explained to the staff that I have small feet but fat legs, and they told me "it's supposed to be really tight." They gave me boots in size 36--but they cut off the circulation to my toes! I had to switch them about 15 minutes later.

I improved a bit and Jube was nice and waited for me at the bottom of hard parts to help me up when I fell.

And that was our day of skiing!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

I like cheese

We are going to attempt a day of skiing again tomorrow. We'll see how it works out . . .

Because we're heading to the mountains tomorrow, we went out yesterday afternoon to buy mittens and gloves, and also to inflate the tires of our car to the correct pressure. We left the house around 4:30pm and got back at 7:45pm. When we checked the messages, we realized that we'd received two from one of Jube's coworkers. "I knew we shouldn't have gone out so late!" he stormed, "now we missed the invitation and I have to call her back!"

Why is that such a problem? you may be thinking (that's what I was thinking, anyway!). Well, Jube didn't want to tell her that we had purposely gone to the store and hadn't waited around at home for her call to invite us to dinner. (In fact, she'd invited him yesterday, but hadn't specified whether it was a dinner or just an ap
éritif or the time it started.) What's more, we hadn't even bought any wine! Luckily the phone call was just fine, and although we were the last to arrive, it was still within the realms of socially accepted lateness. Even better, they live right next to the Carrefour in town, so we were able to swing by and grab some wine (red and muscat) before we got to their house.

The evening was very relaxed and fun. We ate shrimp and mayonnaise as the first course, which our hostess had bought at Carrefour. I'm still a bit surprised every time I have to pull the big ugly head off of a shrimp in order to eat it, but they were definitely tasty. Then we started in on the main course, chicken and potatoes. Our hostess announced to us that she never cooks, and we were definitely eating Carrefour roasted chicken with frozen potatoes. She told us a funny story about how she had told her boyfriend to go grab some potatoes, and he came back with real ones. She yelled at him and he had to run to the frozen foods section to bring back some just au'four potatoes from McCain. Then we had salad and cheese, and I managed to amaze the entire table by admitting that yes, I am American, and yes, I like fromage fort (stinky cheese). Afterwards we had dessert, coffee, and tea, and we all hung around at the table talking until 1:15am. Then Jube and I went home because we had originally planned to go skiing today--but we decided that waking up at 7:00am was not a good idea.

Today we went into town around noon and ate lunch at "the only authentic Japanese restaurant in Nice." It was delicious! I think we will definitely go back again. Tonight is going to be more relaxed, and we'll go to bed early to be out on the slopes by 9:00am tomorrow. Hopefully I'll have some gorgeous photos of the Alps to share, but until then, wish us luck that there is no Rally!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

So Soon?

Warning: Jube will not like this post . . .

. . . because it is about farts! (Before he came to America, he had never heard a girl fart. Too bad for him that he found an American girl to bring back to France!)

Ahem. Back to the story.

My dad once told me that it is only a matter of age before our farts become uncontrollable. He is a teacher, and he dreads The Day. The Day that he lets one rip in front of the class. When he's not in class, he farts as much as he wants.

Today was The Day for me. I think I managed to cover it pretty well, though. I didn't blush, I didn't laugh . . . I pretended like I had heard nothing.

Although I think that they knew it was me anyway . . .