Monday, July 31, 2006

End of the Calculation

Today was different. Very different. Today, I left the house wearing jeans, a shirt with sleeves (short, yes, but sleeves) and a jacket. A JACKET!

It was cool! The thermometer stuck on the outside of our window said around 70, but I think it just got stuck on the way down, because it felt more like 60. (According the, the high was 79, low was 59.) The sun came out later and it warmed up enough to take off the jacket, but it was still quite refreshing to leave the house and not be sweating before you even walk out the front door.

"Thank goodness, some relief from the calcule," said Dr. B, as we took an evening walk.

"What?" I asked. "The calcule? Oooohhhhhh, you mean the canicule! A calcule is a calculation, a canicule is a heat wave."

"Huh," he said. "No wonder I was getting weird looks at work."


Haute Dogs

Un-American as it may be, I am not a huge fan of Hot Dogs. (Hey, my Mom didn't like pizza or ice cream, so it must be genetic. I don't really like Watermelon either.) I can eat them, if there's nothing else, but I'd rather have something different. Chalk it up to the "mystery meat" factor, or to eating too many of them skewered on branches and burned black as a kid at the lake, but usually I avoid them.

When we came to France, I vowed to try everything (except horse meat) without prejudice. (OK, no tripe either.) I would not make a judgement until I had eaten at least one bite, in the traditional way, with the traditional condiments. I found that rillettes (potted meats--don't worry, they're really good and not scary at all!), paté de foie gras, paté en croute, saucisse sec--all these things were delicious! Since I don't seem to have a cholesterol problem, I enjoyed them when I could, with no guilt.

However, the hot dogs--these, I still avoided. "They're not really French," I told myself. "They don't count."

Until one day, a few months back, when I was supposed to prepare them for lunch for me and my girls. P joined me in the kitchen, and her eyes lit up when I told her we were having "Knacki" for lunch. "Ka-Nock-eeeeee!" she squealed. (Yes, they pronounce the "K". I couldn't suppress the urge to giggle during our English lesson when she labeled the fork, spoon, and KA-nife.) I asked C how to prepare them, because since they were French Hot Dogs, I knew they would be done differently. We made them together, and I dug in, determined to not let my disdain for the pink pork product show to my girls. And, surprisingly, they were quite good!

Today, I went to the store to pick up food for dinner tonight and a few other odds and ends. Since our store is doing travaux, or remodeling, things were all in new places, and some stocks were considerably diminished. I was tired after a long day of housework, errands, shopping, 2 long walks with Lucy (she farted--I had no choice--it was BAD) and moving preparations, so I figured it was high time to treat Dr. B to a lovely Hot Dog Dinner. But, being a dinner in la Belle France, we wouldn't be having them on squishy buns with pickle relish!

After sitting on the phone (on hold) with Uhaul for 20 minutes, I wasn't in a very good mood when Dr. B came home. After giving him a 5-minute power nap, I passed the phone to him and went into the kitchen to prepare our evening meal. Cucumbers had been sliced and marinated with fresh lemon juice, fruity olive oil and salt and pepper, Viennois au Chocolat were ready and waiting (Merci, Nestlé!), and the flute had been sliced and prepared (Note*= flute is bread, not metal with keys and pads.) I popped our dinner into the oven, and called Jeff to the dinner table.

"What're we havin'?" he asked. "Hot dogs?"

*CRUNCH!* (crunch crunch crunch crunch crunch)

"These are pretty good!"

So, if you are so inclined, prepare some "Haute Dogs" yourself!

    Hot Haute Dogs à la Française

    4 hot dogs (2/person), heated and sliced lengthwise (microwave or heat in boiling water)
    1 flute or baguette of crusty bread
    dijon mustard (we use Maille)
    shredded emmental cheese (swiss-type)

    Slice the flute or baguette lengthwise (like you're making a sandwich) and cut into individual lengths. Spread with mustard, and top with hot dogs (the don't roll off if you split them first.) Sprinkle with shredded cheese, and place on a cookie sheet lined with foil. Broil until cheese is melted and browned if you like, bread is crusty, and hot dog is hot! Enjoy with crunchy pickles (Maille french cornichons are awesome! Try them if you can get them where you live.)

Bon Appétit!


Saturday, July 29, 2006


Our friends Aimee and Julien recently took care of Lucy, while we took a whirlwind vacation in Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland and France. We had warned Julien that Lucy speaks English, though I've worked to teach her a few French phrases, like "Assis!", "Donne-moi la patte," and "Non!" (Well, that one is pretty easy to translate, actually.) We made sure to leave them with lots of instructions as to her signals, so they would know exactly what Lucy was telling them. She can be quite particular about what she wants.

    "When she leans on you, she wants attention. Pet her, hug her, talk to her, give her kisses on the top of the head. She's very attention-demanding. Some would call it aggressive, actually."

    "When she hops and sort of snaps at her butt, twisting and turning each way, it usually means she wants a walk, NOW. And if you don't take her, you'll become victim of an SBD that will melt your contact lenses."

    "If she looks at you, pointedly, pushes into you with her nose, and keeps turning back to walk to the kitchen, she wants a cookie. Say, 'show me' and if she doesn't take you right to the cookie box, don't give her one."

    "If her breath is bad, that means she wants fresher water. She'll stop drinking if it's not fresh enough for her. We usually change it at least twice a day, and announce, 'Fresh!' when we do. Otherwise, she won't check, and her breath will be awful."

    "If her food is in the kitchen and you're in the living room, and she goes into the kitchen, brings out a mouthful of food, drops it on the floor and looks at you pointedly, that means 'I want to eat out here. Please go get my bowl.'"

We left for our vacation, secure in the knowledge that our friends could handle taking care of our baby. When we arrived home, Aimee told us stories of misunderstandings between herself and Lucy, and we all laughed when she told us we were "tri-lingual"--speaking English, French and Dog (I like to call it Chien-ois.)

In the last few weeks, the temperature started to rise, and we all began to suffer. Lucy was shaved to the skin with a tondeuse (clipper) that we bought at Darty, which actually worked as promised. (We had no choice--we were NOT going after her again with two scissors.) We took to drinking more liquids, wearing less clothing, sitting in front of the fan, and avoiding leaving the apartment during the hot hours of the day.

I started hoarding empty water and pop bottles to fill with tap water and chill in the fridge. Dr. B and I filled our glasses regularly, drinking at least one glass every hour, if not more.

Soon, we noticed that Lucy wasn't drinking. Despite the heat, she would avoid the dish, no matter how many times we refilled it and announced, "Fresh!" She would eat 2 or 3 ice cubes that were offerred, but the water was left to sit and get stale. We began to worry.

"What if she gets too dehydrated? She's not drinking enough! She isn't panting--she might be getting brain damaged or something!"

We didn't know what to do. Our vet had always told us to offer her lots of fresh water, but we were doing that, and she still wasn't drinking. We led the dog to the water, pushed her nose in it, but still we could not make her drink.

Then, as I went into the fridge to refill my own glass, I saw Lucy watching me, a disgusted look on her furry little face.

And it dawned on me.

I emptied her bowl, and called her over. I poured some cold water from the bottle into her dish.

She looked at me as if to say, "Finally!" and lapped up every drop.

This dog is too smart for her own good. I'm considering letting her run for Congress when we get back.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Lost in Translation

Every day, I see "bad translations"--English phrases used incorrectly, and proudly worn or spouted by Parisians. "FBI- Fashion Boy Inside" on a skin-tight black t-shirt that could never be worn in the state of Wyoming, "The DJ DRIVE me CRAZY on the dance floor last night" on a sizzling teal ripped tank top in Pimkie (a store frequented by a younger set than myself), and the liberal sprinkling of "super" throughout the vocabulary of every Parisian, from age 2 to 80.

Though most of my expat-friends' husbands are very good English speakers, they often don't quite get the sense of some of our typical phrases, or the tone of voice or body language that changes the meaning, shading it in a way we just "get". In the same way they educate their own partners on the subtleties of French turn-of-phrase, we attempt to clarify some things that have never officially been explained to us, but that we all implicitly understand, having come from similar cultures.

A few nights ago, the phone rang, and since Dr. B prefers to not speak french on the phone if all possible, I raced to answer it. It was our friend Julien, the husband of Aimee. I greeted him with a cheerful, "Hi Julien! How's it going?"

"I am freaking out," he said, in a flat, sort of low grumble. He then sighed audibly, and I jumped in--desperate to know just what was happening.

"What is it? Are you OK? Is there anything wrong?"

Crazy thoughts were zipping through my mind at warp speed.

    Is Aimee OK? Is she sick? Are they at the hospital? Did something happen? Is it someone else? Maybe someone in her family... no, then it would be her calling...then someone in Julien's family? But why would he call us? I hope she's OK. She must not be, though, or she would be calling...

"I am freaking out," he repeated, exasperated.

    Oh no, something big happened, something really big. Maybe they had a fight? Oh yeah, that must be it. Oh my... did she leave him? Why would she leave him? It couldn't be that big. Or could it? I don't think she would leave him, and there haven't been any problems that I know about, but you never know what can happen. I don't think he'd do something bad, but maybe he did do something bad--but what? And wouldn't she call me first? Maybe she was so angry she rushed out without her phone?

I leaned toward the window to see if I could see Aimee coming down our street, crying, upset and needing a place to crash.

    No problem. I'll just pump up the air mattress, she can sleep here--I think the extra sheets are clean--and we'll talk about this tonight. I wonder if we drank all the iced tea? We're going to need something because this will take hours...maybe I can send Jeff to the store for some M&M's--M&M's always help. Yeah, and ice cream. Some ice cream would be good. Oh boy, what did he do? It must have been big for her to leave without her phone--she never goes anywhere without her phone-- if he was a jerk, I'll kill him! Stupid stupid stupid...he better watch out, cause I'm here for my friends, I tell you! You don't mess with MY friends, Mister Frenchie McFreaking Out! I'm gonna take care of my homegirl, just you wait, if that means kicking your french tush all the way to Germany, well I'll do it! I will! Just try me, mister--you don't wanna screw with a Norwegian when she's mad--we may look all calm and blonde, but you tick us off and we're a force to be reckoned with! Passion comes in Vanilla Flavor, too, you know!

"Can I talk to your husband?"

    Huh? He wants to talk to Jeff. Ok, he won't tell me what it is. That's bad. He must have done something, and he wants Jeff to break the news to me. Oooh, boy... or, maybe she is sick, or got hit by a bus? Or a metro? No, Aimee's not that stupid to fall in front of a metro...but why wouldn't Julien tell me himself? Does he think I really can't handle it? Am I that neurotic? Oh, my poor friend! What am I going to do? AIMMEEEEEEEE!!!!!

I passed the phone to Jeff, and went to the kitchen to pour myself a consoling glass of Caffeine-free Coca Light. I hear Jeff murmuring sounds of understanding while Julien explains what's going on. I steadied myself, placing both hands on the edge of the kitchen counter, while I waited for the news.

"Yeah, OK, I got your back. Mm-hmm. Yep. OK. First, hold down the Apple Key, and then Right Click on your touchpad button...yeah, at the same time...uh-huh..."

I am freaking out.



Monday, July 24, 2006

Champagne Wishes

Friday morning, I left Dr. B and his friend Greg to be bachelors in Paris, while I headed off with a few friends to visit our dear friend Vivi in the Champagne region of France. Vivi married a frenchman two years ago, and hadn't yet had an official celebration in France, so she had planned a BBQ for friends and family in a park in Troyes. We joined her to help with the preparations, and of course to enjoy the festivities.

The trip didn't start out promisingly, as our train was cancelled not once but twice. When we finally got on the train to head to the small village of Romilly-sur-Seine, we realized that the air conditioning was broken, and the train car was about 44,000 degrees celsius.

Though many of the french people around us weren't even sweating (we really don't understand how they can deal with this), we were all drenched in perspiration, fanning ourselves madly with the little fans we had stuck in our purses, and icing our necks with the frozen Coke bottle of water that Kathy had so thoughtfully prepared.

A group of SNCF workers came through the train, carrying tool boxes.

"We are going to see if the train car's air conditioning is broken, and if it is, we are going to open the windows!" announced the leader, while sweat ran in rivers down the back of his pressed white shirt.

"I think it's broken," I said, but they ignored me and continued on to make their diagnostics while we suppressed the urge to revisit our lunch by sucking on Regliz (anise candies) and sipping water and sodas leftover from the lunch we had eaten in one of the trains that had been supprimé (cancelled).

About twenty minutes later, they came through the car and opened the windows, which (thankfully!) dropped the temperature to only a scorching 33,000 degrees. We amused ourselves by watching the French ladies not sweat (and wondering aloud in English how the heck they do that) and giggling at the lady who fell asleep fanning herself, and would wake up every 5 seconds to continue flapping her évantail, only to fall asleep again due to the heat.

We arrived in town, and Vivi met us, after spending the waiting time in a pub drinking sirop diabolo (grenadine syrup with fizzy water) and eating ice cream. We got in her car, and as we drove through the countryside, all three Midwestern Parisiennes noticed that the land of the Champagne region looks an awful lot like the familiar rolling hills of the great plains states of Kansas (only with less trees), North Dakota (only with more trees), and Michigan (don't know about the trees.) We drove the 40 more minutes to her home, and heated up the kitchen to prepare more rice and pasta salads for the next day's party. After supper, we took a walk through the lovely little village, and turned in after heated games of Extreme Uno in which a new word was created by Steph, "Yellova!"

The next day we packed up and crammed into the car to head into Troyes for set-up at the party site. "Yellova" tablecloths, flower arrangements, tape, and napkins swirling filled the hours as we prepared for the big shindig. We hooked up the stereo, planned a drink table and a buffet, before sardining ourselves in the car again for a last-minute trip to Leclerc and McDo for lunch.

Following lunch (where I ate the Salade Recette Fromagère and a Sundae Façon Crumble Nectarine/Pèche, which you will never find on the menu at an American McDonald's), we went to Cultura (where I picked up a book on the Tour de France for Dr. B, a french movie for us, and some supplies for a gift I'm making), Leclerc (where I marvelled at the huge Hypermarché where, unlike Paris, stuff isn't super-duper expensive, they have everything, it's air-conditioned, huge, well-organized and clean), and a frozen food place for more things that we wouldn't eat because they bought way too much food. (Isn't that always the way with parties?) As we walked out, we realized we had forgotten the dragées (candies) for the wedding favors, and chose some in the lovely color of "Yellova!" from the Confiserie outside of Leclerc in the shopping center.

The party went extremely well, despite the french guests not understanding what a buffet is and setting all the tables rather than forming a neat and orderly food line like a proper Anglo Saxon would (isn't buffet a french word?), running out of serving utensils, knives and forks (if they had just done the line like we asked, there would have been enough for everyone, but nooooo...), and the absolute overabundance of food, and we spent the night talking, laughing and enjoying the wonderful company of Vivi and Steph's family and friends. (And squirting each other with an Evian Bromisateur. What a wonderful invention!)

Congratulations to V & S, on two years of marriage, moving to a new country and adopting a new way of life, and still behaving very much like newlyweds. May you have many more years of happiness and joy in the heart of the French Countryside.


Fin du Tour

Sunday afternoon, the Tour de France was due to finish in our fair city. Though we were both exhausted, we forced ourselves to wake up from an afternoon siesta and head down to the Champs Elysées to watch the athletes ride a few of their laps from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. Though this year's tour was not as well followed as some in the past, due mainly to the World Cup hooplah, it was still exciting to be there and see the end of the world's most famous cycling race.

I readied my camera each time they were set to go by, but due to the speed of the riders, the bunches of people in front of us, and the slowness of my digital camera, I only had one really good shot of the riders as they sped by. We continued to walk down the street, past water-sellers, souvenir stands and lots and lots of tourists, stopping just long enough to purchase a white Tour jersey for Dr. B to wear this fall, as he bikes to work at the University of Wisconsin. Since it was the final day, the seller included the gift of two small T-shirts for our nephews (or our nieces, if they're too small.)

Just as we came upon the end of the Champs, we saw, on the big screen TV set up for the crowd, the winner of the Tour. Floyd Landis, a rider from Pennsylvania, stood on the podium, hat in hand, while the Star Spangled Banner played over the loudspeaker. I admit, though I didn't follow the tour this year, I was very proud to hear our anthem playing, and to see a fellow countryman in such a place of honor in la belle France. Landis was raised by Mennonite parents who watched him receive his award from home. He won his very first race wearing sweat pants, because his family's religion forbids the wearing of shorts, and is known as "Cycling's Tough Guy", due to his determination. (He once finished a race riding only on the rims of his bike!) Please follow the link for more information on this persistant and dedicated individual.

After the end of the ceremony, Dr. B and I headed toward the church of La Madeleine, hoping to get a chance to go inside, since neither of us had been in it before (see my Flickr for photos). We then took the Métro to Cluny, had a bite at a Greque, and enjoyed a drink on the Terrasse of La Gentilhommière, near St. Michel, while we watched the passersby.

After a wonderful weekend we spent apart, it was nice for Dr. B and me to reconnect. We consider ourselves very lucky to be able to be together, and to live, even for such a short time, in such an interesting and vibrant city.

Nous adorons Paris!


Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Paris hit 97 degrees Fahrenheit today, or 36 degrees Celsius.

Back when we were living in the US, this was really hot, but we really didn't quite "know" what it was like. Our grandparents remember the days before air conditioning, but for us, all we had to do to escape was head to the grocery store, the mall, the movies, work, home or our car and we would be in the cool, dehumidified canned air.

Not so here.

As I've said before, France doesn't have A/C. They'll say they do, but it really isn't used until it's nearly unbearable, and the system isn't built to handle the need we have right now. Already, people have have died. Local restaurants post specials of cold soups, cold salads and cold sandwiches, because even eating something warmer than you are is unwelcome. Local laws forbid A/C units that jut out into the street or courtyard, and 300-year old buildings just don't have it in the infrastructure to accomodate central air. There is still a belief that it is unhealthy, so when it is turned on, it's not cranked up--if you are sitting completely still, drinking a cool beverage, you just maybe, if you are really, really still, you may not be sweating. That's French A/C.

We dress in the lightest clothes we have, everyone wears sandals, and carrying a water bottle is no longer considered a "faux pas". The latest fashion statement is inexpensive "éventails"--or hand-held fans, from the Quartier Chinois, in the southern 13th arrondissement. (I have 2.) Ponytails and braids are de rigeur, and even the older ladies go without stockings.

Today I spent with my girls, making our usual Wednesday lunch, taking C to the dermatologist, and sitting as still as possible reading a magazine and then a book, to avoid the heat. The lunch made me a bit sick to my stomach (I do not handle heat well), so I spent most of the afternoon drinking water and sucking anise candies to calm my tummy and for the perception of coolness when I breathed in quickly. Every little bit helps! We ate "glaces"--popsicles, for a snack, and opened the windows, hoping for just a bit of a breeze.

As I headed home, the bars on the bus felt like hot water pipes, but since it was either hold on or fall down, I had no choice. I stopped into our local Centre Commerciale, to see if I could quickly find something for a dear friend whose 2-year wedding anniversary celebration is this weekend. I am heading to Champagne with two other friends, to whoop it up in honor of Vivi and Steph, and was hoping to score some cool wedding gift-like thing on the top floor of Printemps. But, I had 10 minutes, so my chances weren't great. Nevertheless, I stood on the escalator, making my way up to the home section. The store was nearly deserted, so I was surprised when I heard someone coming up behind me.

I turned just as I was about to step off the escalator, when I realized that the guy behind me was touching my butt.

And this just goes to show how the heat is scrambling my brain.

I was more angry at him for adding body heat to my already intolerably feverish temperature, than for touching my tush.

They say it is supposed to rain in the next 24 hours.

Dear God, I hope so.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Oh-blah-di! Oh-blah-dah!

You may have been wondering about the unusual pictures popping up on my Flickr page, and where in France we could have found a new house that looks like that.

As some of you may have guessed, the truth is, it's not in France. It's in Madison. And we're moving back.

Dr. B will finish his post-doc in August, after which we head home for another post-doc at the UW. This brings a lot of mixed feelings, but we believe it is the right thing to do.

Our time in Paris has been wonderful and awful, intense, eye-opening, liberating, restrictive, fun, full of anguish, and very crazy. We've made some great friends, eaten like kings, traveled, learned to speak another language fairly well, explored new scientific frontiers (OK, not me, him) and we've loved it. Maybe not every minute, but the overall experience has been incredible.

But, life goes on, and changes happen. We knew it wasn't permanent, and Dr. B looked for the next step when we were only half-way through this one. Another year here would have been enjoyable, but also very difficult. For his career's future, Dr. B really needs to be back in the US, and we need to start climbing out of the debt that France has put us in. His position at UW-Madison is everything we could have hoped for, and we can't help but think that a certain guardian angel helped us out quite a bit on this one (Thanks, Mom.)

Thanks to wonderful friends back home, we've found and rented a beautiful house on the Isthmus. The owners have been fantastic, and are even having the place painted in beautiful colors, awaiting our return. We look forward to stretching out in our 3-bedroom house, sitting on the porch with an Arnie Palmer and a book or some knitting, and planting a garden in our fenced backyard, with Lucy by our side. Biking, meeting friends on the Terrace, great Thai food, and hikes at the dog park--if we have to return to the US, this is the ideal place for us to be.

So, the question is, where do I go from here?

This is one that doesn't have a definite answer yet, and I kind of like it that way. About 15 years ago, I had lots of choices, things I 'could' do with my life, if I wanted to. Things I knew I was good enough to do, and that I enjoyed. I chose to be a music teacher, and I don't regret it. But now, with no job to go back to, there are more options open to me, ways to expand and enhance my life, and my teaching. There are so many possibilities: a masters degree, yoga, substitute teaching, private music or French instruction, writing a book, becoming a Mom (God willing...hey guardian angel? Need some help here...)

I don't know what the future holds. But I do know that writing this blog has been so important to me this year. I've had a way to share my experience, put it down in concrete for myself and for those who'd like a peek of our lives here in Paris, and a way to find some fantastic friends I may have never found without it.

Will I keep going?

Do you want to keep reading?

I don't know right now. I hope so. If you want me to keep writing, I can, though "Mrs. B in Madison" just doesn't have quite the same ring to it. But for now, dear readers, thank you. Thank you for the support, the encouragement, the comments, and the hits. You've made me feel important at a time when I first had to step away from the identity I'd worked so hard for and chosen myself. You've made me feel worth something, when I was questioning myself and afraid and attempting to deal with a whole new world. You helped me be strong.

We have a little over a month left in France. We have our house rented, the plane tickets purchased, and we've begun to pick up some of the little souvenir items we will take home to our new life in our old hometown. Now, in the 4 weeks ahead, we will deal with selling furniture, packing and shipping our belongings, and enjoying the people and the places we will miss when we are back in Wisconsin.

And then... the next chapter begins.


Friday, July 14, 2006


July 14th is the French day to celebrate la République, kind of like our July 4th in the USA minus the red-white-and-blue clothing. This commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison (which isn't there anymore, by the way), an event that was more symbolic than anything, because most of the prisoners had been moved out by that time. But nonetheless, it was the defining point of the French Revolution, and really made a statement. Like the US, they celebrate with a big fireworks show, in a flashy display behind the Eiffel Tower.

We started our day at the home of one of Dr. B's colleagues, having a delightful BBQ lunch in their garden in St. Maur des Fossés, a banlieue (suburb) of Paris. We lunched on Salade Nicoise (my favorite!), steak, brochettes d'agneau (lamb kebabs), potatoes, cheeses and a raspberry charlotte (sort of a shortcake). Their son entertained us with his wide selection of bonbons, and their daughter delighted us with her curls, long eyelashes and her giggles. We followed the meal with a kayaking expedition on the Marne River, where I shot a few pictures (which I promise to flickr soon), some of which didn't have any oars in the shots. (Thank you, Dr. B, for your contribution. Hmpf!) It was a lovely afternoon, and after cleaning up a bit, and walking Lucy, we went to meet our friends, who were picnicking on the end of the island in the Seine, just off the Pont Neuf.

We sat down, arranging our selves as comfortably as possible on the cobblestones, and enjoyed a glass of wine, some bread, cheese, smoked trout, fruit, cookies and chocolate (the French version of hot dogs and potato chips--ha) and waited patiently for the fantastic fireworks display to begin. Katia was very excited indeed to see the fireworks, explaining that they were illegal and rare in her native Australia due to the danger of spreading wildfires. We told stories of our own fireworks extravaganzas (Lake Metigoshe Skarphol Family Fireworks Fantasmagoras), and as the hour drew nigh, popped the cork on the champagne, sipping sparingly in anticipation of the big show.

"Is that it?" "I think it's starting..." "I heard a pop, that was definitely something...""hey, the tree is kind of lighting up." "Don't worry, those are the low ones, they'll set off the mid-level and high ones, soon, I promise."

Then we saw it. The trees blocking our view of the tip of la Tour Eiffel began to glow red and green, and smoke was rising.

For about 30 seconds.

Then... nothing.




That was it.

We waited and waited. Nope. No more. Uh-uh. Not gonna happen.

We slowly made our way out, past the winos begging for a dribble from the picnickers' bottles, past the big yellow dog, past the lady with the way too low for public decency low rise jeans. (Scary! SCAAAARRRRYYY!!!) Said Au Revoir to Katia and Sylvain, as they headed for the last RER before 1 AM, and began our trek to the Line 7 Metro.

"No, there must be more. Let's just hang out here, on the Pont Neuf, and wait a bit. There must be more. There has to be."

We waited. We text-messaged. We waited some more.

...(if there were crickets in Paris, you would have heard them chirping with anguished melancholy at this point)...

Finally, at 12:10 when the twinkly lights on the Eiffel Tower extinguished, so did we. We gave up. Headed for the Metro, defeated.

Unfortunately, the "Really Big Show" just wasn't this year. We don't know what happened. Maybe we didn't wait long enough. Maybe we just couldn't see from our vantage point. Maybe the government just didn't charge enough in taxes to pay for the show. (No, couldn't have been that.)

But on the bright side, I had remembered to stick in some PopRocks. So our big Bastille Day celebration was capped off with fizzy sugary candies, sent all the way from Montana, washed down with French champagne.

Vive la France!


Headbutt Affair

Please read this.

Sometimes humor can really put a new spin on things, n'est-ce pas?


Thursday, July 13, 2006


I don't have ads on my blog, aside from some plugs for my super-talented relatives, and some links to books I like (not because I'm trying to help Amazon, just so you can read up about it if you want. I prefer the library!) But, my google mail account comes with them, though they are just little text ads and I don't even see them. Usually, I read my mail through a mail client, but that's been wonky lately, so I checked it online this evening. And what did I see?

My "spam" email box. Note the advertisement at the top. A link to a "French-Fry Spam Casserole". Now that's what I call targeted advertisement! I think they need to work a little harder on those special computer programs that create these ads. Hopefully it was meant to be ironic.



Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Cheep! Cheep! Cheep!

Everyone in France is talking about Zinédine Zidane, and "the headbutt affair"--an incident during the last game of the World Cup of Soccer (Football), in which Zidane headbutted an Italian player, effectively ending his own career. He was redcarded, and this was his last game before he retired from the sport, so he ended his career on a bit of a low note.

Although the Italian player spoke up, the French were not eager to believe his story, insisting that it must have been something "très grave", because Zidane is known for his calm approach and his rational outlook on life. Whispers of insults against his family, speculations of racial slurs, and professional lip readers all vied for attention, and the lunch tables buzzed while everyone tried to figure out just what happened.

Tonight, on French television, Zidane spoke up about the incident. Though he apologized for his behavior because of the children and adults who look up to him, he insisted that he would do the same again, because the remarks were "very, very tough" and did concern his mother and sister, despite the Italian player insisting he had not insulted them. Zidane refused to name the actual insults, saying he didn't think it was appropriate for the children of France, his own included, to know exactly what was said, but he wanted to clarify that the insults were very nasty, that they were repeated three times (he attempted to walk away, but the other player persisted), and that he hadn't made the arrogant comment attributed to him by Materazzi. He expressed a wish for an investigation, and punishment for the provoking party, Materazzi.

In addition, Zidane told of his own shock when he heard of some talk by an Italian politician, who chose this time to make more racial slurs against footballers (see IHT article, linked below). Zidane was born in France, is a French citizen, and has a French family. His own parents were immigrants from Algeria, which sparked many rumors about the possible nature of the offensive remarks. Zidane has been the target of racial slurs throughout his football career.

After watching the interview, both Dr. B and I were impressed with Zidane's professionalism, apparent honesty and maturity. Reading the summation article doesn't really capture his reaction--choosing the sound bites that are the most weighty, and downplaying his calm, thoughtful responses. We both wonder if the story is being changed, as it travels across the ocean and through the mouths of interpreters, spin doctors and talking heads. It will be interesting to find out from the home front whether or not this is an important issue, and if it sparks debate or interest in the state of affairs on the other side of the globe. Immigration issues and racism are not limited to one country, unfortunately.

(You can read an English version of the article, which has some quotations from Zidane, here. If you can understand French, please do watch the complete video. For another perspective and more history on Zidane and the issues brought up during this incident, read the International Herald Tribune article here.)


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Comme D'Habitude

Each Wednesday, throughout the year, I would prepare a 4-course meal for the kids and their music teacher, before they had their music lessons from her and English lessons from me. This may sound difficult, but it was really easy--sectioned grapefruit or melon as an entrée, Lasagne from Picard comme plat (frozen--just nuke and bake for that crispy golden crust!) served with a baguette (warmed and toasted on top of the toaster), salad with vinaigrette, and yogurt for dessert. I worked to get the timing just right on each course, to make sure I had everything out and ready when I needed it, and listened to opinions on how my diners preferred their meal. I knew who liked which brand of yogurt, who wanted sugar with it and who didn't (me!), how much coffee to prepare for after the meal, and when to push the "on" button of the cafetière.

The one thing I actually did all by myself was make the vinaigrette. I knew that P preferred balsamic vinegar (a tip from her mom), and since I did, too, I used that each time. A bit of the "good" olive oil, some salt, freshly ground pepper, and a bit of mustard--quite standard, really. In the bottom of the bowl it goes, mix it with a fork, and toss the salad. Et puis, voilà! Easy peasy.

Everyone seemed to like it, and the music teacher even took to swiping the empty bowl with her remaining bits of baguette, enjoying every last drop. One week, I accidentally added too much salt. The teacher noticed my correction, which was to add a teeny bit of sugar to cancel it out. Another week, she commented on the fact that she couldn't get her vinaigrette to taste like mine, and asked the kids to bring out all the ingredients so she could compare them.

The next week, she said it still wasn't the same, and asked to see the items again. Noticing that the pepper was "Mélange 5 Baies" (mix of 5 types of peppercorns), she thought she had the solution. Even so, the next week after that she wanted to see what type of mustard we used, because it just didn't have "le même gout" (the same taste.)

This spring, P and I were working on a food lesson in English. I had made up worksheets, and one asked her to tell me her favorite food. "I don't have a favorite food, Ronica," she said. "None?" I asked, surprised, because she is usually quite clear about what she likes and doesn't like. She loves bread that is hard and crunchy with lots of grains, she loves mustard, and prefers Actimel yogurt drink to all others. "No, no favorite."

"OK," I said, "just tell me your favorite food from lunch today."

"Salad!" she squealed, a gleam in her eyes.

The final weeks of school saw a juggle of schedules, as the music teacher had some other appointments to keep. The girls mother, Isabelle, joined us for lunch that Wednesday, and she joined me in preparing the meal. She offered to make the salad while I warmed the lasagne and sliced the melon for our first course.

At the table, the girls asked what we were having for lunch."Comme d'habitude," (Just like usual,) their mother said, noting the melon, lasagne, and bread. C asked, "But, the salad?" She looked at the bowl, a different one than I usually use, sitting on the corner of the table. "Ronica serves it after the lasagne, not together." "Oh, well, I like salad with my lasagne," her mother answered. "But, who made the vinaigrette?" C asked, with a quick glance toward her sister.

"I did," her mother answered.

"Um, what did you put in it, Maman?" C asked.

"Olive oil, red wine vinegar, a little balsamic vinegar, salt. Just basic," she answered, a bit perplexed. "Why?"

"Oh. Well, when Ronica makes le vinaigrette, it's SO GOOD!"

"Yes! Yes!" P piped up. "TROP bon!"

"She uses balsamic vinegar, olive oil, the special mustard, salt and pepper. It's absolutely delicious!" Then, with another quick sidelong look to P, she added, "but this is fine, too."

Isabelle asked me, "do you always put mustard in your vinaigrette?"

I answered that I do, partly because I like the way it emulsifies, and partly just because I like the taste.

"Well, it sounds like they like it, too!"

    Vinaigrette Comme D'Habitude
    (all measurements approximate)

    *3 T. good extra virgin olive oil (the fruity stuff is my favorite--I get mine from Olivier et Cie in Paris.)
    *1 T. balsamic vinegar
    *about a forkful of Maille Fin Gourmet mustard (this has some visible seeds, and includes a little sunflower oil. I think that's why it blends so nicely!)
    *Salt (shake over oil, when you've shaken over the whole blob, it's enough.)
    *freshly ground pepper, 5 peppercorn blend (same instructions as salt)

    Place all ingredients in the bottom of your salad bowl. Whip with fork until it is all emulsified, and the dressing is kind of like a dark brown gravy in appearance. Toss with fresh lettuce leaves.


Monday, July 10, 2006

French Dental Floss is Evil

Fil Dentaire Français: 6 euros.

What is needed to remove said floss from between my molars:

4 pieces of French floss + 1 toothpick + 1 tweezer + 1 piece of American floss (Glide is not grippy enough to dislodge this stuff) + lots of sweat and tears.

Gums: bleeding.

They should make this stuff illegal.


Le Prix: The Price

Upon arriving in France, nearly a year ago, there were a lot of things that were "new" to us. Daily life was somewhat of an obstacle course, as we adjusted to new ways of doing things, different requirements, and cultural shifts. Just heading to the store could become the stuff of nightmares, as the things we were used to didn't exist here, and the brands that the French grew up with were all brand-new and unknown to us. And of course, there are the prices. Living in Paris doesn't come cheap.

But, after a few months, we started to know what we liked and what we didn't, and what to say, and what not to say, when to go, when to avoid the stores at all costs, and where we could find better deals.

Still, shopping in France is expensive. Twice a year, the soldes offer some bargains, but for the most part, things are just generally très cher when you live in Paris. If you've ever wondered why Parisians are so concerned with designers and brand names, I have a theory. When even the cheap, made-in-China stuff is expensive, people are willing to pay a bit more for the designer item. Why not?

Anyway, we looked forward to visiting our friend R in Germany, because we knew that we could ask for one very special trip, to the drugstore.

"Ooooh! Whoopie!" you say? Yeah, that's what I would have said, this time last year. But now things are very different indeed.

We walked into the DM store, and grabbed a basket. I had carefully rationed out our remaining toiletries, so we needed just about everything. R accompanied us around the store, reading the text for us, so we wouldn't get the wrong items. Dr. B and I were like two kids in a candy store! "Did you see that? Only 3 euros!" "Whoa, honey, I can afford shampoo, conditioner AND mousse!" We quickly loaded our basket, and as we headed to the caisse, I stopped by the fun-little-trial-size baskets, choosing a little metal tin of chamomile hand cream, for only 50 centimes. I also grabbed a bottle of nail polish remover, delighted that I wouldn't have to go unpolished for the rest of the summer--the 6 to 9 euros I would have had to spend on the 100 milliliter bottle in France was a measly 79 centimes in Germany.

All told, we paid about 25 euros for shampoo and conditioner (400 ml bottles!!!), 2 packages of "not barbed wire like the French version" dental floss, toothpaste, two toothbrushes, mousse, 2 kinds of deoderant, hand cream and nail polish remover. If we could have found that size of Pantene shampoo in France (which is impossible--a bottle there is only 200 ml--about 6 and a half ounces), it would have cost about the same, without all the other items. We were in heaven!

The day before, we had met R's boyfriend P in Metz, France. P was working there, in an orchestra, while R works in one in Germany, and they live half-way in between. P shops for certain less expensive items in France (mineral water, yogurt) and R buys the others in Germany. While watching football on TV in a local Irish pub, R and I were already thinking about dinner, and what to make when we got home. She mentioned that she'd like a cucumber for the salad, and since it was 7:15, we decided to walk to the local grocery store to buy one.

We arrived at 7:25, and the store closed at 7:30. Nonetheless, the entrance gates were chained shut and blocked by shopping carts. A security guard was posted at the entrance, just in case someone decided to scale the mountain of chariots and sneak inside for a quick purchase.

"Please, monsieur, I just need a cucumber. May I come in?"


"But, it's 7:25, you close in 5 minutes, and it's just one item. Just a cucumber, that's all."

"No. We're closed. No. No! We're closed!"

R and I left the store, keeping our eyes open for an Alimentation Générale (convenience store), with no luck. We were cuke-less.

"Man, he was rude," R said as we walked back to the pub. "What a jerk. I can't believe the way he spoke to us!"

"Oh, that's normal."

"Normal? That's so rude! How can that be normal?"

"He's just being French. I'm not surprised. That's what happens in the stores. You are nice to them, and if you're lucky, they won't be totally evil back to you. But don't count on it. Logic, reason, smiling, pleading, flirting--it won't work. And if it does, go to church and put a big bill in the offering plate, because you got very, very lucky."

"Wow. It's not like that in Germany or America," R continued. "Clerks are nice to you there. It must be just in France."

"Well, he was pretty decent, actually," I said. "If it were Paris, he would have said 'Ce n'est pas possible! Pas possible! It's not possible!!!' and he would have started yelling at us. You know, because 30 seconds for one cucumber would have inconvenienced him so very much."

I guess that's part of the price you pay.


Friday, July 07, 2006

Oops. I forgot my birthday.

Or, at least my blogobirthday. But, I'll celebrate like I celebrate my own real birthday--fête-ing my birthday week, or even my birthday month.

Which is, incidentally, August

Woo hooo!!! Two month party!!!

OK, so who's bringing the cake?


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Flickr Update: 4 countries in 5 days

Originally uploaded by MrsBinParis.
I've posted new photos on my Flickr from our short vacation. Click the above photo to take you there. We visited Luxembourg, Germany, France and Switzerland, ate a lot, talked a lot, and soaked up the scenery (it's so nice to get out of the city!)

I'll have some stories, soon. Right now, I have boatloads of laundry to do.


Saturday, July 01, 2006

Allez Les Vieux!

France just beat Brazil!!!!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT!

Exciting game, though a part of me is glad I'm not in Paris tonight (I like sleeping.)

France played very well, with a tight defense and amazing stamina. Ronaldinho (the young Brazilian star) wasn't allowed to do anything except look goofy, and flash his signature smile.

Thierry Henry of France scored the only goal, aided by Zenadine Zidane. Shouts of "Zizou!" went up all over, um, my friend's apartment in Germany (though I assume this was being shouted throughout France, too) as Zidane shone in one of his last games of his career. He is retiring from playing for Real Madrid.

Though Brazil was the favorite, with younger and "better" players, France's strategy, strength, teamwork and experience paid off well, and shouts of "Allez les Bleus!"* and "Allez les Vieux!"** sounded throughout the stadium, and rang off the walls of the Saarbrücken home of my good friend B.

Once again, thank goodness I'm in Germany. We're getting up early tomorrow to head into Switzerland. Chocolate, here I come!!!

*Go Blues! (France)
**Go Old Dudes! (old men) in French, these rhyme.