Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Dr. B, Lucy and I boarded the train early Monday afternoon at the Gare
de l'Est, on our way to visit R and P in Saarbrücken, Germany. This
followed an eventful trip through the metro with Lucy, who was not
happy about having to wear a muzzle (I was dripping with sweat by the
time we actually go on the train, from having to physically stop her
from ripping it from her head with her front paws.)

Happily, the train to Germany was not full, so Dr. B was able to move
to another seat to give us room for Lucy. The people on the car were
all smiling at her, and she calmed down soon and stopped trying to
take the muzzle off. The train trip was smooth and comfortable
(except for when another train would pass and nearly give me heart
failure; my seat faced backward so I never saw them coming.) I knit
the whole way, but ended up frogging the whole thing because I messed
up my pattern. (Oh well, it kept me busy.) [Frogging=ripping it out, unraveling it] We changed in Metz,
France, (saving 40 euros instead of taking a direct train), and were
met by R at the station platform.

R and P are very happy in Saarbrücken, which is a lovely little town
of 300,000. They both work as orchestral musicians, and Saarbrücken is
half way between their respective orchestras. The forested hills and
steep roofed houses are beautiful, and right now I am enjoying
watching the snow gently fall and cover the rooftops and trees. R has
lived in Essen, Kaiserslautern, and now here during the 8 years she
has lived in Germany. She says that this area is very different from
up north--the people are more relaxed and friendly, and she really
likes it.

Lucy loves it here. Not only do they have GRASS (she was very excited
about this), but their apartment is big and very luxurious (I think we
could fit our Paris apartment in here 3 times), and they have huge
windows and a terrace where Lucy can walk out and sit and watch it
snow. She is so happy and relaxed here--she must think we moved back
to Wisconsin!

We spent yesterday seeing the Saarbrücken sights, and doing some
shopping (I got some wool clogs known as "house shoes" for in our
apartment), and today are relaxing, as R is in Kaiserslautern working
(she has several rehearsals). P is here today, but said the roads
were terrible last night returning from rehearsal in Metz. OK, so we
stay here. To just sit and relax--it is a nice vacation!

Interesting note about shopping--found out why everything is so
expensive in France. I guess I didn't realize it, but the TVA (value
added tax) really drives up the price. Lotion that would cost me 11
euros in France was 4.50 here, and the same for many other products.
The 14 euros contact solution, here in Germany, costs 5. R promised
another trip to the store before we leave!!! We heard many French
voices around us--the french in the area must drive to Germany to
shop, and save a lot of money!

However, when people address me in German, I don't quite know what to
do--I end up answering in French! So far, all I can say in German is,
"Danke", "Ich spreche kein deutsche" and "Tchus!" (Thank you, I speak
no German, Bye!!!) If you compare it to my vast knowledge of Spanish
("Donde esta el bano","Pulpo" and "Una cerveza, por favor" which means
"where is the bathroom", "Octopus" and "one beer, please"), I am doing
OK, I guess. A lot better than my Italian, where all I can do is give
music terms. I don't think "Grow gradually louder and then slow down"
will get me very far, unfortunately.


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy Christmas Eve!

We've had a busy few days, which I may tell you about later, though we have a busy week planned, so I might not. But, we've had some visitors--one of Jeff's professors from undergrad, his wife and family, were in Paris for Christmas. We met them for a day touring some museums (Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages, Institut du Monde Arabe: Exhibition on Mathematics in the Arab World, and Jeff went to Musée d'Orsay) on Thursday, then I met a french friend for a long talk and saw the Grands Magasins (with their amazing lights displays). Turns out I pushed myself too hard, and spent Friday sick in bed.

But, today, Christmas Eve, my big plans were for cleaning, reading, knitting and eating. Nope! Dex and family called early and we met for a day touring Versailles Chateau. This was the chateau where the three kings before the French Revolution lived, in high style.

I could spend hours telling you about it, but here are a few shots to show you where we've been. Here's us in front of the grand chateau of Louis XIV, XV and XVI.

Here's a shot of the restored Hall of Mirrors. (Half was still being restored.)

And here I am in front of a famous portrait of Marie Antoinette by Elisabeth Vigée-LeBrun, her dear friend. This was in her little house at the back of the chateau--I guess she didn't like so much fanciness, and preferred her little, intimate home. It was beautiful. (I preferred it, too!)

Now we're ready to tuck into homemade onion soup, shrimp and a cheese platter (I went wild with 6 cheeses), fruit and mini bûches de noël for dessert. Then a present, then to bed. Tomorrow, we'll attack the huge pile sent by our families (Thanks, everyone!) Monday morning, we are off to Germany.

Today was a great day, and one we will always remember. What a Christmas!!!


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Busy Holiday Season in Paris

The past few days have been crazy here, much as I am sure they are for you where you are. Though, of course, I am dealing with Parisian Crazy, which has its own flavor, for sure! I will give you the nutshell version.

Since Friday, I have been dealing with:

A 3-day migraine (argh.) Thank heavens there is medication, or I would have been utterly miserable.

Harry Potter 5 (done for the second time--partly read aloud to me by Dr. B, during the migraine.)

Soaking up the sights around St. Germain-des-Prés (went inside that church, too) where there were Christmas booths selling all sorts of things, street performers, and this cool dude making incredibly beautiful flowers out of vegetables and a sharp knife. He used beet juice to tip the white roses red.

I walked down the Rue de Rennes (the other side this time), and to Le Bon Marché. (Saw people in Chanel. I can't imagine paying 2000 euros for a handbag, can you? I think I'd rather have a cheaper one, and give the money to someone who needed it. Unless, of course, I could get it for 20 bucks. Then I might want one.)

This is one of the window displays, done especially for the kids at Christmas. There is a little wood structure for the short ones to stand on in front. All the characters move, attached with fishing line to little motors. This one shows the animals and "people" playing instruments (and yes, there was a little conductor, too! Far left corner, I think. I believe he was a 6 inch high moose.)

Bought some really wonderful tea in a fabulous tea shop.

Knit a hat. It's cute! Not posting a picture yet, because it's a gift. Because my friend had a baby!!! Welcome, Felix!

Made a Gingerbread House with my girls. OK, assembled and decorated, close enough. Just the fun stuff, left the hard part (the baking/cutting/sizing) to the people at Anna's of Sweden.

Got a cold. Blech. Makes it hard to sleep. Thus the Harry Potter.

Gave my girls a gift of yarn with the promise I'd knit them each a scarf. Turns out both of them want to knit themselves. So, now I have to go get more yarn to keep myself busy. But they are having fun, and that's what is important. And they liked the yarn I chose for them.

Babysat 2 full days. (Girls got out of school after classes ended on Saturday for the holidays, but Maman and Papa work. They leave Paris on Wednesday.)

Planned a trip to visit my friend R in Saarbrücken, Germany after Christmas for 5 days. Yippee!

Finally finished my first scarf. Of course, I've made 2 others since, but didn't finish the first. It's done, and I wore it, and it works!

Our water heater went out. Dagnabit. Tomorrow morning will not be fun.

Got some Xmas cards from the US and Canada!!! Thanks to Lisa and John, Steph, Grandma B., Dad and Pam, Joni and Tim, Jeff and Shalynn, Jenn and Mark, Dee and Nate, Julie and Dan, and the Jones' Class kids at SMG! Your cards sure brighten my day! (I hang them on the wall in my teensy kitchen.) The French don't send Xmas cards; they send New Year's Cards. Sounds like a good idea to me--we're all busy enough right now!

Went to an amazing Christmas Concert at the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. Heard beautiful vocal music (accompanied by period instruments, and some was written right there in that cathedral), and at the end, the organist played the Grand Orgue (big organ). WOW!!! I always thought I didn't like organ music. I liked this a lot!!! It was absolutely glorious. Then, took a walk around the isle de la Cité with Dr. B in the crisp evening air, and there was even an accordion player serenading by the Seine. Whoa. It was practically out of a movie. Lovely!

The coming days will be exciting, a little sad (the first Christmas away from home), but filled with lots of new things to discover, good things to eat*, and of course, lots of phone calls to the US to make! I'll keep you posted, but if you're too busy to read (understandable!)--Have a great holiday!

* though likely not the traditional foie gras. Dr. B isn't a fan, and I'll eat it if it's there, but probably wouldn't go to any great lengths to get it. I believe I'll be making some meatballs. We will, however, be eating good french cheeses. (I got a whole set of cheese knives for Xmas!) And I'm up for trying the bûche de noël. Hey, it's cake--can't be bad, right? As long as it has no snails in it, we're all good.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

Friday: go to church

Friday dawned, gloomy and rainy. I was fighting a migraine, worrying about personal issues, attempting to clean the house, and dreading another trip to the grocery store, which was necessary. Called Dr. B, and he said, "we'll go out for dinner, and go to a movie tonight. Do something you want to do today. Skip the grocery store."


After a combination of 3 medications to pacify the migraine, I set off for Notre Dame de Paris. I have been wanting to go in, to look at the vitraux (stained glass windows), to enjoy the incredible high gothic architecture, and just to see how it differs from other cathedrals I've visited, in Metz (France) and Köln (Cologne, Germany.) I studied art and architecture in high school, and was quite fascinated by the whole Gothic period. I still have to visit Chartres, about an hour from Paris, which I wrote a 25-page research paper on for my HS AP European History class. But, just a few metro stops away is one of the most famous cathedrals in the world, so I hopped on Line 7, heading for Chatelet, and went to visit the church that has gone through so much in history.

As I walked in the door, I was fascinated by the beautiful metal on wood design of the massive structure. I entered, and walked through the church, taking a few minutes to look at each window, the paintings, the plaques, the stations of the cross. I didn't have as much time as I would have liked, but it still filled me with a sense of peace. After lighting a candle, and praying for loved ones (I figure, though I am not Catholic, God will listen anyway), I returned to the Acceuil desk. I had to wait a few minutes for the person to return, but when she did, I got tickets for a Concert de Noël there next Tuesday. The concert is free, but you need a ticket to hold your place. The concert will include music of Bach and some of his predecessors, Buxtehude, Schütz, and Praetorius, performed by the Maîtrise Notre-Dame de Paris, the children's choir, Youth Ensemble, and adult choir, under the direction of Nicole Corti, Sylvain Dieudonné, and Lionel Sow.

I tried to take photos inside, but it was very dark, and many didn't turn out. This is one of the famous Rose Windows, which are dedicated to the Virgin Mary. I believe this is a photo of the South Rose Window. (You can find better photos at the link above. I'd like to return on a sunnier day with my non-digital camera--then I can use manual settings and get some good shots.) The interior walls are smoky gray and black from pollution and all of the candles and incense that have been burned over the centuries. It appears that some restoration has taken place, though, as certain chapels shine with bright colors and gold leaf.

The exterior has gone through a massive restoration recently, and the formerly grey and black spires of the front of the church shine warmly, revealing their true colors. (They are still working on the sides and back.) It is quite astonishing to visit this place, knowing it was begun in 1163, and entirely built by hand. Truly a work of art, and an amazing testament to the wonderful things people can do when they work together.


Friday, December 16, 2005

La Boulangerie de la Place

I returned to our local bakery yesterday. For mini-pavés, of course. I think I am becoming addicted--yesterday was spinach and goat cheese, and lardons and reblochon. (Note: they use fresh spinach. Make sure you carry a mirror and floss.)

Those little buggers are so good, and so easy to stick in your bag for on-the-go eating. This is the kind of fast food I like. They work great in the metro, too, because they don't drip, and you can eat them one-handed, while using the other hand on a pole to make sure the conductor doesn't knock you flat against your fellow rider when he stops hard. (Some of them must do this on purpose; I guess they think it's funny that 500 people have to brace themselves every 30 seconds at their whim.)

But, the best news is that I got several smiles from the girl behind the counter, the one who grumbled the day the Russian lady made the "what's wrong with the French" crack.

Maybe she doesn't hate my very existence, or else she thinks I'm funny because I keep coming in for those lovely golden hot pockets. (They're not always just for me; I sometimes buy one for the homeless guy that is always so nice, and likes to pet Lucy when we walk by.)

Maybe I am totally projecting and she was just having a bad day that day, and yesterday was having a good day, and doesn't know me from beans.

Either way, I don't care. I like getting smiles.

I gave her a big one back.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Ne me Supersizez pas!

Last night, Dr. B and I watched a movie on the B family small screen (his laptop), after a lovely french dinner of Mogettes de Vendée (a dish of white beans, carrots, lardons, and garlic) with 2 small pieces of multigrain toast, a little cheese, and one Danish butter cookie each. We had some beer from an Abbey in the north of France to go with it--a very delicious and comforting meal for a cold, dreary winter night.

Then we put on the video.

Supersize Me.


15 minutes in I was feeling nauseous. If you haven't seen it, it's worth a rental. Basically, a very healthy guy spends one month eating only McDonald's food to see what happens to him, and he nearly kills himself in doing so. It is a documentary--not a work of fiction by a horror novelist, though it could have been.

I could go on and on about how healthy I eat, but that would just bore you. Let's just say I'm not a fry fan, and frankly would rather eat 9 cups of raw broccoli (and suffer the consequences) than one Big Mac. (In fact, I've never eaten a Big Mac. And I don't plan to. Ever.)

But this movie really got me thinking. What's going to happen when we move back to the States?

Here in France, fresh food is the least expensive thing. Though everything else is much more expensive than in the US, our grocery bills have not been out of this world, and the quality of the food is so much higher than back home. I don't have to be an obsessive label-reader, because French law prohibits the use of many of the food additives that I worked so hard to avoid. The stores are smaller, and stock smaller amounts, and therefore it is gone through more often--thus no need for lots of preservatives, added sugar, salt, and chemicals. We still find bugs on our lettuce, even when bought at the supermarket. And no one complains--it's lettuce. It grows in dirt. There are bugs in dirt. Duh?!?!

Although I am eating things I would never allow myself to eat regularly back home, like chocolate, croissants, lots of full-fat cheeses, I have not gained a pound, and all my clothes fit fine. Yes, I am walking a lot more, which does help, but here I don't have to deny myself pleasure in food. What a wonderful thing!

Wait a minute...isn't that the way it used to be?

You hear about it a lot in the media now, how American diets have changed over the years. The pressure by the food lobbyists, the pressure to succeed by the restaurants and food companies. Portion sizes are way out of control, everyone is on a diet, and we are still getting bigger and bigger. It has become a macho thing to eat mass quantites--if you can eat the 36 oz. ribeye, you win a T-shirt! (Note: these shirts come in size XL and XXL only.)

In the US, Dr. B and I often split a meal at a restaurant, because there is enough food for 2 or 3 people. Food has so much added sugar, salt, fat, and chemicals, that it keeps on your shelves, in your fridge or freezer for months. That's just scary!

I don't want food that has a shelf-life of months.

I don't want 36 oz. of meat. In one meal. (Maybe in a week?)

I don't want added colors, sugar, salt, chemicals.

I don't want powdered cheez food.

I want control of my life back!

Moving back to the US is starting to scare me--where will we find food that we can afford that is of high quality, and isn't pumped with hormones, pesticides and chemicals designed to make us want to eat more and thus spend more on cheap food that is not good for us? We aren't millionaires--we can't afford to buy organic at the store every time, and the hunt for meat that hasn't been pumped full of hormones and bred to have genetic oddities is time-consuming and very pricey.

Where will I find the time? The money? The energy?

What are we going to do?


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

La Poste and the mailing of the gifts

Well, it's a lean Christmas at the B household--post-docs don't pay extremely well, we had to move to another country and buy furniture and all the other stuff that entails, and I can't legally work as a band director here, so things are tighter than we'd prefer. But, we live in France and can eat Brillat-Savarin cheese every day, so life's not all bad.

Today, I headed to the post office to mail the few, small gifts I was sending back to the states. I was really careful to buy tiny, light things, and not much (and to forewarn the family not to expect big french surprises--cause there ain't gonna be any). The postal worker was very kind and helpful, and really made my job quite easy.

That is, until she gave me the total.

100 euros and 65 centimes.


But, I did get 3 pocket Saint Day calendars, and a red tea light holder with a candle in it, "comme cadeau".

I don't ever remember getting a gift from the US post office.

But then again, I never mailed 4 tiny packages and had it come to $120 either.


Monday, December 12, 2005

No Snow

So I'll play this game.


Snowball Fight!!!


I love Bob Newhart, but that little bugger is hard to hit.


Stinky Fridge 2

Attack of the stinky cheese man has happened again in our fridge. I am not so sure which is the culprit this time, though it could be the ancient Morbier. However, they seem to taste so much better when they get stinkier, that I don't have the courage to throw them out.

Thus, last night, I thought I'd really come up with a great idea.

I took out a used yogurt cup, washed it carefully, dried it and added a tablespoon of ground coffee.

'Perfect!' I thought. 'The coffee will absorb the odors, and smell like good coffee. How could I be wrong?'

Well, I am, once again.

Now our fridge smells like old coffee grounds AND poopy cheese. Kind of a mélange of dirty diaper and exploding kitchen garbage can.


Note***= If anyone feels the need to send a care package our way, please include about 10 plain (non-self-lighting) charcoal briquettes. I am afraid that is all that will work, and unfortunately, I have no access to them here in Paris.


Had a cheese course with dinner tonight. Found out the Sognier Chevre that was so un-chevre-y was the reason the fridge stank. It also had ripened to the point of being weirdly peppery and tasting just kind of awful. Into the poubelle it went, along with an emmental that tasted like rubberall. But, the vielle comté was delish, and the Brillat-Saverin once again did not disappoint. Creamy and light and tangy (just slight)--this cheese is Super Fantastic!

Oh, and I've found that charcoal works much better than bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) as a fridge deoderizer. 2 or 3 Briquettes in a coffee mug at the back--change maybe once a year, and no stink. Dr. B can explain the chemistry, but I really just care that the fridge is fresh.


You know what the problem with the French is?

Spent the weekend much in hibernation--knitting, reading Harry Potter 4 and 5 (again and again), drinking tea, working on my new (hopefully) template and graphics, eating chocolate, and taking lots of naps. I guess sometimes you just need that.

But, needless to say, we do need to eat. So, on Saturday during a particularly long walk with Lucy, I stopped in our neighborhood bakery on my way home to pick up some mini-Pavés for lunch. The bakery, right on the Place d'Italie, has recently been bought by a young group of people, and they are making changes. The bread is better (yay!) and they have started making these lovely mini-pavés--basically a bread roll stuffed with fillings and baked. I love the feta and red pepper, and the lardons and gruyère--plus the banana chocolate one is to die for. The best part is that they are only 1 euro each, and 2 makes a very filling lunch.

I stopped in to get some for me and Dr. B, and since this is one of the few bakeries that doesn't force Lucy to stay outside (the square footage inside is room for barely 5 people in line), I was trying to keep quiet so no one would notice her taking up 1.5 person's floor space. There is usually a line out the door for these lovely little french version (of course, better tasting) of Hot Pockets.

The lady in front of me seemed to be having a little trouble. She was looking at the signs for the various offerings, many of which were askew or in front of the wrong thing, and looked very confused.

She asked, in a very heavy (Russian???) accent, "Do you speak Eeeengleesh?"

The girl behind the counter said, "Non."

I piped up, "I do!" and proceeded to help tell her what was in each of the pavés she pointed to. I loved the idea of being helpful--for once my french skills were actually needed! She made her choices, and as she was pulling 2 euros out of her purse, said loudly and clearly for everyone to hear,

"You know what the problem with the French is? They don't speak Eeeengleeesh."


I wished really, really hard that I could blend into the display case, or sink into the floor, or Apparate, --anything, to get out of there.

I tried to shoot the girl behind the counter a sympathetic look. No dice. The slightly less grumpy looks I had been getting from her lately had vanished. My guess is she speaks enough English to know exactly what that woman said, and enough to be quite insulted by it.

I was desperate to let everyone know that I didn't share this woman's opinion, that I was learning French as well as I could, and that I loved France very, very much! That I appreciate the differences between cultures! That I am not a stereotype! That I don't think the entire world should learn my language, while I sit back and don't make any attempt whatsoever to learn another!

Of course, I was just buying a few things to eat, so it was a little hard to work into the conversation.

I ordered, very clearly and in FRENCH, my 4 different mini-pavés, said "Merci" a LOT, paid, and Lucy and I walked home.

So, anyone got the whole apparating thing down? I think I'll need a new wand...


Friday, December 09, 2005

So, why are you here?

At our KNOTs meeting earlier this week, the group discussed who reads our KNOTs blog (if anyone), why, and the same about our own personal blogs. I know someone is reading this, because I've watched the counter rise from a few hundred to over 5,000, and I've received notes from people I've never personally met.

Got me thinking. Am I interesting? Or is it more like a car accident--you just can't help but look? Or maybe I am just so darn lame and absurd that it's fun to read--kind of like watching American Idol? I don't know--but I wanna.

So, if it's not too personal, why are you here? How did you find me (if you don't know me personally) and why do you return?

(I'll assume it's not for that absolutely devastating photo in the upper left-hand corner. Narf!)

Oh, and thanks for keeping it G-rated. :) There still are some of my students lurking out there!



One learns, very quickly, that to survive on the Métro you have to, well, sort of put your worst foot forward.

If you look happy, pleasant, or even neutral, you will get stared at, glared at, and sometimes accosted.

If you look like you are angry at the world and one wrong look in your general direction may unleash a firestorm of fury, people leave you alone.

So, in order to survive, I have adopted the "don't mess with me" look whenever riding the train. (This is the same look that works with cranky cashiers.)

I learned, from my own mistake, that you never smile. Someone who sees you do it may assume you are laughing at them.

They are French. This is what they think when they see a smile. As absurd as it seems to us, that's the way it is.

One day, early in September, I nearly got my fingers pinched in the door as they shut. I smiled, thinking 'you idiot, Ronica. Wake up and smell the coffee.'

The man near me glared at me until the next stop, assuming I was laughing at him. I didn't yet know how to say, "I'm not smiling at you. Get over yourself! It's not all about you, Mr. Metro-riding-weird-furry-hat-when-it's-hot-out-what-the-heck-are-you-thinking-anyway-you-must-have-a-sweaty-head!" So, I suffered his glare until enough people got out and I could turn away.

That's why yesterday was so, well, I guess there is only one way to put it. Bizarre.

Maybe it's the Christmas spirit. Maybe I just got lucky. Maybe my guardian angel was watching over me and prodding others to respond in a way that seems so very un-Parisian.

I got smiles from two different people, on two different metro lines, at two different times of the day. I'll call this a record. And they weren't those creepy, weird smiles that make you feel like you need a shower. They were real, honest-to-goodness warm, kind smiles.

And how? How you say? How in the world did I succeed where so many others have failed?

Two words.

Penguin Socks.

I think I am really starting to like it here.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Lights, Crabby...Action!

Wednesday: had just enough time to run to grab groceries before catching the metro to the Louvre area to pick up the girls from their sculpture class. I decided to run through Tati one more time, just to see.

And lo and behold--new stock! Including Xmas lights! White ones, without any pink at all! I was stoked. Grabbed a set of 20 sort of large bulb ones (kind of like big pearls) for 3.50 euro. Then I picked up a box of snowman ones just to see what they were.

Wrong move.

Seems they "haven't been coded yet." And "you can't have those!!!" And "don't touch them!!!!"


New lesson learned--go to the store before 11 AM, find really, really crabby sales people who haven't yet had their coffee and croissant and are taking it out on YOU whether you like it or not.

Then I stood in line for about 15 minutes because there weren't enough cashiers, and returning a 1 euro item is like the biggest process in the world, requiring 2 managers and a lot of discussion. Argh.

Finally made it through, and sprinted to Champion to grab yogurt, ham, bread, cheese, soap, toothpaste--the essentials. Plus a 9 euro miniscule tube of moisturizer that should last me about 3 days. Sigh.

But, as I was heading toward the front, I felt pretty pleased that I found a short line. Got my purchases ready, while waiting for the lady ahead of me.

Oh. Now I know why this is the shortest line.

The cashier needed a bath, for one, had drawn on her eyebrows and her lip liner with the same black pencil, and was also a little short on the coffee and croissant. She snapped at the lady ahead of me, TWICE, for not giving her 3 euros in change to make it easier to change her cash. Because I guess counting was out of the question at 11:12 AM.

Oh no, I thought.

I only have a 50 to pay.

(I was shaking in my comfy flats at this point.)

So, as she rang up my items, I threw them in my cloth sack as fast as lightening, so I could make a quick escape when she yelled at me for not having change.


After taking a deep, steadying breath, I pulled out my 50 with an air of false confidence, handed it to her, and looked her point blank in the eye with my patented "don't even think of messing with a Norwegian North Dakotan" look.

She quickly made change, handed me my receipt, and wished me a good day.

Maybe I can't out-french the french, but NOBODY messes with me before noon.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

French Vet

Well, we finally broke down. After several late phone calls to our vet in Madison (who ROCKS, by the way) to find allergy meds at the pharmacy that we could give to Lucy, we made an appointment with a french vet.

You see, Lucy had been having a little "issue"--and I mean that in both senses of the word. Pretty common for older dogs who had been spayed several years ago, as she was in early 2000. She was quite embarrassed about it, and would clean up--even going so far as to lick the pavement in front of our apartment building while we waited for her to be done. Poor baby. It wasn't getting better, so I called a vet that is near us, on the rue Cinq Diamants (5 diamonds) in the 13th.

His receptionist set me at ease right away, telling me that this was very normal. When I gave her my name (with the warning "It's an American name"), she switched into English and reassured me again that it was not a grave situation.

So, Monday bright and early (much to my dismay), we prepared to walk the couple blocks over. The doctor came to greet us in the waiting room, and I am convinced that this is the friendliest person I have met in France. If Docteur Serkine wasn't speaking french, and if he had a beard and cowboy boots on, he could have been Dr. Karlburg from Madison. Phew. I breathed easy.

We went in, he did a quick exam, and took out the medications we'd need to give her. After giving her a quick shot in the rump, he showed me a syringe-like object and explained that I'd have to give this to her every day.


I asked, "where, exactly? In the rump?"

He burst out into laughter, and assured me, "no, this one is oral. Just squirt it in her mouth or in her food."

Double phew.

We are to return in a month to assess her progress. All in all--quite painless! I was amazed at how nice, friendly, kind, etc. the doctor was. Somehow, I picked one out of thin air who is a good one--thank heavens!

I asked Dr. B, "so how come the vet here is super nice, but the 'customer service' people are often jerks?" (This was in reference to a Darty Customer Service Representative who, over the phone, managed to insult me quite effortlessly a few weeks before. He asked if there was anyone here that spoke French. I should have asked if there was anyone there who was intelligent enough to explain the problem simply, rather than using slang and lots of technical jargon. But of course, at the time, I had no idea how to react, and just stammered, "No, it's just me and the dog." He didn't offer to switch to English, I might add, or try to explain anything with simpler words, and just let me keep sinking deeper into the hole of not understanding what the heck I was supposed to do with the washing machine. I am sure he feels like Mr. Big Super Smart Darty Man, too. Gahh!)

Dr. B said, "Well, he's an animal person. Animal people are always nice."

Oh, yeah. Good point.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Sapin de Noël

We had a very busy weekend, here at the S-B Parisian hideaway. Started by seeking out a Julbazar for some Scandinavian goodies, and ended with a migraine, unfortunately. In between were 2 viewings of Harry Potter 4 at the Grand Écran (including an interesting incident with a french man who wasn't a fan of chair-saving and knew some nasty English words for the chair saver). The movie was enjoyable, and made even more so by attending the second time with a great bunch of friends.

Prior to this, we hit the 2005 Winter Salon Saveurs, where hundreds of french farmers, cheese makers, wine makers, spice sellers, tea makers, chocolatiers, bakers, foie gras goose neck stuffers, cow raisers, sheep herders, goat ranchers, ostrich handlers, chicken... you get the idea. Hundreds (maybe thousands) of booths, lots of samples, and a few (OK a lot) of purchases.

It was wonderful, but also overwhelming--I don't think I got a chance to spend more than 30 seconds at each stand I saw, and I know I saw less than half. In a way, I preferred the Salon Fermier, as I felt I knew more about each one due to having time to talk, and there were fewer so I could actually take the time to compare.

Nonetheless, a great time was had by all, and we are now owners of lovely Burgundy wine, a bottle of delicious champagne (I believe we will be taking this to Saarbrücken with us after Xmas), 2 kinds of Floc de Gascogne, a bag of Fleur de Sel, and some very temptin white chocolate with pistachios. No cheese this time, but there will be another I am sure. Besides, I am busy digging into my stash of Morbier, Brillat-Saverin (no galoshes, promise), and Sognier Chevre (that really tastes more like a Camembert to me--very un-chevre-y.)

We had planned to attend the Sing-Along Messiah at the American Cathedral, but migraines don't stop for anyone (save Captain Vicodin and his sidekick Super Amerge!), so a quiet night in was necessary. Planned a mild meal (anything else makes me quite naseous during an attack) and was pleasantly surprised by the wonderful flavor of the Roseval potatoes Dr. B boiled up. Served with sweet butter and crème fraiche, and topped with some salt and freshly ground pepper, they were divine. I had "dessert" as my Mom would have said. (That was her code for a second helping of spuds.) Tender, juicy chicken breasts (how do they get their poultry so good--is it the lack of weird hormones in the feed, or what?), plus a salad of mache (lamb's ear lettuce) with vinaigrette--perfect, and I ate every bite.

Today was devoted to cleaning the apartment and buying our first french sapin de noël. That is the word for pine tree, so this is our Christmas Tree. It's a bit petite (barely waist high when not on a chair, actually), but comes in a pot so it can be watered and replanted. I wanted a tree I could water, which meant I had a choice between a potted tree, or a cut one with no tree stand, as tree stands are very hard to find here. I just don't understand the other french christmas trees that I've seen around--they are stuck into a cut log, so they can't be watered. O Dead brown tree, o dead brown tree, how crispy are thy branches...

With help from P (one of the girls I babysit) I got it home from the local florist on the corner, without losing either the tree or the dog. The florist was very nice, his shop was beautiful and smelled incredible, and I loved the picture he had framed and hanging near the caisse (check out desk) of him and his wife--their heads only over two identical flower pots. He wrapped our tree up carefully in paper and after warning me that it was "très lourd" (very heavy), set it gently in my arms. P took Lucy's leash, with the promise to stay close in case another dog came near (P, at the age of 8, weighs less than the dog, and frankly, I have trouble holding on to Lucy sometimes.) Lucky for both of us, Lucy behaved herself admirably, and we made it home intact.

Anyway, it's a bit Charlie Brown, but it is cute and a good size for an apartment that is the size our bedroom was in Wisconsin. I have some ornaments from IKEA, (and our Badman ornaments are on their way from Grand Forks) and we decorated it tonight after supper. Of course, that took all of three songs from the Holiday playlist on the computer, but you know, it did get us somewhat in the spirit. Unfortunately, I did not heed my own warnings (figuring it was only a teeny tree--how could I have an allergic reaction in the 2 minutes it takes to decorate?) Wrong. Itchy hands, crap.

But, my sojourn to search for lights failed, so if anyone knows where I can get white or multicolored (NOT pink or blue--that's not Christmas, that's Barbie) lights for cheap in Paris, please let me know. I don't consider 19 euros cheap, and frankly we don't need that many. It's a pretty dinky tree. But I would like some twinkle, so if you have a lead, let me know. (And I've already checked the local Tati--blue and pink--what's with that?)

Oh, and we decided to try to take a picture of ourselves while doing it. As you can see, we had varying levels of success. At least we had fun!

Ho! Ho! Ho!


Friday, December 02, 2005

Jul in Paris: part one...

I've got so much to tell as I've had so much to do but as it is nearly 2 AM, I am exhausted, so it will have to be later.

But, be prepared for details of No Harry Potter, miniKnots and the Usurpers, more Louise Attaque to come, possible new French Friends, a sick dog and Gingerbread housemaking plans, and then Harry Potter et La Coupe de Feu (in English). Plus lingonberries, pepparkakor, and knackebrød, and Gløgg and meatballs as a snack, of course. And then Indian food, because who doesn't move to Paris to eat Lamb Rogan Josh? And then, there is the wine and cheese tasting. Some weird, some wonderful, all enjoyed (save for the wine bottle that had gone bad--but at least I know what that tastes like now. Like wine mixed with Deep Woods Off.)

I may regale you with tales of a cheese bathed in beer and dusted with paprika (weird but I loved it!), one with a layer of ash with the slightly scary name "Morbier" (I admit, I already had some in my fridge), and a divine favorite that I want to spread on everything. I mean everything. If you put it on rubber galoshes, I would eat them.

Plans this weekend include the Salon Saveur (more wine, cheese, and random nummies to taste!), and of course, Harry Potter again. (Because, I couldn't wait for my friends and had to go early at the Grand Écran. Shame on me!) Plus other things, and possibly another trip to get a gingerbread house kit because Dr. B wants to decorate a gingerbread house, too, and is jealous of my girls because I only bought one kit. (Can you believe I would think to assemble a candy house with an 8 and 10-year old, and not a 32-year old with a PhD???)

So, are you utterly confused? Yes, it really is 2 AM in Paris.