Monthly Archives: January 2011

If the remaining 11 months are like January’s been, 2011’s going to be a durn good year

My first tartelette. Success. Except that I forgot to butter the mold and so we had to scrape out the oatmeal crust. (I know, rookie mistake.)

I cursed the rain as I walked home from the boys’ house tonight. I cursed it because I had a warm raspberry crumble from Veronique in one hand and my umbrella in the other and because the purse in the crook of my arm was making the hand that was holding the crumble feel like it might fall off.

Then I remembered that this rain was supposed to be snow and that I could be walking home through feet of it after the onslaught we got today.  Rain is better than snow to a girl who’s convinced that February should be the beginning of Spring.

Besides, I had a warm raspberry crumble in my hand.  Nothing to complain about when someone makes you a crumble without you expecting it.

I got home and ate it right before dinner, yes I did.

This little episode is a good metaphor, if you will, for the month of personal re-training, if you will, that began with New Year’s 2011.  Every time my mind has wandered toward something negative, I’ve been trying to catch it and divert my thoughts before they become dangerous. Sometimes I pity those who see my sudden changes in perspective.  The people I passed on my way home once I started singing in the rain, for example. 

I tell you what, this month has been peachy.  I don’t remember a single bad day.  Perhaps certain people (coughNicolascough) can remember a few cranky moments, but for the most part I think I’ve been doing swell.  And, I’m pretty sure this is the most faithful I’ve ever been to New Year’s resolutions, which could be considered pathetic, but I’m being positive, so I’ll say it’s fantastic.

Just for kicks, here are some more things from January that I’m thrilled about:
(Skip to the bottom if you can’t handle the optimism.)

  • Getting published.  If I could have a running resolution it would be to publish something each January. It was the most motivating event for the beginning of my year.
  • Saying sorry less.  The official “resolution” was to “have fewer reasons to say sorry to those I love.”  Stop. Breathe. Keep that sassy mouth shut. This is my mantra. It works.
  • Running.  My friend Val and I are officially training for the March 2011 Nuits St. Georges  Half-Marathon.  We’re not ashamed to admit we signed up because it entails running through the vineyards and tasting wine at the checkpoints.
  • Laughter. Nicolas and I saw my favorite French comedian Florence Foresti live.  It was one of my favorite things I’ve done all year!
  • Making new friends. When we were driving home from Christmas at Froidvent, I remember telling Nico that I wish I had more French girlfriends in Dijon.  I have so many wonderful American friends here, but sometimes I wonder if I could “fit in” with the French girls. Well, the first week of January I started giving English lessons to Marie-Cecile, who’s my age.  We go out for coffee each time we meet and basically just chat it up more than anything else.  I’m so glad I’m getting to know her.
  • Reading. I’ve made a conscious effort to spend less time online and more time with books.  My current craze being Barbara Kingsolver, I’ve moved from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to The Poisonwood Bible, a fascinating story about a missionary family in the Congo in the ’60’s.  As funny as it is poignant, this one is another recommendation from Kate — ten years later, I’m taking her up on it!
  • Plans. My parents are coming at the end of February, and we are going to go south for some sun.  Another friend, Kevin, is coming in May, and then I’ll be home for a few months for the summer, at which point Kate and I have decided to take a road trip. Destination to be determined. I don’t remember a time when I had so many specific dates to look forward to!
  • Cooking. I’m a machine. Check out that tartelette.

I hope you’ll forgive my uncharacteristic post, but I just had to share my most recent realization: If all the other months shape up to be like January, 2011 is going to be a durn good year.

I hope it is for you too!

 

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Filed under Adventure, Dijon, Gratitude, Home, Inspiration, No Excuses, Travel, Unconventional Wisdom, Writing

To Gamble with a Frenchman (Part II)

We stopped at Cafe des Ducs for lunch on the terrace with our friend Nina and I dismissed the challenge in favor of food.  Plus, if Nico had been at my side the whole morning, I reasoned, there was no way he could have bought something without me seeing.  At least we were going to fail my challenge together.

Nina had us talking about all kinds of fun things, from embarrassing American language gaffes (“J’aime manger des beets! instead of “des betteraves“) to some funny literal translations (“that walks” for “ca marche”).  We laughed all through lunch, even when I accidentally elbowed the water pitcher, which shattered into mille pieces on the terrace.

The waiter came over and tut-tutted me for having broken something on the first day nice enough to eat outside.  “It was bound to happen,” he said with an eye roll that might be called good-natured.  “Je suis desolee,” I said, smiling sheepishly and hoping for some sympathy.  “I really like those pitchers!”

This last comment was not just a suck-up remark.  The pitchers at Cafe des Ducs really are cute, each one sporting a tongue-in-cheek advertisement for Dijon’s tap water — “water from a controlled source,” it reads, “distributed to your sink since 1840.”

The waiter rushed to pick up the pieces from around my feet.  From my vantage point over his shoulder I could see him shaking his head.  “She broke my pitcher and en plus she’s Americaine,” I imagined him saying to himself. But as he got up, he gave me a wink just before shuffling off.  The French sense of humor, like a good baguette, is hard and crusty on the outside, soft and airy on the inside.

By four o’ clock neither of us had mentioned the challenge of the day and I was beginning to wonder if Nico had forgotten.  We were tired of making appraisals, after having successfully located two of the major items on our lists: boots for me at San Marina — two pairs left in my size, so worth the risk to wait — and a nice wool coat for Nico at a boutique on Rue du Bourg, also not the last on the rack.  We were turning for home when he said, “I haven’t caught you buying anything.”

Quick. Act cool.

“That’s the point. Not to catch me.”

“I don’t think you’ve bought anything.”

“How can you be sure?”

“I was with you the whole time.”

I smiled one of those no-teeth, smug looking smiles that says, I know something you don’t know, even though I didn’t.  “We shall see. The day isn’t over yet.”

Indeed.  What was I going to do?!  If he was teasing me, did it mean he had something for me?  Had he already won the challenge?

“So, on to IKEA?” he asked.

As my Grandma Sharon would say, thank the Lord for small favors! I had forgotten we had to pick up some stuff for Nico’s apartment while he was in town! Hallelujah, I could surely grab something at IKEA, hide it in my purse, then pay for it in a separate line and voila, success!

And that, my friends, is exactly what I did.

When we got back to my apartment, I grabbed some leftover Christmas tissue paper, threw the brand new garlic press inside, then, when Nicolas wasn’t looking, scribbled a note and left it on the table:

“I WON!” it read, “And now you are going to have garlic breath!”(We had been avoiding using garlic at his apartment because we didn’t want to hand mince it and smell it on our fingertips for days to come.)

When he saw the tissue on the table, he smiled.  Unwrapping the 4 euro 50 centime  press, he congratulated me with a “bien joué.”

“But you didn’t win,” he said.  Now he was the one with an I know something you don’t know smile.  He unzipped his backpack and paused for effect.

Reaching inside, he pulled out a pitcher with the “Eau de Dijon” insignia.

“You didn’t!” I said in disbelief.

“The waiter gave it to me,” he said.  “When you went to the ladies room, I asked him where they came from, and he gave me one, for free.”  I laughed as I grabbed the pitcher out of his hand.

Attention!” Nicolas said.  “He told me they don’t make unbreakable ones.”

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To Gamble with a Frenchman (Part I)

I was down on my knees scrubbing my shower on Friday morning when  I heard the tiniest bell ring from my bedside.  It was a text from Nico bearing the simple phrase, “Challenge accepted.”  I squirmed a little, delighted he had received my invitation on time.  Putting down the phone, I got back to work, but I was already ailleurs.

Every year after Christmas the French celebrate a month-long holiday dedicated to shopping.  It’s called Les Soldes and it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that it is as much a part of their tradition as any bona fide holiday, except that (shocking though it may be)  they don’t get any time off work to celebrate it. Mind you, this fete is not to be confused with what Americans would simply call “after-Christmas sales.”  Au contraire, it is one celebration in which the French out-do even the Americans in terms of extravagance.  Everything — everything — is on sale, down to the shoelaces on the feet of the poor salespeople.

It’s also sort of a game, this French holiday.  A gamble, I should say.  During the first week of Les Soldes products are marked down between 25 and 45 percent.  But every true Frenchie knows that this is not the week to buy. Oh no, this is the week to peruse the merchandise.  If the whole town is up for auction, this week everyone is an appraiser, taking to the streets en masse to assign values. During Les Soldes everyone knows that only tourists would pay such exorbitant sums as 75 percent of the original price .  The risk, of course, is that there will be an inundation of said pesky tourists, which means that it’s a gamble to wait for next week’s markdown.  Will the beautiful double-breasted wool coat with shoulder epaulettes and faux-fur trim still be around to be marked down to 65 percent off, or will it be on it’s way to the states in the suitcase of an American woman who will brag to her friends that she got this fabulous coat at (a measly) 25 percent off?  I would be willing to bet that between 75 and 90 percent of French “appraisers” would take the risk.

And this is how it goes, markdown after markdown until the stores are empty of their winter stock and there is plenty of room for all the bright new, full-priced Spring stuff.

On Saturday, Nicolas arrived bright and early to begin scouting out the best finds.  I was giddy with excitement, not so much for Les Soldes but for the challenge I had sent my beau by mail two days before.  On a brightly collaged homemade postcard I had proposed the invitation to

Accept this challenge, with its rules:
This Saturday, as we explore the sales, we both must find and acquire something that costs less than six euros and will have meaning to the other. We must be physically together, but the purchase must be made without the other’s knowledge. Exchange of loot at the end of the day. Good luck.

Easier said than done.  By noon my giddiness had worn off and I was beginning to wonder if Nico was strategically staying glued to my side to make it harder for me to fulfill my end of the bargain.  I envisioned myself pulling the old, “look! a bird!” number and grabbing whatever knick-knack sat between me and the cashier, but of course I realized that that was just ridiculous.

What to do? To be continued…tomorrow.

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“I’ll…look beauty in the eyes and feed my soul”

…I lose my friends and go back up to the mass
it’s All-Saints day all the benches are full
but a man sees me and makes room, so i decide to sit.
Everybody’s listening to the priest’s psalms,
with their palms to the sky,
a young woman clasps her hands hard to feel the qualms
of faith
but her phone rings and she reaches in panic in her Longchamp bag
to turn it off…

Am I the only one who understands?
Dim lights cast shadows on the faces of the chic twenty-somethings gathered around a young artist with dark glasses.  Dijon’s “bobo’s” I have heard them labeled — my generation’s bourgeois bohemians, with their designer brands and purposefully messy coifs.  Nonchalantly they sip their beers and stare tenaciously at the artist, whose lips move so quickly that even I have trouble making out some of the words, though they are the sons of my mother-tongue.

It’s not his accent, since it is scarcely noticeable.  This francais has spent a good amount of time in America, the obvious muse for much of his poetry.  But he reads at a surprising pace, with musical accompaniment that at times overwhelms the power of his voice so that all I can make out are the frenetic chords and the movement of his lips.

Still, what I can hear above the sound are words about the bustle of New York, his struggle with a lack of faith (“As they all follow and recite /the rosary in my head /is tangled and intertwined”) and his nurtured empathy for the world-views of those with “English-speaking eyes.”

(image from H*P on Facebook)

It is ten o’ clock on Friday night and Hotel Particulier is tightly packed with the French followers of Anthony Moriarty, the skinny, tatooed artist who reads his poetry in English with a slight southern accent.  (“I lived in South Carolina for two years,” he tells me after the show.)  As I look around at the faces in the room, a sort of smug feeling descends upon me. I can make out the words they struggle to hear. I can understand the similes and metaphors, I can hear the alliteration. And I can confirm or deny his perspective of America. I’ve been there. I was born there.  Am I the only one who understands?

“It’s not about that,” Anthony says when I swim through the crowd to congratulate him, in French and English, later that night.  “It’s not about understanding all the words; it’s about understanding the universal meaning, which is facilitated by the music,” he clarifies. “It’s poesie progressive.”

“Yes, but I enjoyed the words,” I say.

“Thank you, but it’s less about the words and more about the sounds.”

Ah.

I never have completely understood the progressives, the bourgeois bohemes among my peers. As I watch the crowd begin to disperse and Anthony shuffles away to sell CDs of his poesie progressive, I laugh a little to myself.  The smug feeling has lifted with the revelation that — yet again — what I thought I saw, wasn’t. I understood the words, but had I understood the music? Had the meaning that the French bobos — waiting in line to buy the CD — had found been lost on me?

Am I the only one who hasn’t understood so much after all?

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Do beets turn your pee purple? And other organic questions about French food

 

A picture from fall, when there were more colors than gray...

For dinner I just ate two scrambled eggs with half the cholesterol and exponentially more vitamin E, beta-carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids than the eggs you ate for breakfast, unless of course you ate two organic eggs so fresh you had to pluck a feather from the carton along with your oval bits of nutritional heaven, like I did.

I only paid something like 60 more centimes for the label with the fermier sticker and the phrase elevee en plein air referring to the lucky free-range chickens that produced these jewels.

But! as someone who last year would have called herself (politically incorrect though it is) “poor” and this year is choosing the more cheery “temporarily-obligated-to-be-super-hyper-economical,” I have to admit I stood  before the eggs and told myself, “maybe it would be just as good if I bought the regular free-range, non-organic, forty centimes cheaper than the organic ones but still a little more expensive than those that came from poor, abused, cooped-up chickens.”  Maybe I could compromise?

Not this year.  This year, I am buying organic chicken and organic eggs until the day I can’t afford them, and then, if I must, I will go without.

Also, since I am living in maybe the sole country on earth whose majority still demands (as in they will strike, so don’t tempt them) fresh, local foods and cherishes planning meals according to the seasons, I have been paying a whole lot more attention to buying local.

Monday I went to Intermarche with a recipe that called for Bosc pears.  My mouth was watering at the memory of these sweet, crisp fruits with their distinctly thick, russet skin.  In my happy anticipation, I didn’t even consider the idea that they could be  Belgian immigrants here in a French supermarket.  When I saw the traitorous sign above their pretty brown heads, my mind wandered to the many forms of transportation that were possibly involved in their journey from Belgium to Dijon.  Planes, trains, and automobiles! They weren’t even immigrants, they were hostages, stolen from their country before they were ripe, forcibly waxed to preserve their viability, and thrown into tight quarters for the voyage before being exploited by French cooks and recipe-holding American ex-pats!  With a sigh, I chose instead their French neighbors, shiny redheads that looked like they may have been the illegitimate daughters of the French Braeburn apples I had just bagged up.

I will also have you know that I have not bought a single mealy, orange, out-of-season tomato this winter.  Which means I have not eaten a single fresh tomato (I said “fresh,” which naturally excludes tomato sauce, which I have had quite a bit of) since the season ended, which furthermore means that I am already counting the days ’til August.

To make up for the lack of tomatoes in my salads, I have added the perfectly in-season betterave, direct from France.  This sugary purple root is so much fun to eat, possibly because it turns everything purple, including, I’ve heard, your pee, if you eat enough.  I have been trying to distinguish just how many “enough” might be, but it hasn’t happened to me yet, and Google searches produce only limited suggestions based on height, weight, and so forth.

I’m only kidding, of course.  About the Google part.

I always knew when I came to France I would have my own place and cook for myself.  That’s the main reason I didn’t want to go back and live with my dear host mother, Josette again.  I had basically had free-rein in her house, so independence wasn’t an issue, but the reins tightened up quickly in the kitchen, where Josette was the only one cracking the whip.  (This is typical of French mothers, is it not?)

Moving on.  I have my own place. I cook for myself.  I’ve always been a health nut, but thanks to my  birthday book from Kate — Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle — I have been inspired by an American to adopt more French habits.  I may not speak exactly like they do, but I can give them a run for their money when it comes to eating fresh. My eggs are nutritional powerhouses.  My market lettuce can’t be spared the occasional worm.  My [chicken] breasts aren’t as artificial as Pam Anderson’s.  My pears aren’t tanned Belgium beach bums.

They’re redheads.  And they are wonderful.

 

 

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Filed under Dijon, Food, Just for laughs, No Excuses, Recipes/Cooking

Forget translation, it’s already lost in prə-ˌnən(t)-sē-ˈā-shən.

Bonne annee 2011! As my third New Year’s celebration en France ends — with my toes three feet from a crackling fire and the idea of returning to school tomorrow marinating with slightly forced positive thoughts (New Year! New Year!) — I am at a loss for words.

Really.  What can I say about the past two weeks that would even begin to characterize the mélange of action and pure, unadulterated gluttony typical of this time of year?

Tu travailles?” asks Francoise,  looking up from her library book and eying the computer on my lap. “You’re working?”

Non, j’ecris,” I respond.  “I’m writing.”

But then I feel the need to clarify.  “J’essaie d’ecrire…mais je n’ai rien dans la tete.” She laughs a little, and I realize that maybe I meant to say “je n’ai rien en tete,” that maybe the latter is closer to “I can’t think of anything” and the former — what I said — means “There’s nothing in my head,”  i.e. a brain.  In any case, I’m not really sure and I know she knows what I meant, which is why she didn’t correct me.  I let it slide.

That’s what you have to learn to do when you live in a foreign country anyway.  Let it slide.

Anyone who knows me even just a little would laugh to think of me “letting it slide.”  They know I’m more “crazy like a fool” than I am “Daddy Cool.”  But, among other things, la France has taught me that as long as I want to communicate on a semi-comprehensible level with others, I have to let my pride, and sometimes my dignity, slide a little.

Just this afternoon, Nicolas and I took a walk up the hill to say goodbye and bonne annee to Geoffroy’s family before they all went their separate ways (alas, la fin des vacances, even in France).  After ten minutes of harmless (for me) chatter, we turned to leave and Geoffroy saw us to the door.  “Salut Emily,” he said, extending his cheek for la bise. I pinched the arm of his red and white striped pullover, and sang, “Salut mon petit sucre d’orgue!” What I meant to say, and would have, if I would have pronounced it correctly, was “Bye, my little candy cane.”  It came out instead as, “goodbye my little sugar organ!”  Translate that as you will.

On that same walk, as we reapproached the house named for the valley’s typical “cold wind,” I was quick to forget my own pronunciation hurdles in favor of teasing Nicolas about his.  In English, he had pronounced a double ‘s’ as if it were a ‘th.’  Launching into my best lispy French, I taunted him with a question. “Tu as un cheveu sur la langue,” I wanted to say. (“You have a hair on your tongue?”)  But in my occupation with the lisp, I replaced the “cheveu” with “cheville” and said, “you have an ankle on your tongue?!”  Nicolas exploded in laughter.  “That would be kind of difficult!” he said.

Oh, well.  And so, another year arrives with the promise of continued progress and continued opportunities for laughter.  I tip my beret to you, 2011. Here’s to letting it slide.

Thanks to cover-artist Shelley Lane Kommers for the image

By the way, my work has been published, again!

To my Louisville friends and family, pick up a (free!) copy of the beautiful Underwired magazine at Whole Foods, Kroger, Heine Brothers, or a host of other indie stores in Louisville to read an essay I wrote in celebration of LAUNCHING into the new year.  And,un grand MERCI in advance to the wonderful person who sends me a copy at my Dijon address! I’d love to see it myself, after all. 😉

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Filed under Chatillon-sur-Seine, Christmas, Just for laughs, Laugh it off, Unconventional Wisdom