Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Oh, mon dieu, signs you’ve been in France too long

Sometimes I find myself doing things that are so very… French. And I get a little scared. Example:

1. I sit down with a mountain of ironing in front of the TV because since they don’t believe in dryers here (or you’re considered rather extravagant if you do have one), my clothes are more wrinkled than if they’d gone through the permapress cycle on mom’s Whirlpool dryer. Result: loads of ironing to do and I have to schedule it in my week.

2. I say things like “oh la la” even when I’m speaking English or the sound “up” when I put something up (the “sound” equivalent of “there we are/there you go”).

3. I buy about three types of cheeses at the store in hopes of lasting a week but sometimes have to go out for more before the next trip.

4. I don’t blink an eye when I hear that some people have eight weeks of paid holidays due to the “normal” five we get here and then their extra hour bank. That’s because they officially work 35 hours a week but in fact 39 so those extra four go to holidays. For the record, I don’t have this kind of job but wish I did.

5. I eat my lettuce after the meal, not as a side salad, even when I’m alone and could do otherwise.

6. I think that once May arrives, with its three public holidays, and also June 1st this year, there’s really no point in doing anything serious. After that comes summer and everything’s pretty much closed in August.

7. I think a day when we get past 85° F is hot. That’s called autumn in Alabama (wink, wink). I still can’t think in Celsius though.

8. On Sundays I sort of dress up to take a walk (yes, it’s really silly). Ok, I generally do wear comfortable shoes, but I don’t wear sweatpants. Other Americans have written about this phenomenon, too. I’ve seen ladies in the country wearing skirts and pumps to walk around the village on a sunny Sunday.

9. I say things like, yes, this wine does go well with the cheese. And no, thanks, I’ll pass on the liver, but beef tongue’s ok. (It tastes like roast beef, if you can get past the texture.)

10. And lastly, after a recent trip to Quick, the Belgian answer to McDonald’s, I said I was actually disappointed. There was more sauce than meat and I felt rather heavy after the meal. I said a Subway sandwich would have suited me better. Big sigh of relief, my American roots have not disappeared.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Franco-American in Paris

Little Juliette is now officially declared with the US embassy and her passport should be arriving in about a week. Last Thursday we made the trip there by train and though it was a long day, we packed it full of fun moments (at least I thought it was fun; the hubby muttered anti-Paris things most of the day, genre, the noise, the pollution).

So here’s how it went:

7:45 leave apartment to walk to station

8:10 arrive at station

8:25 spot friend we know and chat and thus barely make it to train on time (well, a minute to spare)

9:26 arrival in Paris, Gare du Nord, take metro to Place de la Concorde

10 :00 get in line to enter the embassy. Lovely chestnut trees in front of the white stone building. We show our ID to get in and an employee puts all my “suspicious” items in a Ziploc bag that I’ll get when I leave (lipstick, digital camera, cell phone, pill box). Inside we take a ticket and wait in the surprisingly dull bureaucratic area. I swear they imported US-style counters and furniture. Even the bathrooms have the old locks I know well and there are water fountains. I can count on one hand the time I’ve seen water fountains in France. We prop baby up on the counter when they call our number to give us all the requisite documents. Sit back down again to wait to see a perky Indian girl who asks me about what I did in high school (to prove I was there during those years, I guess). I have a hard time remembering! They give baby a little flag to commemorate her acceptance by the good old US of A. The passport will be coming by mail in a week or so.

11:00 And out we go to the park in front of the embassy to share a sandwich, ham club and a coke. We give baby her mid-day snack and people watch. I don’t know if the carrot/rice/chicken purée was too thick or if we’d given her a bit too much on her spoon, but at one point she seemed to be gasping for breath. A few moments of panic to make sure she was sitting upright and breathing well and everything was ok.

We walk near the gold-topped Obelisk and start heading towards the Eiffel Tower. Walk past some chic shady neighborhoods and in the garden of the new tribal arts museum that Jacques Chirac had built. We start getting hungry again and Remi actually suggests McDonald’s. Seems being in Paris is another one of those “emergency” events that allows for fast food in his book (to add to moving day, road trips and earthquakes). But no golden arches to be seen. We reach the Eiffel Tower and stroll past the tourists. It’s so fun to me to realize that every day thousands of people are seeing it for the very first time. Every day thousands of awed faces stare up at it. We look at the menu for the ultra fancy restaurant in the tower, Le Jules Verne. And laugh our heads off. The cheapest thing is the cheese plate, for 25 euros. So we opt for hot dogs, fries and orange fantas at the kiosk in the park behind the tower, Champ de Mars. And the price for all that, still rather high, 24 euros.

2:15 I suggest we check out the prices for the Seine cruise boats, or bateaux mouches, as they’re called here. Remi had never done it. So we get on board with a medley of other tourists, little Italian families that seem so very well-dressed. I end up wishing I had nice dark hair and eyes like the trim Italian mom in her knit dress. JuJu plays with the audioguide silver phone as I try to listen to the commentary. I give her applesauce and yogurt on board as she is getting fussy. It’s not everyday she gets her meals in such memorable places.

3:30 End of cruise and we backtrack a bit to get the non-stair access back to the street level. And walk to what I thought was the closest metro station, Trocadero, where you have the gold statues and the best photo-op for the tower. Stop for a minute for another picture. Then whiz past the guys trying to sell Eiffel key chains (two for one euro is their mantra). Remi folds up the stroller for the umpteenth time that day to go down the stairs as I hold Juliette in my arms. The metro line I want to take is being renovated so we have to take another line and change metros two times. Fight back panic as the departure time for our train approaches and we are still on the metro. Miraculously we arrive at the station and find out place on the train with about four minutes to spare this time. JuJu stares at the three-year old girl who has lovely blue eyes like her.

5:40 Arrive back in home station and walk back to apartment. A long day but one we won’t soon forget.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Accident-prone girl strikes again

The other night I ambitiously set out to lower baby’s crib mattress. Now that she’s sitting up more easily, there’s no telling when she could prop herself up in her crib and at the high position, it could be dangerous. So I dug out the Ikea brochure to read up on how to do the necessary changes. I found the little wrench to undo the bolts, which came out quite easily, thank you. I slid out the mattress and propped it against the now vertical crib. Then there were these plastic protector things that I had to remove before putting the mattress in the new position. But they just wouldn’t come out. Despite using a metal nail file and tweezers to try to get some leverage, wouldn’t budge. So I decided to take care of baby’s evening routine and come back to it later.

But what do I hear as I’m feeding baby in the living room? A sort of crash and the cat running out of the room (or am I adding that last detail to escape from some guilt?). The wooden mattress frame had fallen (due to the cat or just my carelessness for having left it in that position). And to add insult to injury, there is now a little hole/scrape in baby’s bedroom wall where a metal piece on the frame hit the wall. And the impact also slightly cracked the not that sturdy mattress frame. So I sighed as I often do in these types of situations and wondered why I’m doomed to relive such accidents.

Of course, I couldn’t hide it from Remi, so went ahead and told him when he arrived home. He wasn’t too concerned about the wall, as plaster can fix it up. He just shook his head and asked me to get a screwdriver. Apparently the durned plastic things that I couldn’t get out were screwed in. But how am I supposed to remember the mechanism for attaching and detaching those things after 9 months? Plus, to be fair, the brochure did not mention that detail on the pages about lowering the mattress. Husband said something about if I’d only been a bit more curious I would have noticed how it worked…With baby on my hip, I had to remind him, that no, I was not an idiot, I just hadn’t noticed that minor detail. (Don’t worry, all you feminist readers. He later told me not to read too deeply into his comments and that it wasn’t mean-spirited.)

But it’s just another in the continuing series of clutzy girl accidents. I’m starting to wonder if I really am deficient in common sense, as my husband (who is not always as logical as he’d liked to think) likes to tease me about. Have I just got the type of brain that catches on to mechanical things a minute too late? I’m not always this brain dead, but more often than not, I’m lacking in a bit of hands-on ability. I’d like to think it’s more carelessness than anything else. I’m eager to finish something and so skip some steps or just don’t notice that crucial piece of information. I’m not completely un-savvy when it comes to computers. Anyway, here’s hoping I’m just a late bloomer when it comes to logic. Unfortunately for me, it’s something you can’t buy.

Note about the picture: it's before the mattress was changed.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bath time

A video she'll probably kill us for putting on the Internet one day. You can hear Remi urging her to play or do something video-worthy. EVERYTHING she does is video-worthy!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ode to spring

We’re taking full advantage of spring-like (or should I say summer) weather here this week. The trees are finally starting to bud. I had an ethereal moment walking under an avenue of pink-blossomed cherry trees last week. The pale pink petals were falling around me like snow flakes and I couldn’t resist scooping up a handful from the piles on the ground to let them flutter down again.

This afternoon I walked into town with baby facing front in her stroller, to better enjoy the warm air and lovely sights. We were both decked out in floppy hats and sunscreen. At the train station I got our carte enfant famille, a new system whereby those with modest incomes (as they like to put it here) and at least one child, can benefit from some train discounts. Sometimes it pays to be poor (at least in France). I went ahead and made our reservations for going to Paris next week for baby’s passport. Our little Franco-American will finally start the process of having a US passport and even a social security card, should she want to live and work in the US one day.

As it was so lovely out, I gave baby her snack of applesauce and a yogurt on a bench in front of the station. Then we strolled to the optician’s to check out baby sunglasses. I forked out 31 euros for the maximum UV protection. Of course, JuJu mostly plays with them and they often are protecting her cheeks and not her eyes. But the pink head strap will ensure that they don’t end up on the sidewalk when I’m not looking.

And as it was approaching 80 degrees, I thought a little ice cream was in order. I looked at the usual bakeries that often have the mini-freezers on the sidewalks to entice passers-by, but couldn’t find any. Finally I spotted the famous sign for the yummy Cornetto cones. I asked the fresh-faced girl in the bakery if she had any strawberry ones left and she said only the chocolate flavor with brownie bits. That’ll have to do, I said cheerily. As she passed by, looking the picture of youthful beauty in her white top and apron, I checked out my own blotchy reflection in the shop’s mirror. Note to self: go on that make-over show, pronto. Anyway, ice cream cone in hand, we headed home at a leisurely pace in the sun.

In other news, dad’s French tour has come to an end. I dropped him off at the train station this morning. Now I’m in family withdrawal again, wondering how I ever survived without regular family contact over here, and if I can survive in the future. As I had been weepy at the station, I treated the sitter to more tears when I dropped baby off right afterwards. You’re sensitive, she said. She knows this now since I also teared up at the day care show a few weeks ago when baby was dressed up as a policewoman/girl/baby. Now what am I gonna do at the dozens of other school pageants, kindergarten, middle and high school graduation ceremonies? I better buy stock in Kleenex.
In the meantime I’ll squeeze baby tight and try to enjoy some nice moments while the sun graces us with its presence.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Real visits and vicarious travelling

Dad (grandpa to baby) has been visiting. Now he’s doing some independent travelling to see some friends but he’ll be back around Easter weekend. It’s been nice to have family around and have some more company in the evening before Remi gets home from his long day at work. We took a few pastry breaks and enjoyed some sunny walks with baby. She’s been getting even more attention than she already gets. The sitter said she had “colique des bras” (arm colic) when she went back on Wednesday, meaning she whimpered when she wasn’t being held. Between dad and the in-laws, I’m not surprised.

I helped dad make his train arrangements with one very patient and helpful railway worker. He was proud to help us choose the right discount card for seniors (it pays to get old, as dad says) and seemed to enjoy the challenge of organizing so many little trips. I wonder if he won the prize for the most complicated trip arranged among his coworkers for that day. He even did a good job trying to explain a few things in English to dad. It’s been fun for me to give advice on travelling to places I’ve already been. Plus it gave me a chance to travel in my head. Trips are still a bit of a hassle when you’ve got a little one, but she’ll be taking a big trip come July!

But whenever family comes (then leaves), it can be a bittersweet experience. Afterwards there’s that emptiness, and I realize I probably survive life in France by imagining the next trip. Hanging on till the next moment I’ll be reunited with relatives. I wish I could say living abroad gets easier with time, but for the moment it’s still touch and go. I can forget I’m thousands of miles away for a while, thanks to email and phoning (and soon Skype, right mom?!). But until they invent that machine that makes travel across the Atlantic as easy as a quick trip down to the supermarket or my family gets it in their mind to permanently live in Europe (hey, I can dream), there are always going to be these difficult (major understatement) moments of saying goodbye and waiting for that famous next time.

And what about that transporter machine from Star Trek? I won’t hold my breath.