Monthly Archives: September 2010

Le fabuleux destin d’Emily…

Voila my just-for-laughs attempt to introduce myself — and my parents — a la Amelie Poulain! (The movie is a must-see for any Francophile…) To mes amis francais: be gentle with your critiques, please! 😉

Le 23 février 1987 à 23h34 et quarante huit secondes, à une distance de 51,4 kiloparsecs de la Terre, la lumière de la première supernova visible à l’œil nu depuis 1604 est arrivée sur Terre.  A la même seconde, dans une ferme à Louisville, un poulain est né dans l’écurie froide, sans que personne ne s’en aperçoive.  Au même instant, à Paris, les ingénieurs de GIE Transmanche Construction se lèvent pour terminer les plans préliminaires du tunnel sous la Manche. Huit mois plus tard, me voilà, Emily Lauren, neuf jours après le crash boursier qui se produisit à New York.

Mon père, originaire de Californie, est parti pour le Kentucky après avoir fait son droit en se spécialisent en droit équin.  Joel T n’aime pas jeter ses anciens uniformes mités d’aviron.  Il n’aime pas sourire et montrer ses mauvaises dents ; boire du café avec trop de crème. Joel T aime lire des bouquins bouleversants, faire briller des poêles en fonte avec soin, porter ses habits de fermier pendant tout le week-end.

Ma mère, hôtesse de l’air et originaire de Californie, est partie pour le Kentucky après être tombée amoureuse d’un avocat pour chevaux.  Mary T n’aime pas le bar gras de la cuisine, les passagers ivres en vol, avoir rendez vous chez le coiffeur. Mary T aime se mettre à genoux dans les églises Catholiques, gribouiller des têtes de cheval sur des serviettes en papier, vider les petits placards, bien les nettoyer, et tout ranger, enfin.

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Filed under Laugh it off, Writing

[I spy, you spy] A Spy on the Terrace

2:30 in the afternoon, Chatillon-sur-Seine.  I sit with my back to the dining room table,  coffee in one hand and petit bouquin in the other.  Light pours in through the open French doors.  I scoot my chair a little closer to the balcony, resting my feet just outside the door.  Caddy-corner to the apartment, diners at the Bistrot du Potier see only my legs on the balcony today…I’m not sure whether this is a relief or a disappointment to them.

Ever since I arrived I have been drawing attention from this vantage point. I am the crazy American girl who soaks up the rays indiscreetly while talking on the phone — Mon Dieu! In English! and can be seen, equally indiscreetly, taking pictures of the sunset from the other side of the terrace…or sometimes even heard, when after a long run Dr. Dre accompanies my crunches.

Le Bistrot du Petit Potier, from the balcony

Or maybe I flatter myself.  Does anyone at the Potier even notice that I am here, with half of my body on one side of the door jambs and the rest outside, en plein air?  A scruffy man in an army green military cap crosses his tattooed arms outside the door of the bar.  I’ve seen him there before, exchanging a few words with the proprietaire while on his break from work, I suppose.  A black-haired woman in her fifties (I guess) brings him a Fisher Doreleï from Alsace, the bar’s premium beer on tap. Probably the owner’s wife, she too has been around every time I’ve sat outside this door.

Yes, I am the one who knows their faces, and not the other way around.  Will you forgive a Kentucky girl’s egocentric thirst to see…and be seen?  This is the first time I’ve ever lived (temporarily) in an apartment with a wrap-around balcony that reaches toward the very center of a little town’s life.  This is the first time I have had the opportunity to open these French doors and be seen — in all my eccentricity.

There I go again.

I open my book and squint as my sun-filled eyes adjust to the words on the page. My legs are hot now, even beginning to shimmer in the Indian summer’s heat.  Three pages later — in the middle of  “Louis” and “Madame la bienfaitrice’s”  reunion after nine years’ separation — I hear an “au revoir” and “bon apres-midi” from the Potier. The scruffy man crosses the street, without even glancing my way.

On the other side of the apartment: another picture taken out the window. L'Eglise St. Vorles

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Filed under Chatillon-sur-Seine, Cool Characters, Laugh it off

How to use empty wine bottles…and other ideas

After finishing this 2007 bottle of Burgundy Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, we made it a vase for roses.  That’s one bottle with a fine “bouquet!”

Two ways to use wood to keep warm: burn it…or stack it!

How to use a basket-full of prunes: make une tarte.

How to catch a stellar sunset without a tripod: Speed over the ridge (yelling “faster, faster, faster!”), stop at a fork in the road, set the timer for 2 seconds, lean against the car, and snap.

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Filed under Chatillon-sur-Seine, Photography, Wine

The funny thing about French grocery stores

Intermarche declares 1600 stores Anti-Expensive Life zones

To all my fellow adventurers who are living in a foreign country and getting around and starting to conquer the language and feeling pretty smug as you walk out of your flats and into the street, jingling the keys to your foreign apartment just in case any tourists are passing: this post is for you.  If you ever feel that you might be getting a little too smug too fast, I have found the cure, and it’s name is Intermarché.

This afternoon I walked out the door with a recipe in mind, euros in my wallet, and a grocery list in my (Longchamp = French) bag.  It was a great day, even if a little chilly, and I had a real spring in my step for no reason in particular.  As I crossed over the Seine a high school aged girl sitting on the other side of the bridge waved at a passing camion, then glanced my way. When we heard the “beep beep” of the truck driver we smiled at each other: success.  I thought for a moment of my brother and I trying to get passing trucks to honk on the highway, pumping our arms up and down like crazy for five seconds and then wait…wait…beep! beep! Success!  Some things don’t change, no matter what country you’re in…at any rate, there was a certain satisfaction in the bond this girl and I shared, if only for the moment on the bridge.  She didn’t know I’m American. We didn’t exchange a word.  But we shared a smile and the simple pleasure of her successful sign language with the truck driver. It made me kind of proud.

But I tell you what.  Just as soon as you start feeling proud, you better walk right down the street to the Intermarché.

And that’s just what I did.  (Well, I was going there anyway, wasn’t I?)  I walked right through those sliding glass doors like a true French woman.

Then, I promptly made it 100% obvious how foreign I am.

I got through most of my list with no problems. I’ve been shopping in France before.  But you know what? I have never bought sugar in France.  I know this with positive certainty because I would never, ever look for sugar where they put sugar in French supermarkets.  So, when I came to it on my list, I went right where an American would go: to the baking aisle.  I saw flour, I saw chocolate, I saw pudding.  I did not see sugar. Oh well, I thought after two minutes of staring at the flour, wondering if maybe a bag of sugar was hidden there. I’ll come back later. So I did.  I finished picking up the other things on my list and I returned to the same aisle.  Guess what? Still no sugar.

I circled the aisle, hoping the sugar stock had overflowed to another side. Nope. Do they not bake with sugar in France? Impossible. Maybe it’s in the foreign food aisle. Yes, I even checked there. It was nowhere to be found among the soy sauce and miso soup.  Oh! I know! It’s with the cookies! (How stupid that I didn’t think of that before!) But it wasn’t there either.

I circled. And circled again.  I started not only to recognize the same products, but also the same faces.  In my confusion, I was passing the same people over and over again, but I was so frustrated I couldn’t even register embarrassment. Finally, I grew desperate.  I spotted a nice looking woman and watched her head from the spice aisle to the baking aisle…and I followed her.  I gave the aisle one last glance-over, so as not to make it entirely obvious I had stalked the woman from the other aisle.  Then I scrunched my eyebrows and caught the woman’s attention and I pleaded.

“Madame, est-ce que vous savez où se trouve le sucre, s’il vous plait?”

Bien sûr.” (Why did she have to begin with “of course”? As if everyone knows where the sugar is.) “Juste là-bas, à côté des œufs.”

Just over there? Beside the eggs?

I can’t even remember if in my surprise I said merci.  The one place I hadn’t looked was the refrigerated section of the store.  (Can you blame me?) But, just as the woman said, right by the eggs was the sugar. I went over, snatched it up, and left the store completely aware of my Americanism.


Un oeuf

Le sucre

They say you learn something new every day.  Today I learned that in France, eggs and sugar go together — as Forest Gump would say —  like peas and carrots.

A pea and a carrot

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Filed under Chatillon-sur-Seine, Laugh it off, Recipes/Cooking

Luxury Flat in Dijon:13m² and the whole city is mine

Ca y est! The home-sweet-home story ends happily ever after.  Or maybe it would be more appropriate to say it begins.

Le Bel Immeuble

Squirming in the wicker chair outside Comptoir des Colonies yesterday afternoon, I can barely finish one tiny shot of espresso — the price I paid to sit here for five minutes. I glance nervously at my watch, then return to distracting myself, keeping an eye on the passersby as they effortlessly negotiate the cobble-stoned passage in their heels and boots.   The pixie-haired lady at the table next to me lights her cigarette.  She’s squawking, quite animatedly, about her latest visit to the hospital. “Je me fais toujours mal,” she exclaims to her friend across the tiny round table.  I’m always hurting myself. Another glance at my watch. I finish the espresso, down two sips of water, and hop, c’est parti! Rendez-vous in front of the brasserie down the street.

Hurry up and wait.  Two minutes after 2:30 and every man who comes around the corner could be Monsieur P.  A young man in a business suit, its skinny-fit slacks cropped at the ankle, looks like he’s heading my way.  But he hurries by, favoring one leg.  Maybe  he works in a bank — one of the only industries I know requires a suit around here.  A heavy set man comes around the corner.  I’m sure he is looking at me, so I smile — my “French smile,”  subtle and sans teeth, so as not to look too excited.  (My smiles are often misunderstood as flirtation in this country.)  He passes too, his eyes set on someone else.  The next man I peg as Monsieur P is tall and tattooed, a straw fedora on his head.  This time I wait to smile, and as he gets closer I hope it is not him.  Too badass to be a landlord.

When Monsieur P arrives I am looking the other way, of course.  It is not until he is close enough to reach out and shake my hand that I see him coming on his shiny black bike — the Harley of city bikes.  “Vous etes Emily?” he offers, his tone intentionally gentle and unassuming. I extend my hand and my American smile makes its entrance, unannounced.  “Oui, Monsieur. Enchantee.”

I follow him behind the brasserie to a shabby door — the back entrance, he assures me.  A moment of doubt passes as my eyes adjust to the darkness just inside the door.  We are standing in the giant spiral stairwell of one of the old Dijon mansions, its cold stone no match for the beautiful details on the banisters and walls.  “Un bel immeuble,” says Monsieur — a beautiful building — “avec que des vieux, grands, apartements” Big, old, apartments — except, he laughs, this little studio.  We make our way up one spiral, taking into account what a waste of space — in theory — such a huge staircase is.

At the door my breath catches. After all the advertisements and all the “the apartment is already rented”s, my hopes are high. But in as little as one minute I know I might be back to square one, and with a sigh be on my way…again. Monsieur P doesn’t leave much time for suspense. He opens the door and voila! I am bombarded with light.  Even before my eyes readjust I am happily checking this off the list. Lumineux? Check!

In thirty seconds I have taken in the entirety of the room. Another thirty and I can’t hold back my grin.  Monsieur covers all the bases, explaining and pointing and selling.  I’m sold.  You know that feeling when something that at first seems good transforms — almost instantaneously — into great, and then awesome, and then extraordinary?  No matter that it’s a tiny studio apartment I could never do jumping jacks in.  As I look around my mind fires with thousands of ideas.  I see myself making dinner at the cute kitchenette…washing my face in the miniature sink…falling asleep to the sounds of Centre Ville outside my (three!) windows.

Monsieur is still answering all the questions I’m not thinking to ask.  It’s a very quiet building he says.  Doctor’s office on the first floor, a nice old man on one side of the studio and “une dame d’au moins cent-cinquante ans” — a 150 year old woman — on the other.  I laugh.  “May I just have a little time to consider it?” I ask.  (I had told Nico I’d wait to talk to him before I committed.) “Take the time you need,” replies the monsieur. “I just have to leave for work on Friday.”

“I’ll call you tonight,” I say.


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Filed under Cool Characters, Dijon, Home

Rebel with a cause: Photography 101 en France

Boulevard Diderot, Paris, 1968 -- Henri Cartier-Bresson

The French photographer and father of modern photojournalism Henri Cartier-Bresson said that “photography is only intuition, a perpetual interrogation – everything except a stage set.”  Although here in France it seems that everything is already perfectly staged just as it is, he makes a point I think many people take for granted.  Photography is so much more than just snapping a photo to capture a moment.  To me, it is more about feeling the moment, and really considering how best I can reproduce — with one click — the collage of emotions the moment contains.

I’m an amateur photographer, don’t get me wrong.  I look at professional photos with more than just awe.  I’m filled also with passion and desire and a little envy.

This summer, with my point-and-shoot finally on its way out, I knew I had to come to France equipped with something that would only encourage my passion and desire (and alleviate some of my envy!) for great photos.  With a little help from David Lebovitz — celebrated pastry chef and self-taught food photographer, and a lot of help from Nico, I decided on the Canon Rebel T1i.

David’s right: the Rebel is awesome because it is relatively compact and light, but its features are extensive.  (And it’s going to take me a while to figure them all out…)  It’s a great camera, and last weekend, when Nico’s family was all together and the weather was perfect, I took some of my favorite photos that I’ve ever shot.  The best ones are the candids, as Cartier-Bresson would have preferred: based on my own intuition.

Here are just a few!

Jules

Louise

Caroline

Satine and her foal

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Filed under Inspiration, Photography