Saturday, May 31, 2008

Another thing I like about France

Perhaps pregnancy is mellowing me, but I’m feeling a bit more comfortable in my adopted home country lately. The springy weather also helps because I can get out more and walk about. Today I went to the market in our town. It’s something I hadn’t done in ages, partially because I often work the times they have it here, Wednesday and Saturday mornings. But with no pesky Saturday classes this week, I took my little shopping bag and headed for the cobbled streets. I didn’t stop at the cheap Asian clothes racks or discount make-up that was very likely stolen from some delivery truck. At least that’s what the TV reports say. Instead I looked around the fruit and vegetable stands. It is a visual delight with all the bright colors of in-season goodies, cherry tomatoes and strawberries, leafy lettuce and peaches. Ok, maybe it’s still early for the latter. After a tour of all the prices, I got a kilo of peaches and a little bundle of green asparagus.

There are always a few merchants who call out to potential customers with things like “Hey, avocado lovers, check out these lovelies.” Sometimes they let you taste a cherry or two to entice you into buying. It certainly is more spirited than buying under the fluorescent lights of the supermarket. The British tourists seem charmed by it, too. I heard a few English conversations about whether or not to buy a kilo of this or that. Yes, like the bakeries, the market experience is certainly one of the more charming aspects of life here.

And though it’s been a bit more overcast this week, we can feel the good season is approaching. After months of wearing those winter coats, April and May have brought out the sandals (check out my friend’s blog about this) and sundresses. People immediately seem more relaxed and we can imagine ourselves already on vacation (the French pastime) as we traipse around jacket-free. My neighbors have been eating on their little terrace in the evening. No doubt summery dishes like tuna and rice and tomatoes and vinaigrette. And I’ve been lucky enough to have strawberries for dessert a few times courtesy my husband’s greenhouse (he picked the ones off the unsold plants).

I guess it’s part of what they call the “French quality of life.” Whether that compensates for poor job prospects and dismal winters, I’m not so sure. But I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Mother’s Day and Cheese

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day and something of a turning point in the spring season for my husband’s family. In the greenhouse business, it is “the” big spring holiday, after which sales start to slow down a bit. Only a few more weeks of them being open every day including Sunday afternoon! That will mean some welcome rest for my husband and his parents. And me, though I can never pretend to work nearly as hard as them, especially this year being in the motherly way. But I did have to get up at a quarter to six last Sunday to accompany my husband to the greenhouse.

By 7:15 we were making interior plant compositions and having dead serious conversations about what size or type of bow to add. His mom got tired of listening to the political talk on the radio and turned it to what must have been the all-polka station. Hubby and I exchanged stifled giggles since this music reminds us of going to a restaurant in Alsace (a French region near Germany) where they serve sauerkraut and sausages (choucroûte). Anyway, he and his dad really get into making these compositions, and they’re quite good at it. It’s funny to see them bent over their work and calling out like doctors during surgery- butterfly! bird! leaf shine! to no one in particular. Well, at least a few of the things I made sold, so I must not be such a bad designer myself.

There was a steady stream of clients until 12:30 and some stragglers who interrupted our lunch at 1:15. Unfortunately my husband was taking care of a client when it was time for the cheese course. I mentioned briefly before how France is a complicated country to be pregnant in. And I was mostly thinking of the cheese.

How I envy American expecting moms who don’t have to worry about unpasteurized cheese crossing their paths every Sunday. Though my husband has told his parents I must avoid this type of cheese, they’re only human and forget to check the labels. Which leaves me in the embarrassing position of having to timidly ask belle-maman what kind of cheese it is. Which might cause her to make a little face which probably means- silly daughter-in-law and her pickiness! This time I just ate what was on the plate and hoped for the best. But when I was cleaning up I saw the label in the kitchen “au lait cru”, the very kind I must avoid. You see, there’s a higher risk of coming in contact with Listeria bacteria from this type of cheese, which could cause serious problems for a baby. So on this, my expecting-Mother’s day, I felt like a really bad mom. I wanted to call my OB/GYN and confess. Since then people have told me not to worry too much, but I must work up my courage for next Sunday and be a bit stronger about it anyway. Or get my husband to do the asking…

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Video now operational!

Check it out below (May 24th entry). Guess it took time to process.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Well, the video didn't seem to work. Will try again later!

Amazing Kitty

Hey, I'm gonna try and post a video (of not so great picture quality, but smaller file size) of Chat-chat playing fetch. He sort of learned to do it himself. He's obsessed with black twistie ties (we've tried with white and it's just not the same). He'll carry them around in his mouth like they're his prey and set them in our slippers or at our feet. Not sure how it happened but I must have thrown it one day and he fetched it and brought it back. Ok, it's not quite the same as with a dog, but I'm proud! Enjoy.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Out of the mouths of French people

I’ve just got to rant a bit. Like I said at the beginning, that’s part of why I’m blogging. You may think that French people are enlightened and intellectual (and go around wearing berets in smoky cafés), but I’ve heard some things that really shock me. That make me think, hey, isn’t this the country of human rights, as they so like to say? Of liberty, equality and brotherhood? You wouldn’t think it by some of the comments these seemingly rational people make. Most of them I can’t even fully type here because they’re so ignorant and plain mean. Plus I’m afraid it would get my blog flagged by the FBI by some weird keyword search. But I’ll give you an idea of what I’ve heard.

Unfortunately there are some folks who think if you aren’t white and French that you’re basically in France to mooch off the system, come from some uncivilized country where they kill kittens for breakfast and insert your own insult here! Of course, this means you will not be referred to as a person from X country but all sorts of racist terms. Now, as I’ve said before, I’m no saint, and I can succumb to stereotypes, too. But I try to keep an open mind. And I think using these racial terms is just making things worse. Because you’re not treating these people as such but more like animals. And I really want to shout at the folks who are making these comments that they probably haven’t met enough people from these countries or ethnic backgrounds to even have a real knowledge of them or form a real opinion.

But I have a feeling it would fall on deaf ears. My little heartfelt speech would probably go like this: Well, now, you know, you really need to meet people to know them. And treat them as individuals. The stereotypes aren’t always true. There are some French folks who aren’t trustworthy, and there are some non-French folks who would give you the shirt off your back. It really all depends…

But I’m coming to see that people are hard to change. Especially French people who (excuse me for saying so) seem to be particularly stubborn about their opinions. And it’s pretty ironic ‘cause recently while talking about the US elections with my students, I said that Obama was a mixed-race man. They raised their eyebrows because “race” has a bad connotation in French. Here it’s used to refer to different animal breeds and thus sounds like something a certain German dictator would say. Never mind that I later found English articles on the Internet that used this very same term, so I know I’m not making it up.

Well, I guess I’ll keep carrying on my little meek battle to show these (ok, just certain) French folks the light. Can’t we all just get along?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Spring has sprung!

I’ve been waxing poetic in my head these past few weeks soaking up all the spring sensations. We've been having gorgeous blue-sky days where it's actually hot! A few weekends ago we went to a local forest where there were thousands of wild hyacinths in bloom. A lavender blue carpet that in fact reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of the lavender fields in Provence. And as I drive to work I get glimpses of bright yellow, almost fluorescent fields of oil seed rape plants (what they use to make canola oil). That along with the newfound lush green on the trees, and it’s a delight for the eyes.

The greenhouse has come alive too with all those spring flowers like marigolds and geraniums. The hubby's working seven days a week and sometimes spends 4 hours a day just watering. I've made my window boxes and now just have to keep them alive. Chat-chat’s enjoying himself on the occasional trips to the balcony (I keep an eye on him though). He seems to sleep a little better having gotten some “outside” time. I can't say the same for us since our apartment faces south and we have no a/c!

So I forgot to write on May 1st, which was Labor Day in France and most of Europe. It’s the day people offer a few flowers of lily-of-the-valley to each other for good luck. Since it involves flowers, you can guess that the husband and I had to get up early (6:15) on this national day off so we could eat breakfast, etc. and drive to the greenhouse to help wrap up flowers. I've included a picture so you can get your own dose of good luck.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Joyeux Anniversaire

So I turned 34 last week. My husband picked up on those heavy hints I'd been laying and got me this strawberry and chantilly cream cake. Never mind that I did have to remind him that my birthday was Friday and not Saturday.

Anyway, as I was telling my soul sister Mar-Mar who has the same birthday as me, we’re still on the “good” side of 35. And now even 35 still has a rather dynamic feel to it. Like when they talk about some young entrepreneur on TV, head of his or her company at 35. Granted, this is not my case. Far from it. I’m more like, 34 piddling around in a job that pays the bills and is not even close to my college degree. And really not sure how to turn things around in this country where people are generally happy (or at least counting themselves lucky) when they make 1000 euros a month for life.

Besides that it is a turning point year for me with the impending arrival (cross fingers, knock on wood, pray that all goes well) of baby. And I wonder if I’m really mature enough to be a mom, considering I still sleep with a stuffed animal myself. Or that my husband often encourages me in a nearly father-like tone to finish my plate and remarks that I eat my dessert more easily than my meat. Sometimes I practice being mom-like around the house. I say, “Baby (as in future toddler), now we can’t eat Nutella everyday, so don’t start crying.” The husband and I at least agree on this one crucial parenting point: we don’t want our child always eating sugary, fatty things for breakfast.

Another part of me is proud of my youthful-ness and wants to hang on to it. Like trying to listen to the “young” radio stations from time-to-time, or as long as I can stand it. Sometimes I discover new stuff and pat myself on the back for staying “in touch.” Other times I say things like my own mom does, along the lines of, what’s that CRAP? before quickly turning the channel.
I can’t deny that there is a widening gap between me and the average high schooler. I’m losing touch with their slang and start to turn my nose up at their fashions. Or I say cliché things like, gee, what are we going to do about that new generation? They’re just not serious/disciplined/motivated enough.

And I do have moments when I’m proud of my “old” memories, like a song that takes me back to childhood. I was recently belting out the lyrics to a Steve Miller Band song in the car and saying, that really was good music. I can just see myself inflicting old Justin Timberlake tunes on my child as she rolls her eyes at her mom’s retro taste. Serves me right for doing the same to my mom when she put on Joni Mitchell.

I guess I’ll hang on to 34 and try to enjoy it. It sounds better than the big 4-0.