Saturday, December 25, 2010

And Now It's a Food Blog!

Well, not permanently. But for the next 11 days, while I'm staying with my cousins in Copenhagen, yes. So like I've mentioned, my cousin Sandra who lives here is a chef. So the food's pretty good. Here is a list of things I've eaten since getting here two days ago (everything is homemade unless I specifically say it's not, including the jams, breads, and lattes): rolls with black currant-rum jam and a latte; pasta with a bacon-leek-spinach cream sauce (it's really not the season to be Jewish, tant pis); fresh mushroom ravioli (from the Italian store) with pesto (homemade); a cabbage-orange-olive salad with a balsamic vinegarette; rice pudding; duck stuffed with Indian-y spices and oranges served with a tangy orange sauce; herb roasted beets, turnips, and potatoes; waldorf salad; apple-cranberry pie with a sort of gingerbread-like crust served with crème fraîche; pizza topped with duck, mushrooms, potatoes, pesto and cheese; pizza topped with tomato, mussels and zucchini; lots more lattes and toast and jam. (From the rice pudding to the apple-cranberry pie is our Christmas Eve dinner.)

My flight left an hour and a half late, but I made it in, which is more than a lot of people flying in Europe can say right now.

For the first time in my life, I'm staying in a house with a real (as in formerly alive) Christmas tree! It smells so good. Maybe I'll experiment with the Chanukka Bush idea. JUST KIDDING MOTHER. It was just the four of us for Christmas Eve, which is when they celebrate in Denmark, but that was great, since none of us are Christian anyway. Christmas is part of the Danish tradition and the Protestant Church is the state church in Denmark so my cousins like to celebrate, but they're not interested in praying and singing and buying tons of presents (which in the United States somehow is associated with piousness, or is that just my own perception?). Anyway, they got me two presents, which was so nice of them: a shirt that says Danmark on it backwards in red and white, and long sock-slippers that go up to my knees. After practicing reading Danish tonight with Mathilde (my second cousin) I'm pretty sure I'm practically Danish. I just need a bike.

Although maybe Mathilde and I undid all my progress into becoming Danish when we drank Coke and watched MTV this afternoon...or maybe I can just say that Super Sweet Sixteen transcends nationality.

Tomorrow we're going to have lunch with Karsten's three older kids and some other family. Then we're going skiing in Sweden (YES YES YES YES YES YES YES MATHILDE AND KARSTEN LIKE TO RACE YES YES YES YES YES). Then I'm going to have to study for exams and prepare a presentation on The Exorcist (awesome, I know), and then it's New Year's!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Been sort of flaky...but here's a new post!

I'm a little disappointed in how bad I've been at updating this. I was doing well with two blogs a month for a while, but then I really fell off the wagon. But bref.

So I did make it to London in the end. I was there three weekends ago, and it felt so weird to be lost in this giant city. When I stopped to think about it, I realized that Paris is the only city that I actually know. I lived near Boston but didn't ever learn it that well, and I know Berkeley, but San Francisco is another thing. Sure, I can get myself around, but when you actually live in a city, you understand it so much better. I don't necessarily feel comfortable giving directions in San Francisco. In Paris, I can get myself home from the opposite end of the city at night without a map. London was big and crowded. I won't go all pretensh and say that it was sooo weird to hear English la di da I'm practically French, but I have to say that it was really weird to be in an English speaking city and STILL not understand anyone. And the first Brit I talked to asked me if I was Irish! IRISH!!!!

Anyway, I had a wonderful time with my friend there, but I was surprised how much I missed Paris. I was also surprised that I have picked up some Parisian habits: I said "good day" and "sir" and "miss" and "please" way too much, I ate with my knife in my right hand. And I kept accidentally saying "pardon" (the French way) instead of "excuse me!" But the American will never disappear: I still smiled too much at everyone and ate constantly. And I practically broke my neck everytime I tried to cross the street and looked to the left instead of the right.

My semester will go on for another two weeks after the New Year, but the major stuff is all over. This is the synopsis of my exam week: Thursday morning: wake up fifteen minutes before I have to leave for class, run out the door ten minutes late, realize on the metro that I have a huge paper on a book I have not yet found due Monday, show up to class to find out that it's cancelled (which I had known about). Friday: can't find the book I need at the library, get two others for background research. Saturday: change my book to the one for background research, spend all day reading it (it was about the economics of humanitarian aid). Sunday: frantically write a nine-page paper on this book. Monday: finish up the paper, try to hand the paper in, find out that it is due in three weeks. Go to my final that I haven't studied for because I was too busy writing my paper that wasn't due. Do okay, I hope. Tuesday: sleep. Don't study for my three finals on Wednesday. Wednesday: take three finals that I haven't studied for. We'll see. Thursday: show up to my art history class ten minutes late thinking it was a review for the final. Everyone is stitting down taking the final. So I also just sit down like I'm not totally stunned and take it with them. Felt okay about it. Friday: don't make it to class because of a 3 billion hour visa crap bureaucracy thing. Saturday: vacation!

So yea, I'm a pathetic excuse for a student. Although I got my art history final back, and I did pretty well on it.

I leave tomorrow for Copenhagen, where I will spend Christmas and the New Year's with my cousins. I can't wait!!! I'm a little nervous about the flight, because so many people are stuck in Paris. But the weather's cleared up -- it was pretty snowy for a while -- so hopefully I'll leave on time.

I'll miss Paris though.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Paris, not London

This is where I'm at right now: Paris. Not London. This should come as a surprise to no one but myself, seeing as I even forgot to tell my parents that I was planning on going to London to visit a friend for the weekend. One of my friends from Mills is studying at the London School of Economics for the year, so I was going to see her this weekend. I had a plane ticket, I packed the night before, I had thought of a few things to do in London, and I even wrote down my flight information. But I forgot one very important thing. Before I get to that, let me explain that I don't take traveling to be anything out of the ordinary anymore. My life is in a constant state of transit. I haven't lived in any place for more than a year since I was 13, and I spent a good month and a half this summer truly living out of a suitcase. And I fly a lot. So I don't think twice about hopping on a plane to another country with a total on 5 euros in my pocket -- if I get stuck somewhere, I'll sleep in the airport, done it before and it's not that bad -- or having not printed out my boarding pass -- it's really not necessary, you can print it out at the airport.. In fact, that's exactly where I was at yesterday morning when I got on the metro with my backpack to go to the airport. And it wasn't until it was way to late to go back that I realized I had forgotten my passport. So I panicked for a few minutes, thought that maybe they'd accept my American driver's license, realized that was absolutely not going to fly, called up Dane and panicked some more, told him to not bother getting out of bed to go to my apartment to look for my passport and get on the metro to try to bring it to me because there was half an hour before my flight boarded, decided to not accept the advice of the guys sitting next to me on the metro ("just say someone stole it") since 9-11 happened and airport security's sort of not something to mess with, begged at the airport, and then turned around and came home.

That's not the end of the story though. My poor friend in London didn't receive my skype messages that I wouldn't be at her tube stop around noon afterall because I am a dumb connasse, and I couldn't get her on the phone -- some problem with international calling. So she was really worried about me for about 8 hours until we finally connected and I explained everything. Turns out that she had looked up my flight information to see if anything had gone wrong, and my flight was cancelled anyway. I don't really consider that the universe was speaking to me or anything though, because I was taking EasyJet, and frankly they cancel about 2 out of every 3 flights

So I spent my weekend in Paris doing homework. The French universities have caught on to me, and I suddenly have quite a bit to do. I'm going to write a paper for economics about the black markets in refugee camps, and I've got a half hour oral presentation for my film class where I will talk about the movie The Exorcist and the idea of the child as a monster and religion as a tool of society to control the monster. Or something like that. Honestly, I just want a chance to talk about The Exorcist intellectually. I actually merded in my pants when I saw this movie for the first time I was so scared. So I totally want to watch it again and call it homework.

Two friends were visiting last week, Reya, a friend from Milton and Berkeley, and Willa, who was in Paris after leaving the farm. We all went out to lunch together at this super traditional fancy French restaurant where I ate French onion soup and -- wait for it -- SNAILS. I ATE SNAILS. Willa totally peer pressured me into doing it. But guess what: just like everyone says, they were great. A lot like mussels in a beurre blanc sauce, but more parsley and cute little shells and forks to pull them out with. And a little bit too salty, but that was no fault of the poor, delicious snail. I ate three.

I was going to bring my friend in London a Longchamp bag, which meant that I had to go to the Galléries Lafayette. Fine, I could have gone to any of several Longchamp stores in Paris, but I figured that the Galléries Lafayette are always something to see so I may as well go there. This place is indescribable. Malls give me a headache as it is. The flourescent lighting, the cheap perfumes all mixing together, the bad music, the crowds, the echo of all the people shouting to each other, the heat... And Galléries Lafayette is like no other mall I have ever seen. It's got basically the same products as Saks or Barney's. But more. There's a Tiffany counter, a Cartier counter, every high-end make-up counter imaginable, and I would say the average price of an item of clothing there is 250 euros. That includes the lingerie section. It's also in a giant, four-story, domed building, and there is currently an enormous fake Christmas tree hanging in the dome. It's all very bright. Anyway, while I was buying the bag (which actually didn't work and I had to go back later, fml), I decided to get a new bottle of this Clinique lotion I use everyday that's about 15 dollars in the U.S. I figured it'd be about 10 euros, since Clinique is a French company. So I asked for one and got rung up before checking the price. Then the nice lady told me to give her 50 euros. For the lotion. And I didn't know what to do, because it was just completely deer-in-the-headlights. So I just sort of did it. And then I walked around the make-up counters for a while feeling my eyeballs shrinking in my head because the lighting was so harsh wondering how the hell I was going to get my 50 euros back. After about 15 minutes, I explained that I had made a mistake and the lotion was for my sister but actually she doesn't use it anymore, I just double-checked with her on the phone (thanks for your existence, Sophie). I think my accent helped her believe that I was really stupid, and she made the return for me.

My only other news is that I've started babysitting twice a week and tutoring English once a week. I babysit three girls -- 4, 7, and 10 -- in English. The family lived in Florida for three years (but they're French) and the two older daughters speak English pretty well. I'm there to keep the language in their heads. The four-year old speaks no English, so our communication is pretty entertaining sometimes. Tutoring English is pretty good. The boy is seven and really doesn't speak any, and the girl is 10 and understands a little. We do things like practice the weekdays and the months and conjugating basic verbs. It reminds me of my first French lessons. It's kind of fun being on the other end.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Increasing the retirement age + french people = no class for Rachel

The title pretty much says it all: let me just be perfectly clear and say that this semester school is a complete joke. I have had about 50% of my scheduled classes, and classes anyway don't require half as much work as school in the U.S. For the first time since middle school I am able to blow off school work and still be completely on top of my responsibilities, and I gotta say, it's awesome. I'm not really here to get a really stressful academic experience -- I went to prep school and a private college for that. I'm here to eat pastries with every meal and go to clubs that play euro pop and have a life in a foreign country in a foreign language. I'm also knitting myself some very nice mittens and continuing to cook a lot.

Okay, so my mother has been asking about the strikes. Like I said in my title, they are causing a lot of cancelled classes. Dauphine has been totally on schedule, but Nanterre is a hot mess, having had to cancel most classes for the last two weeks. There was also a loud but very orderly parade of strikers for a few hours right outside my apartment. Other than that, public transportation is a little slower than usual and therefore more crowded. But I'm used to BART, which comes every 15 minutes, so having the Metro come every four minutes instead of every two minutes just doesn't really piss me off that much. OK WAIT QUICK PAUSE IN HOW I WAS SAYING THE STRIKES DON'T BOTHER ME. I just received -- as in, this second -- a text from my program, and the ballet they were going to take us to see tonight is cancelled! Because of the strikes!!!!!!!! NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Screw you, Sarkozy, just give these people what they want!

Let me explain as much as I know about the strikes, and why upping the retirement age two little years is a big deal. Honestly, I don't really understand it that well myself, but I'll try. It's important to understand that since France is a social democracy, the state employs many times more workers than in the U.S. Since their public sector economy is so much bigger, it makes sense that there are more angry people when the government wants to manipulate that economy. Think about it this way: in the U.S., how many people are going to strike if Toyota changes their health benefits? Only the people who work for Toyota. In France, how many people are going to strike if France changes its retirement policy? Everyone who works for France, and that's a huge number of people since all transportation, health, school, university, police/defense, postal, and some bank workers are employed by the state (I definitely missed a few industries in that list, sorry). The governement wants to make the minimum (for government employees) retirement age 62 instead of 60, and the age to collect a full pension 67 instead of 65. People are not striking just because they will have to wait two more years to collect. It also has to do with the fact that unemployment is a problem in France. From what I have understood, it is not easy to find a job in France. High school and college students have joined the strikes because if the retirement age is raised, there will be fewer job openings every year. Youth unemployment in general has been a chronic problem for France, even before the economic crash. This problem has been ongoing, and making the job market even more competitive obviously will obviously only augment it.

I'm still trying to give myself an intellectual experience. I get bored with nothing to think about (which makes me awesome, not a nerd), so I'm writing an article for the Mills newspaper, sort of reading a book edited by Homi Bhabha (essays on post-colonialism), translating from French into English a screenplay written by a friend's host father, meeting once a week with a French student for bilingual conversation, volunteering in an elementary school English classroom, and, like I already said, knitting mittens. I'm also still cooking a lot with my friends and host mother. And I may start running again because I practically fainted the last time I walked up the seven flights of stairs to my apartment.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Paris Routine

I have finally decided all my courses. For my friends in school in the U.S. who are going through midterms right now, yea, sucks to be you. In Paris, there are no midterms, and school doesn't start til October, and not even really then because they have to strike about some things for a while first, so we're just now getting going. (Apart from cancelled classes for a few days and a more-crowded-than-usual metro, the strikes haven't really affected my life.)

Ok, so here are my classes: at Dauphine (Paris IX) I'm taking Economy of Development; at Nanterre (Paris Ouest) I'm taking a Cinema Studies course on fantomes and fantasmes and an Art History course on the internationalization of Dadaism and the surreal. I like the latter two the best. I'm really only taking the Economy course because I feel like I can't consider myself a student of post-colonial theory without understanding the mechanism of imperialism (which is capitalism and our contrived economic structure). Plus, every time I say I go to Dauphine, everyone always acts really impressed, so that's fun. Required by and taught by APA are also French Culture and a French language course. I managed to get myself into the top level of the language course (couldn't weasle my way out though) and am taking the advanced writing course through APA, where we're supposed to be learning stylistics, but really we don't do much of anything.

I'm going to be doing a ton of reading, that much is clear, but I won't have more than three graded assignments for each class, apart from the writing course where we turn in something every week. My favorite course is my cinema course. I mean, it's Friday morning for three hours, so it has to be really good to keep me from doing what all my friends are doing on Friday mornings, which is sleeping or nursing a hangover. It's a Masters level course (I did weasle my way into that, at least), and there are about nine people in it. The professor is a tiny little woman with big glasses and short hair who talks to us intellectually about movies like The Shining and our incest taboo and why we hate dead bodies. Oh, and there's this cute boy in it who gave me his email address in case "I ever missed a class and needed his notes." Hehehe...

Courses only meet once a week for three hours, so I've got some free time to fill. I am doing a once-a-week conversation with a French student at Dauphine who wants to work on his English. We're alternating talking in English and French. I am also going to be volunteering in an elementary school English classroom, and hopefully take some jazz dance classes too if I haven't missed the regestration deadline. I eat dinner three times a week with my host family, so the other four nights I either have a baguette or get together with two of my friends and cook dinner. Most students opted to have dinner six nights a week with their host family, but the three of us were the cheap ones. Fortunately, we all made friends with each other before knowing that we had the same meal plan, so we've started cooking together to eat more cheaply. We've been doing dinner for three on about 7 euros total.

Apart from that, I spend (like I said) a LOT of time on the metro, so it's good that I consider public transportation one of the wonders of the world (put into the context of the post-industrial revolution world; I still think the industrial revolution was no good; buy my future book if you want my full, not-so-educated opinion on the topic). I am also knitting myself mittens and have gotten sort of addicted to How I Met Your Mother and I'm writing a decent amount. I would love to travel, but now that I have a Friday class it's going to be difficult to schedule. Plus, it's expensive.

So that's about it! Life on the farm feels pretty far away...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thoughts on and in Paris

So before I get to to the subject of this post, a quick update: I'm not moving again! Blandine talked to her family and they all agreed that they wanted me to stay, and I want to stay, so I'm staying! Caroline and Francois are kindly sharing a room for the rest of the semester for me, and I will continue to enjoy nice family dinners and trading recipes and helping out with English homework and helping the two oldest daughters spot in their pirouettes. So that's great!

I got started thinking about what Paris really is last week after I got a crappy haircut here. I mean, it's Paris, the city of fashion, and what happened here? I got a lousy haircut. Okay, it's fine when I pin it back, but if I just let it hang I look like Justin Bieber, which is not really what I'm going for these days. Then a few days ago I was standing in line at the Rodin Museum and two young lady American tourists were chatting behind me. Their conversation went something like this: "I mean, like everyone in Paris is so well-dressed." "I know! Like in New York, you always see people in like gym clothes, or whatever, but here I mean you don't even see like jeans or cut-offs and tee-shirts." Okay, I've been the part of probably four conversations with the same thesis statement, but their's was sort of problematic since the obese woman standing in line in front of me was wearing (gasp) jeans and a tee-shirt. And then I realized that Paris is so seeped in expectation, so media-ized that it doesn't really exist unto itself. At least for the first several weeks you live here, you do not see Paris as it really is, but instead through a fog of movie shots and photos and ingrained assumptions. People's clothing here -- I'll continue with my original example -- is pretty much on par with Boston. Yes, it's slightly more formal than the West Coast, and certainly dressy compared to the interior West, but no one from a New England city or Manhattan should feel out of place at all. Furthermore, I find the colorful, playful, creative, interesting fashion of San Francisco far more sophisticated than the black-boots-black-tights-knee-lenght-earth-tone-skirt-plus-a-jacket look that seems to dominate most Parisian women's wardrobes. Okay, my Cinema Studies class has some great dressers, but still: wearing orange is a statement here. Please. Or maybe I'm just homesick, and I'm now thinking of San Francisco in the same idealized way that the rest of the world thinks of Paris. But I've never gotten a Justin Bieber haircut in San Francisco...

A more true stereotype of Paris is that of its stasus as the City of Love. In one way, it's a complete myth as I have been here a month and haven't even managed to find a crush. But the metro, the parks, the cafes, the awnings are filled with couples. People are pretty touchy here. And I would love to be a part of it -- it's not exactly ego-boosting to be reminded of your singleness around every corner -- but like I said: I haven't even found a crush. And here I was thinking a cute accent could get me anywhere.

I don't know if it's yet another result of speaking a foreign language all the time, or just all the dead time that I have taking the metro eight or so times a day, but I've had lots of epiphanies recently. Amidst my sort of continuous realization of the total disaster of colonialism are several others, which I will now list: music rocks; the industrial revolution was the beginning of the end of civilization; Marx is usually right; I want to be a professor and cook a lot and have a garden and write some books; I may have to live on lentils and rice for the rest of the semester due to the state of my back account (okay, not exactly worthy of being on the epiphany list, but it's really affecting my life right now); the Avant-Garde is dead; as far as most visual art goes, (and maybe in some other mediums too) rich intellectuals decide what is art; graffiti is a gift to society. After counting that's only seven since I'm not including the one about lentils and rice, but it's all happened in one month, so that's more than one epiphany a week which I think is enough to make anybody's head spin.

Anyway, there's other stuff to say, like about school and how I occupy myself here but I don't feel like writing more tonight, so I'll just post again soon.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Some Recommendations

So I've been meaning to do this for a while. I actually meant to do it during the summer when people have time to read and watch movies and discover new music, but I never got to it. Anyway, here are a few things that I loved this summer:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell: this book transcends fantasy. Yes, it's about two magicians, but it's written like a 19th century English novel, and it's a total work of genius. The world the author has created is detailed, complex, and believable -- more so, I would even say, that that of Harry Potter. Warning: it gave me really weird dreams whenever I read it before falling asleep.

Two Days in Paris: this movie came out in 2006, but I didn't hear about it until I watched it with some friends after arriving in Paris. It captures this city absolutely perfectly; it does for Paris and Parisians what Annie Hall did for New York and New Yorkers. The romances in the two movies are similar as well --neurotic, clever, hilarious, believable -- but Two Days in Paris takes a decidedly more optimistic look at relationships. It is in English and French (the English subtitles are very good for the French parts, but as always, there are pieces lost in translation. But anglophones, watch it anyway).

Fans of Jimmy Century: the first time I saw this Berkeley-based electronica/house/dance group was at a private loft party in the fall of 2009. It was awesome. Now, one year later, it really looks like they're going to make it. They've made connections with a big-name producer in L.A., and are going to play at Popscene in San Francisco soon (the legendary host-them-just-before-they-get-famous night club: they've had Lily Allen, La Roux, Amy Winehouse, Franz Ferdinand...). And they deserve to make it: they have interesting beats that are perfect for dancing to, a great sound, and they tap into that same quirky, edgy look and sound that Lady Gaga has popularized -- but they wear it with much more authenticity than Lady Gaga. Definitely check out their song "Blonde Ambiton Red Temptation" on youtube:

Harry Potter on tape, read by Jim Dale: Willa and I listened to the entire 7th book on her iPod while cooking, doing the dishes, and weeding. I honestly think that Jim Dale's rendition of the characters is better than what any of the actors in the movies do. He has a different voice for every of the 300-something characters. It's just one more way to experience the Harry Potter world.

Breakfast of Champions: my gateway drug into the world of Kurt Vonnegut. And now there's no going back... If you like sci-fi, absurdism, social commentary, deconstructionism, existentialism, American literature, or just entertaining books that make you think, read this.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

All moved in! ...again

So guess what I was doing at six thirty this morning. Packing, that's what. I have switched host families, and in fact will switch once more before I'm finally settled with a permanent family.

Here's what happened: my original host family sucked. They never talked to me. They skipped half the dinners we were supposed to have together (which I have paid for in my room and board fee). When we did eat together, they ate as fast as possible and avoided conversation. When I had a friend over -- for the record, we were sitting in my room talking quietly -- the father came in and said without introduction, "on n'accepte pas des autres" (we don't allow other people). They explained to me in great detail why they hate Chinese people. They blew. I was actually planning on just dealing with it, and making the best of my independence and the good location, but after the racist diatribe against all things Chinese (which I guess must have included my best friend, Michelle Fang), I decided to let the director of the program know that they should not use this family again. My take on it was this: I can handle it because I'm already comfortable speaking French and have connections in Paris and therefore more independence than the average American exchange student. But for 99% of future APA students, this family would make them miserable. Mme la directrice's response, "I don't care if you're willing to stay with this family, we're not willing to let you. You're moving within four days." And they found me a new family in the same arrondissement. The complication was that I couldn't move in with this family before October 15, and they wanted me out before the 15 day trial period was up (if, within 15 days of moving in, a student moves out of a host family's residence, the host family is not paid for the semester of housing). So til mid-October I am living with Blandine, who works for APA.

Blandine lives with her husband and four children (ages 8-12) in the 13th arrondissement. Like my last host family, the apartment is very nice. Unlike my last host family, there is lots of nice clutter everywhere -- signs that a family who does things together lives there -- and no giant Chanel bottles, or stale cigarette smoke. There are two ovens and a whole slew of pots and pans. Blandine's oldest daughter wants to bake with me. I had my first real family dinner tonight since leaving the farm, and I can't tell you how wonderful it was. Everyone talked at the same time (complicated for Blandine's husband who is deaf, but speaks and reads lips), we ate lots of wonderful food (melon, salad with a mustard sauce, a salmon and leek tarte, and cheese), and drank a good bottle of wine. For comparison, my old host family's dinners consisted primarily of cold cuts and microwaved vegetables in various consistancies. My old host once mother gave me a dirty look for using my fork and fingers to pull off hairy spines on an artichoke (what the hell else was I supposed to do, levitate them off with my mind?). Tonight, Blandine gave up helping her son cut his melon with a fork and a knife and used her fingers to no one's disapproval.

Out of Blandine's three daughters, two dance ballet and jazz, so we had fun talking about that during dinner. I also helped the younger daughters do their English homework, which was lots of fun. I would love to stay with this family, but one of the daughters has moved into her brother's room temporarily so that I can be here. Two weeks is one thing for them to share, but a whole semester is another. Also, sitting on the desk in my borrowed room when I arrived was a sheet of paper that the kids had made saying "Bienvenue Rachel!" Each one wrote a little note to me telling me how excited they were to meet me. I will save it forever.

In other news, I had my first university class yesterday! It was relations économiques internationales at Paris IX Dauphine, one of the best economics and business schools in France. It was the hardest class I have ever taken, not just because the professor spoke very quickly, or that economics liingo is not necessarily the same in French as in English, but also because it was 3 hours and 15 minutes long with a 10 minute break. I had gotten 3 hours of sleep the night before (accidentally missed the last metro, so stupidly decided to go clubbing with my friends til 5 in the morning, poor decision), and it is a true testiment to the professor that I didn't fall asleep. Although I have to pay real attention to understand him, he's fantastic. He explains things clearly, he asks us good questions and encourages us to talk, he's sensitive to the international students in the class and explains vocabulary for us, and he obviously really knows his subject. I also made a few international friends at the orientation beforehand, and then after class started chatting to a French guy in my class. And he offered to help me if I needed it in the course! Yay! I hope he was serious, because I'm going to have to take him up on it. I'm in a third-year (the last year) level class with students who study only economics and business, and my preparation for this course is one semester of economics 101. In this first French class, we covered most of what I learned in that intro class back in the U.S. But it's okay! It's interesting, the professor is approachable, and I know I can do it.

Now that I know what my courses are going to be like, and now that I've got a host family who talks to me all the time, I really feel like I can leave France at the end of this school year with fluent French. And on that note, I'm going to sleep. Tomorrow our program is taking us to Borgogne for the weekend, so I have to get up pretty early.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

La ville d'amour

Well, I'm all moved in! Finally in Paris...although I got a facebook message from Willa today all about her life on the farm since I've left that literally made me tear up. I knew I would get nostalgic, but the emotion is still surprising every time it hits me.
The weather in Paris right now is beautiful. I'm sitting on this bench in this little rose garden by my metro stop writing this, and it's so much fun to see everyone outside in their pretty summer clothes. I'm carrying around with me a batch of eclaires that I made to take to the APA office. They're okay, the eclaires. Not great. The oven runs hot, so the pate a choux is too crunchy, but what can you do. It's always an adventure cooking in a new kitchen. I learned today, for example, that my host family does not possess a pot. Any sort of pot. How a family can exist for 30 years without accumulating a single pot is completely beyond me, but I swear it's true. They do have a fondue thing, so I used the pot for the machine on the stove to make the pate a choux and the creme. I don't think I ruined it. Anyway, there is also no plastic wrap or aluminun foil in the house, and the lids to the tupperware containers have long since been lost, so I covered the containers of eclaires in trash bags and carried them out. And yes, I can already see the chocolate smeared all over the bags. But whatever. Julia Child says to never apologize for bad cooking, so I will serve them with a smile. I can't keep them for myself, as I made about a dozen. And my host family consists of only a mother and a father -- their three kids have moved out -- and the father works away from home during the week and the mother already ate one eclaire with lunch.

My host parents are very sweet and very bourgieous. Their apartment is absolutely beautiful. I have French windows and a tiny balcony in my room, and a fire place. I also have a salle de bain (bathroom minus a toilet) to myself. It's sort of the anti-WWOOF here: everything is beautiful and clean and fancy, but I have only had one family dinner with them since arriving last Friday. I have complete independence, which is great, but I will have to find my own entertainment or risk getting a little lonely in this giant, empty apartment (the mother and I cross paths everyday, but she works full days and usually goes out to eat, um, obviously since she owns no pots). This family also has some sort of obsession with Chanel. Obsession isn't even a strong enough word. I peaked in the mother's drawers in her bathroom: she wears only Chanel makeup and perfume and nail polish. In nearly every room, at least one bottle of Chanel perfume is on display. In the bathroom with the toilet, about eight bottles are set in this alcove, all ranging in size, the largest about a gallon. Yes, a gallon of Chanel perfum. It has never been opened. Somebody printed out a color picture of Chanel perfume and carfully cut out around the edges of the bottles and stuck it to my door. I find it all a very intersting interior decorating decision, but who am I to judge? I have a black and white picture of Coco herself as my computer background.

I am determined to make French friends. I don't want to get sucked into the trap of only hanging out with Americans and speaking English all the time. I am so happy I spent the summer in France. I am one of the only students who consistently understands what's going on, and who isn't afraid of speaking French to actual French people. I am learning, though, that I may want to unlearn some of the stuff that I picked up on the farm. Yesterday I told the director of the program -- a very sweet, old fashioned, proper lady -- that "ça me fait chieé," which is basically, "that really pisses me off" in English. I didn't have the slightest idea that it was a vulgarity. I mean, that's what everyone on the farm said.

Classes haven't started yet. I've got a meeting in an hour to choose my classes, and after going through the course book, I think I'm going to be taking all geography/economy/political theory type classes. That's what really interested me: no art history, no literature...I feel a little bit like I've come into some understanding of what I want to do with myself by choosing these classes. I'm not really sure what it is, but something concrete, with the developing world. Ideally, I would just sort of turn them all into self-sufficient, Marxist societies (ooh, I bet I have an FBI file for putting that on the internet) but I have yet to hear of a job with that description.

Anyway, now I've got to jump on the metro, and head from the 17th arrondissement, where I live, to the 14th, chez APA and meet with Mme Suraqui, the director of this program. I will try not to offend her this time with any French vulgarities. Oh putain...

Monday, September 6, 2010

one week to paris...

One week until Paris! Well, one week til I leave for Nice, and then two days after that I leave for Paris. I have really reached my limit of being in isolation. I know this because I’ve started online shopping. Well, okay, I haven’t actually bought anything yet, but I’ve drooled a lot.

I also have done lots of escaping into the world of Harry Potter. Willa and I have been listening to the seventh book on tape, or on iPod I guess, while we cook, and it’s really invaded my real world. Willa and I recently became full nerds when we wrote a rap song about Harry. I guess wrap: wizard rap. It’s great, and as soon as we get the music video up on youtube, I will let you know. We also have created a Harry Potter fan club headquarters. Valerie moved to her own apartment, and Willa took her bedroom. So we turned Willa’s old bedroom into a living room. Her bed and pillows has become a couch, and we turned a sort of shelf into a coffee table. And we’ve made lots of posters and signs and hung them all over. One says “Potter Fan Club, Long Live the Chosen One.” Having this area of our own is actually really nice. There’s a sort of freedom in the privacy it gives us. Most of what we do in this room is just watch trashy American television (there are some free downloads on iTunes) and drink tea.

We continue to cook two meals a day from scratch, as well as work in the garden. Yesterday we started gathering wood for the winter.

There are three dogs here, and two of them have been pregnant. One of them had her puppies probably the day before yesterday, and last night I found them with their mother. The mother dog is very sweet and trusting, and she let me pick up her puppies without any sort of nervous reaction. Of course, they were adorable. But Claude had been saying ever since it was obvious that the dogs were pregnant that he would have to drown the puppies. He doesn’t have the money to get his dogs fixed, or the money or will to have any more dogs. All the farmers around here get rid of their newborn dogs and cats. So this morning, I unhappily told Claude where I had found the puppies with their mother, knowing exactly what would happen next. It seems crueler to me to let all the puppies live and have them starve to death than to kill them quickly and keep the population in check. But after Claude took them, their mother started frantically looking everywhere for her puppies, shacking and panting and whining imploringly, especially to me, I think because I was the one who found her with them. All day, she’s been acting just like a mother of any species who can’t find her children. The only thing that could make the situation worse is laughing at it, and that’s exactly what Claude has done. He keeps making jokes to the poor dog herself about how her puppies took a nice swim today and how she’s better off without children to bother her. It makes me want to throw up. And he thinks he’s being cute, or showing how manly he is because he can laugh at killing things. Frankly, I think it’s just redneck. It’s a trait that I have seen in other people who live close to the land like this. Not everyone, of course, but some people with a similar lifestyle have Claude’s same attitude of needing to show their toughness and their disregard for anything “city people” think is pretty or sacred. It’s as though he’s showing how he can kill puppies without a second thought to prove his paysan-ness. But somehow I don’t find it tough or paysan to laugh at a mother whose babies have just been killed, even if that mother is not human. Maybe I’m being too hard on Claude. He made it clear that he doesn’t like to have to kill puppies. But I just don’t think the way of dealing with mercy killing is by being flippant. The real icing on top of the cake was when the dog found her dead puppies in the garbage and tried to take them back and hide them in the house. And I feel responsible because I was the one who told Claude she had puppies. But I don’t know what else I could have done; he was bound to find out at some point. So all in all, it hasn’t been a great day.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


On Monday, Willa and I went into Nice and spent the night. It was amazing. We stayed at a hostel and quickly made friends with a guy from Germany and two guys traveling together from Turkey. Both of us being city people (although I grew up in the middle of nowhere, I feel much more at home in the city, and have been living in urban areas for the last six school years), we felt a sort of relief in going to restaurants, talking to strangers, navigating the crowds, using public transportation, etc.

Our preparations for our one-night trip were extensive. The day before we made lists of what we would bring. We actually made our lists separately, and I think it’s a testament to the strength and appropriateness of our friendship: not only can we cook together in peace and harmony, but we both find extreme joy in making neurotically meticulous lists before we pack even for the shortest trips. We then discussed in avid detail our toilette for the day of the trip. It involved lots of eye make-up, which made me literally giddy, and we tried on every single dress that we owned between us (Willa’s are all short and black, mine are all short and flowery) before deciding exactly which dresses and shoes we would wear for each part of our trip. Then we packed. The next day, we worked in the morning, and ate lunch in our dirty clothes. After lunch, we took over the bathroom. We both took showers, and Willa blow dried her hair. We spent half an hour putting on make-up and lotion and plucking out various hairs. Then we put on our city clothes, packed our toothbrushes, and climbed into Claude’s beat-up farmer van. Willa, who sat in the back (where there are no seats) on the way down, brought a towel with her to sit on so that she wouldn’t damage her clothes. I hope plenty of people noticed the moment, two hours later, when two young ladies with curled eyelashes and fancy shoes climbed out of Claude’s rickety van at a stoplight.

The first thing we did after we found our hostel was go make-up shopping. We just needed to get it out of our system, and it seemed to be a message from (a clearly capitalist) god that there was a Sephora less than a block away from our hostel. Then we found a restaurant with outdoor seating and a cute host (who thought I was Belgian when I spoke to him in French!!!!!) and got french-fries and beers. I had to ask them to bring us ketchup. Afterwards, we got ice-cream at a place called Fénocchio, which, for those of you who have been there, is actually better (and about half the price) of Ici in Berkeley. I got one scoop of ginger and one scoop of orange blossom, and Willa got one pastis and one rose. Then we went back to our hostel, I put on dress number two – I brought a total of two pairs of shoes, three dresses, and five pairs of earrings with me – and we invited our Turkish and German friends to come to a restaurant. Needless to say, I wasn’t very hungry, but I wasn’t going to pass up the restaurant experience for anything.

For those of you who are not foodies, just skip this paragraph. Mama, this is dedicated to you: I ordered ratatouille as an entrée, lasagna as my main dish, and chocolate mousse for dessert. Willa (and our new international friends) got an entrée of fried fish, farsil for a main dish (niçois zucchinis and tomatoes stuffed with ground beef and vegetables) and tiramisu for dessert. The ratatouille was absolutely perfect. No vegetable overwhelmed the flavor of the others, and nothing was overcooked or crunchy. It had plenty of olive oil. My lasagna was lacking, in my opinion, on tomato sauce, and honestly I prefer my mother’s, but that’s not to say it wasn’t good. The cheese was bubbling on top when it was served, and all the ingredients were clearly high quality. It was also served in a cute little glass dish that it had been baked in which made me like it more. My chocolate mousse had an awesome flavor, and the whipped cream on top was of course made from real cream, although the texture was just the tiniest bit grainy. The real success of the meal was the tiramisu. It wasn’t overwhelmed by the texture of soggy bread, as tiramisu so often is. Instead, it was creamy and delicate, and it had a good strong espresso flavor that wasn’t ruined with too much sugar. I didn’t try the farsil (too much ground beef for me) or the fried fish, due to my beer+ice-cream+french-fry apéritif.

Dinner conversation was great too. It turned out that all of us had interest and varying degrees of knowledge about international relations and current events. We were all too leftist for the charts, and it’s so much more fun to agree with people you don’t know well than to argue with them. I was most interested in hearing the German and the Turks talk about why Turkey has not been accepted into the European Union (turns out, Turkey has a huge population and would overtake Germany for the most government seats in the EU were it to be accepted). But it was also pretty exciting to hear one of the Turkish guys talk about his experience at Obama’s inauguration (it was freezing, but pretty cool nonetheless).

After dinner, we went to a bar which wasn’t too touristy and we told everyone all our stories about life on the farm. They were appropriately impressed. Then we took a walk on the beach, got wet up to our thighs sort of accidentally, and went back to the youth hostel where we were accosted for an hour by the bored concierge from England who told us all about his Dutch girlfriend who he had followed to Nice, and showed us videos of himself doing snowboarding stunts.

On Tuesday morning, we woke up early, ate breakfast in the hostel, and met Claude.

And that was it. After less than 24 hours of adventure, we were back on the farm, and now I miss the city more than ever. No, it’s not always hanging out with fun foreign people and eating out, but there is always something to do, somewhere to go, and new people to see. And I realized in the day since I’ve been back that the hardest thing for me about being here is the feeling that I can’t leave. For somebody who ran off to boarding school at 14 years old, 2,000 miles away from her family’s home, the ability to leave places is important. It’s not at all that I’m not allowed. It’s just that it’s not really feasible. There’s a bus from Puget-Théniers for one Euro that goes to Nice, but I have no way of getting to Puget-Théniers, half an hour away by car. I could hitchhike, which is what Kin and his friends do, but I don’t feel like I know the people who live around here well enough. Claude, though generous with everything else, is not generous with giving car rides. He doesn’t like to leave the farm, and in fact doesn’t ever leave, except for doctor’s appointments (that’s why he went to Nice on Monday and Tuesday) and the market. And although the market is in Puget-Théniers, and I could easily hop on a bus to Nice on Saturday afternoon, how would I get back to the farm?

So I’m stuck here, going a little stir crazy, but only for another two and a half weeks. And then I’m in Paris!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Daily life, etc.

So honestly, I don't really have much to say. I've really fallen into the rhythm here: two hours or so of farm work in the morning, a long lunch around noon or 1 followed by a nap until about 4 (no nap for me, I can't sleep in the day), then another two hours of work, and dinner starting anywhere from 7 to 11 at night, depending on what's being cooked. I still cook a lot, weed a lot, harvest a lot, and eat a lot. In fact, every single facet of life here is somehow related to food. We are either growing food, eating food, cooking food, talking about food, or sleeping. It's genius.

I'm currently reading the first Harry Potter book in French, and although it's good for my vocabulary, I have to say that I'm glad English is my maternal language, because so much of this book is lost in translation. Dommage, but still the translator is admirable.

Two weeks ago, another American WWOOFer, Willa, arrived here. She's 18, from Minneapolis, was born at home, and is going to the French Culinary Institute in New York to learn pâtissière after she spends a year in France. Her French is a little shaky, so I'm speaking a lot more English, but I'm also translating a lot more, which I think is good for my brain. At least, it gives me a headache. Several weeks ago, I thought that long debates in French were difficult. Well, that's nothing compared to trying to translate those long debates for Willa. But since she's arrived, we've eaten dessert pretty much every other day. So that's chouette. And I'm getting nice and plump before my arrival in Paris, where I'll suddenly be a poor student again living on brown rice.

I'm excited for Paris. I miss public transportation, and getting dressed up, and other people, and Indian food and sushi and tofu and miso and going places. And I sort of miss shopping more than I care to admit. Yes, the stars are beautiful, yes, the garden is amazing, yes, I grew up in the middle of nowhere, but I just don't think I could live anywhere but the city. Also (don't remind me of this when I'm stressed out about some essay, it won't make me feel better) I miss school. Not the homework part, but I really love going to class. School starts in a month from yesterday, and I'm definitely terrified, but really I can't wait. Of course, I'm sure saying goodbye to everyone here will be pretty tearful. But I've been invited back for Christmas, and anytime I have a long weekend.

My latest culinary-based foreign relations advancement was the peanut butter and banana sandwich which no one wanted to try at first. But in the end it was a real hit. Willa and I quickly destroyed that advancement when we made zucchini bread. Because baking soda and baking powder don't exist here (instead it's a sort of combination of the two that also has some flour mixed in), and because we don't have American measuring cups, we used a French recipe that we found online. It was just terrible. It tasted vegetably, was kind of slimy, and had the metalic flavor of too much levening. The dogs liked it a lot, but we're still getting teased about it. Kin still scoffs at our idiocy in thinking that you can make vegetables sweet. Maybe we'll skip the pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

But our real triumph was making latkes. I called my mom and got the recipe and some tips, and they came out perfectly. We tried to teach everyone the word latke, but settled for calling them galettes de patate. We ate them with crème fraiche instead of sour cream and apple sauce, and I got a real kick out of the culture fusion. Of course, my heart will never be the same, but it was worth it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pictures...or not.

I have tried, and I have tried, and I have tried again to post pictures on my blog. The internet is simply too slow here. I will try for Facebook tomorrow (I'm fed up with trying today), because I think that Facebook reduces the size of the file of the picture in order to upload them more quickly. Okay, I don't really know what I'm talking about here, but I like to be optimistic. Anyway, I'm very sorry...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Eclairs

Ok, so in the end, it all worked out. But it's not nearly that straight-forward. In fact, cooking and 18-year old boys end up going together quite well, because somehow during the making of the eclairs, I got one of the boys really mad at me. I'm still not sure what I did because he talks really, really fast, but let me start at the beginning.

So there is a small pool at Claude's. I have been thrown or pushed into this pool about six times so far by a friend of Kin's named Jean-Luc. I went outside (next to the pool) to ask Kin if he could light the oven for me, because I had never done it before. Jean-Luc was there also and tried to throw me in the pool. I tried to say, "Non, non, stop! I have to make eclairs, I don't want to be wet," but that just seemed to goad him on. In the end, after 15 minutes of serious struggle (Jean-Luc has joined the army and likes to do push-ups whenever he thinks people are watching), I managed to get myself back inside, but not before Jean-Luc had run the hose over my head. I was just a little pissed off. Later in the day -- I was still making eclairs, it took about four hours, but I'll get to that next -- Jean-Luc came in to see if I needed help. I said no. Because I didn't. I also said that I was mad at him because he tried to throw me in the pool. Well evidentally one cannot be mad at Jean-Luc, because from that moment on he gave me the silent treatment. He also refused to eat the eclairs, but his loss, because they were finished. Finally, last night, he drank about a third of a bottle of whiskey (classy, I know) and started yelling at me because he thinks I talk to him like he's a dog and I think I'm better than him and blah blah blah. I think it's because the moon was full recently. You know, hormones raging or something. At any rate, he leaves tomorrow, but it's been a little tense...

Ok the eclairs themselves: so my celebrated-Danish-chef cousin commented on my last post and said that I need to watch out not just for the flour but also the oven. There's a reason she's a celebrated chef (just so you know, staying at her house is the greatest thing that can ever happen for you. You actually want to gain 10 pounds the food is so good). I converted the recipe from American measurements to metric, a task much more difficult than you'd expect, even with the internet. But I was confident I had got it right and had all the tools I needed, so (with wet hair and t-shirt) I got started. Originally, the pâte à choux went very smoothly. I've made it before, I thought I knew what to expect, etc. But, I was cooking in a small gas oven that doesn't have a very precise way of adjusting the tempurature, which was in Celcius -- yet another obstacle. In the end, I had to take out the pâte à choux early because the bottoms were getting to dark, although I could tell that the middle wasn't quite finished. But the oven was as low is it would go and I didn't know what else to do. The crème was a little less smooth. Again, I've made it before, I know to stir lots, to not cook with a too high flame, to taste it after it boils to see if the flour is fully cooked. But the stove, again, threw me off. The lowest flame possible was still too hot, and within minutes and way before it boiled it got too thick. (To be honest, maybe it wasn't the flame, maybe I misconverted the amount of milk. Or something. Chemistry is not my strong suit.) So I frantically reboiled more milk -- I had given up measuring anything at this point -- and mixed it in with Kin's help and lots of swearing in English. Stir, stir, stir, ten minutes later again too thick, and it still had not boiled and still tasted of raw flour. So I started swearing louder and boiled more milk, seriously worried that I'd have to throw it out and restart, and near tears trying to explain to Kin that I just couldn't mess up a French dessert in France. (He actually made me feel quite a bit better by sarcastically saying that he would judge me very harshly if my eclairs sucked.) Anyway, the second batch of boiling milk did the trick and the flour cooked enough, but the crème was really thick. "Collé" Kin called it, which means glue. So I hoped for the best and began mixing in egg whites hoping that they'd take away the stickiness. In the end, I think I got lucky. The egg whites worked perfectly, I added just the right amount of rum for flavoring, and I used very good milk chocolate on top of the eclaires. Six people (seven were there, but of course Jean-Luc didn't contribute) ate 10 eclairs, and an amateur of pâtissière told me that no, the pâte à choux was not quite fully cooked, but the crème was very good, and all in all they were delicious. She ate one and a half. Kin, for the sake of culinary criticism of course, ate all the crème that was left over (nearly half), all the melted chocolate that was left over (a lot), and two eclairs.

I cooked dinner that night too, and in total spent about six hours straight in the kitchen. I haven't touched a pot since. But I'm thinking of making brownies tomorrow. It's much safer to cook American desserts I've decided.

For the sake of giving a little more merit to my stupid fight with Jean-Luc, I'll over-intellectualize it. Really, it's made me understand extremely acutely the relationship between identity and language. Ok, this idea is not a new one: a pillar of deconstructionist criticism (yes, I'm really over-intellectualizing it, but I really like deconstructionism) is the fluidity of language. We've all experienced in our native tongues the frustration of not being able to express ourselves, and even had major fights that have come from a simple misuderstanding caused by the fluidity of language. But in a second language, everything becomes that much more complicated. I don't even know who I am in French, because I'm never quite sure that what I'm saying is what I mean to say, and I'm never fully in control of how I express myself. Laetitia, Claude's daughter who lives in Spain and experienced the same phenomenon in Spanish, said that she is who she is only in French. In effect, she doesn't have a complete identity in Spanish. This year is seeming a little daunting. Furthermore (and this is the real cause of the argument between me and Jean-Luc), there is a very large gray area between funny and insulting in any language. In English, I can manoeuvre this area. I typically risk being insulting for the sake of making a joke, and have continued to do so in French. The problem though is that I really don't know the boundaries of humor in French, both linguistically and culturally, and I'm afraid it's gotten me into a bit of trouble. From now on I intend to choose bland and safe over funny and possibly rude, and in the process actively construct my French identity (as somebody a little on the bland side). But without a doubt, I miss the ease of English.

Last thing: I've finally uploaded my pictures onto my computer, and today or tomorrow will try to figure out how to post the better ones on my blog.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cuisine...18-year old boys...somehow they go together

I spend a great deal more time with eighteen-year old boys than one might think based on the description of WWOOF. The reason being that Kin (Claude’s son) is eighteen, has friends, and lives in the middle of nowhere. When his friends visit they usually spend about three nights because it’s such a long trip out here, and they can bring things like BB guns and four-wheelers and anything you can light on fire and have free reign. The boys (les petits garçons or mes chéris as I typically call them) are alternatively excruciatingly irritating and nul – a useful little French word that means some combination of stupid, worthless and pathetic – and highly, highly entertaining. Each boy on his own, particularly Kin, is intelligent, helpful, funny, and kind, but put him in a group of even two, and the best they can manage together is entertaining. The irritating episodes are exactly as you can imagine. They seem to be saying, “Hello, I am an adolescent boy. Watch me act like one with these matches.” The entertaining moments, though, are priceless. A few days ago, Kin picked up my flashlight that I had left in the living room and asked whose it was. “Oh, that’s mine,” I said. “Chad [Kin’s four-year old godson who came to visit] and I were playing light sabers and he was using it.” I took it and demonstrated my light saber technique, saying “brrring, brrrring” each time I waved the flashlight. “No, no, that’s not it at all,” said Kin. “Yea,” said his friend, “the light saber sound [you must imagine the words “light saber” here with a French accent, it makes it funnier] is more sheeew, sheeew.” And they were off. For the next five minutes, I sat on the floor doubled over with laughter, and Kin and his friend had a full-out light saber war. The joy in their eyes was pure and boundless.

Like the nul-ness of adolescent boys (yikes, this is a rough transition, but whatever), packaged food is also found across the pond, much to my chagrin. I had this idea that in France everything was bought freshly made or made at home. Last night, we ate frozen raviolis from a bag (or, rather, we cooked them so I guess they were no longer frozen, but you get what I mean). They were horrible, needless to say, but everyone was too tired to cook. Even crêpes and croissants come in bags here. I don’t know where the market is for a crêpe in a bag because they take about 30 seconds to make, but who am I to judge? Americans buy instant miso soup. The packaged croissants are worse than the crêpes, but more understandable. We live half an hour away from the nearest town of 1,500 people. Nice is another hour and a half after that. Fresh croissants just aren’t a reality. And to its credit, packaged food in France contains no unlabeled GMO ingredients, and brags about its real butter and sugar when it can.

The French way of eating packaged food is sort of oxymoronic: when Americans cook fast, it’s because they don’t have much time, so of course they’re going to eat fast too. The French do not eat fast. Two days ago, I served myself more beets, took one bite, and then got up to bring out the zucchinis and rice. Immediately, Claude and Valérie said, “Sit down, eat, take your time! We’ll bring out the rest of the food later.” Their tone was that of calming an overexcited dog, and their shared expression seemed to say, “What the putain is with the American?” Another un-American tradition in France is that of cheese. You do not finish dinner until you have had even just the smallest taste of cheese. Cheese often concludes lunch as well, though not as religiously. Kin recently said to a friend during the cheese course of dinner, “Oh mec [French for “dude”], mec you gotta try this goat cheese. This stuff is strong.” A rare sentence to hear from the mouth of an eighteen-year old American, but there you have it. Cheese has outlived God in France. (While the American Enlightenment was the reassertion of Christianity’s power in the United States, the French Enlightenment, 100 years earlier, was the beginning of the intellectual unraveling of the Church’s power, namely the Catholic Church. Few French believe in God, and the State is truly separated from the Church. But they’ve been eating cheese probably since they lived in caves.)

The greatest part of our meals comes from the garden, so I guess that makes up for whatever packaged food we do eat. The other day I made fresh pasta with a cream sauce, and when I realized that it needed parsley, I was able to run outside and pick exactly what I needed. I’ve done the same thing with fennel, onions, zucchini, cucumber, lettuce, beets, potatoes, basil – essentially everything that’s ripe right now. And if I eat too fast, or sometimes am not in the mood for cheese, I think I save myself by doing a good deal of the cooking, which I love. I’ve made fresh pasta twice now, I’ve cooked a chicken (blech!), I’ve made vegetable salads and pasta salads and more zucchini dishes than I can remember, I’ve baked chocolate chip cookies (a major hit and huge step forward in foreign relations), and at least help mix or chop the meals for which I’m not the primary chef. Today, though, is the true test: it is Laetitia’s birthday (Claude’s daughter who is visiting from Spain), and I’ve been asked to make éclairs. I have made éclairs before, but that was in the U.S., for American taste buds. I am using Julia Child’s recipe, but she warned me in her memoire that French flour is different. I’ve used French flour before on American recipes, but this time I’m making éclairs! If I succeed, I will be a legend, if I fail, I might have to commit hari-kari. Or not. Pastry cream tastes just as good with a spoon as it does inside pâte à chou. At any rate, I’ll let you know how they turn out. But please wish me luck.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

French, french, french, french, french. In the past two days, I've had exhaustive debates (in French) about the American education system, the American loan system, the American health system, religion in the United States, racism in the U.S. vs. cultural chauvinism in France, imperialism in Africa, art as imperialism, and -- the longest -- the genius (or not) of Picasso. I've started rereading my New Yorker just to savor the ease of my maternal language.

Life on the farm is still great. I've got a nice shorts tan line and my legs are covered in insect and spider bites. I'm a real paysanne according to Claude. Which, coming from him, says a lot, as he's been doing this for 25 years and as I found out a little while ago that my nickname before I even got here was princesse. After I found that out, I tried to be facetious and said "Pourquoi pas déesse?" (why not goddess?). I spent an unfortunate evening being called princesse déesse.

The last four or five days we've had at least 11 people at any given meal. Not like it means any more work for us here; in fact, the visiters often help out in the garden, and always bring lots of food with them, do all the cooking AND all the dishes. We eat every meal outside, so there isn't much of a mess to clean up anyway. In fact, I'm rarely indoors here apart from sleeping.

We have our third market coming up this Saturday. Each week, about eight farmers get together and sell communally whatever it is they produce. Claude brings the bulk of the vegetables, and there's also goat cheese, sausage, bread, honey, olives/olive oil, eggs, and wheatberries. It's held in the old gendarmerie (police station, essentially), which I think is appropriately subversive. The first market, Claude stole the key to the prison. Although the idea of this market is wonderful, the execution is -- I suppose I'm a cultural chauvinist -- horribly French. The first week, we arranged the vegetables in three different rooms before deciding to put them outside. No one can figure out an efficiant way to keep track of who has sold what, and the various systems that have been tried are always complicated by the bartering between farmers that always happens and the constant nibbling on the cheese and olives. The first week, about eight customers arrived before the farmer with key to unlock all the doors. The customers' response: "I'll wait. C'est le sud." Dorothy, you are not in Kansas anymore -- or in any other state, for that matter. We Americans don't wait well. That said, the market has been going very well. Claude has been selling most of his vegetables each week, and the other farmers seem pleased as well. And I like my once-a-week excursion into civilization.

In about a week, another American WWOOFer arrives. Although it means that I'll speak less French, I'm pretty excited to meet her (and speak in English a little). And it'll be nice to have someone else to help me explain that actually pizza is American (I have stubbornly explained and re-explained that there are two sorts of pizza, one American and one Italian, but everyone just laughs) and cheesecake is delicious.

Monday, July 5, 2010

4th of July in the south of France

So yesterday was the 4th of July (American Independence Day for you foreigners), a fact that I failed to realize until half way through lunch. At which point we all dramatically increased our afternoon wine consumption -- to celebrate, you know -- and sang the national anthem of the U.S., as well as England and France just to be multicultural. I also sang America the Beautiful and a few others, and for the rest of the day Claude went around singing "America, America..." but it got a little repetive because he doesn't know any of the other words. Sometimes he'd mix it up and sing "God save our gracious queen..." (again, he only knows the one line). Still, it's better than the two lines of Michael Jackson ("We are the world, we are the children) that he had been singing incessantly since my arrival to honor my American-ness.

There was even something of a fireworks show: a neighbor dog came around to terrorize the Jourdans' three dogs, so Claude set off one of those things that makes a really loud gunshot sound (either I never knew the name of it, or I'm already forgetting English). After lunch, I ranted to Kin about bourgeois Parisian antisemitism (because I got a little of that when I was in Paris for the weekend) and that felt very American. He complained about the French police, and I amped up my patriotism by expaining in bad French American search and seizure laws (which are far more strenuous and much more focused on protecting individual freedom than the French laws, of which there are basically none).

More wine and toasting of the Americans came with dinner (yes, Grandma Sharon, we drink twice a day here, but relax -- I'M IN FRANCE and it's only wine and good for digestion) and we sang the national anthem again, which inspired Claude to sing the anthem of the IWW. Three times. It was truly beautiful. We went on to sing French and American nursery rhymes and I impressed everyone by knowing every word to "Frère Jacques".

So no hotdogs or red, white, and blue, but certainly immensely patriotic. And it seems there's some telepathy in this household, because just now Claude started humming the American national anthem again. Or perhaps it's just subversive American imperialism rearing its ugly head.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I'm finally at the WWOOF farm! Claude met me at the bus station yesterday before dinner, and we drove about 45 minutes through a narrow, slightly virtiginous road through the alps (I couldn't help thinking of Idaho) until arriving at their house. For those of you who have been there, the whole set-up here is quite a bit like Challis. Everything is hand-made, with uneven steps and doors branching off to various rooms added on to the original house (which still has it's original stone floor). There was a thunderstorm last night and the roof leaked a little, and everyone seemed delighted that I was used to things like that. I tried to explain that I was just glad to have indoor plumbing and that in Challis the shower shares space with the toolshed (but it's great, Papa), but they were a little incredulous.

French is going pretty well here. I have had little trouble expressing myself, and everyone seems to think my miming and mispronunciations are highly entertaining -- which is exactly what I had hoped. I understand pretty well, but when they have cigarettes between their lips (sorry Grandma Sharon, but Claude chain smokes, nothing I can do, I won't start smoking) and are talking fast I have to ask them to repeat. But this family is extremely kind and generous and has a great sense of humor. And I eat meat here! It's only been one day, but last night's stir fry had ground beef in it, and I just...ate it. I was starving, and it was completely fine. And I kind of liked the sausage we ate with bread before dinner...yikes.

Gettting here was a real adventure. I was supposed to fly out of Paris, the Orly airport, and arrive in Nice at 10:30. I had a reservation at a youth hostel and then was going to spend the morning exploring Nice and get on a bus for Puget-Theniers at 5 in the afternoon. I got to Orly 4 minutes before boarding closed, raced to my gate, and was told that weather was bad and they didn't know when we'd leave. So I sat there for three hours, made friends with a French guy and an Italian girl who studies in Paris (I made friends in French!!) and then we were told to get on buses to go to Charles de Gaule, the other Paris airport, where we'd leave at 12:30 am for Nice. We sat on the buses for an hour before leaving (it was now past 12:30) and when we finally did make it to Charles de Gaule were told we'd be leaving at 7 in the morning. A near riot broke out. We could sleep in the airport, or we could go to a hotel an hour away where we would have to trust that buses would come and get us in the morning and take us to the airport on time. I stayed in the airport. The French guy and Italian girl and I added a Canadian guy to our group, we all had sleeping bags (fortunately) and actually enjoyed ourselves pretty well making fun of the airline, etc. It was my first real totally-in-French social experience -- in Paris, Guillaume always spoke in English, but here the only language the four of us had in common was French -- and it went pretty well! Also, the french guy was good at being pushy and French and getting us the information we needed, which I wouldn't have been able to do on my own.

I finally did get to Nice, and after getting breakfast, pretty much just slept and read for 4 hrs in the bus station. But now I'm here!!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Travels begin!

So it's 12 days til I touch down in Paris (or 11 maybe with all the time changes), but I feel like I'm already off. My family and I left for Washington DC on the ninth to go to my cousin's bat mitzvah, we leave today for the North Carolina shore, in a week I'll be off to Philadelphia and then New York for a few days to visit friends, and then I'll fly to Europe out of JFK. But I'm living out of suitcases the whole time. Packing was an absolute nightmare. I had to move out of my apartment in Berkeley so I had to bring all my stuff to Idaho with me to store in my parents' house. When I got to Idaho, I sorted through everything and packed what I didn't need in their basement. That left me with two huge bags of stuff for my year in France. When I packed them into suitcases, each ended up weighing 49.5 pounds (the limit is 50 pounds). It took endless rearranging and re-weighing to get each bag to weigh 49.5 pounds, as you can imagine, and then when I got to the airport I found out that our scale wasn't perfectly accurate and had re-rearrange. But I made it this far in one piece, as did all my luggage, so no complaints.

I'm trying to keep up my French, but it's hard, even just for a month. I was taking two classes in French last semester, and by the end had really gotten a lot more fluent. But today it took me five minutes to remember how to say "on the way to" and I keep second-guessing the gender of words. I'm re-reading Kiffe kiffe demain but reading is not speaking. One part of our brain seems to control our understanding of written language, and another part seems to deal with language orality.

Anyway, DC has been good: lots of museums and bat mitzvah parties. The rabbi got mad at me for talking during the rehearsal (my sister and I started playing the penis game, but instead of saying "penis," we said "rabbi" -- great fun), and I got pretty trashed at the party in the evening, so I'd say all in all it was a success. I've also bonded with lots of cousins I never see and am currently dodging my grandmother who's assigning housework to all idle guests. There's a brunch starting in about half an hour and a little packing (packing, packing, I am always packing) left to do.

A toute a l'heure! (no accents on this computer)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

How to get a visa to France

I got my visa to France! So here is a brief note on things to make sure to do when you try to get your French visas.

First of all, I was applying for a long sejour student visa in San Francisco, and rules are different from consulate to consulate and from one type of visa to another (i.e., work vs. student vs. tourist). But I think these guidelines should help any application.

1. Make sure you have every single document on the list that the consulate gives you. The list should be available on the consulate website. Most important is your passport and your application. You won't be let in the door without these.

2. Copy EVERYTHING. Even if the list given to you by the consulate doesn't specifically say that you need every document copied, do it anyway.

3. Keep everything organized. Make one folder for original documents, and one for photocopies, and tab things so that you can find them quickly. I was standing at a little window, not sitting at a table as I expected, and it made it difficult to sift through papers.

4. Apply to CampusFrance early.

5. Do everything as early as possible, in fact. Make your appointment early, get as many documents as you can as quickly as possible. My roommate was working on getting stuff put together for her Spanish visa and the process was much more stressful than mine because she didn't get everything done as early as I did (not entirely her fault). Above all, don't procrastinate.

5. Buy your plane ticket before going to the consulate -- if you're worried about being awarded the visa, buy insurance on the ticket. For a long sejour, you only need a one-way ticket to France.

6. Try to speak in French with the people there. I don't know if this actually helped me, but even though I misunderstood him when he told me to put my four right fingers on the finger printing machine (come on, I don't even know the word in English), it seemed to make the appointment go much smoother. He chatted with me about where he was from and the programs I'm going to, and then he told me that Paris would be beautiful without Parisians. I won't say if I agree or not. At least say "Bonjour Madame/Monsieur" as a greeting and "Bon journée Madame/Monsieur" when you leave, even if you know no other French.

As long as you come fully prepared with every document you need, your passport, and a copy of everything, you should be set!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Blogging? Let's do it!

Hello everyone!

I haven't really started my travels yet (44 days til I leave!) but a few people recommended that I create a blog as a more-legit-than-facebook way to stay in touch with people. So I'm trying it out! The idea is that I'll write something here every few days about what's happening. Although I do want to write in French (I desperately need the practice) I'll make sure to provide an English translation. It will serve a dual purpose: to inform those of you who speak English, and to explain my garbled French to those of you who speak both.

So far my travel plans are this:
June 24: leave for Paris, stay with Guillaume, hang out in the city for a weekend, drop off my stuff
June 29: leave for Denmark, volunteer at the Roskilde festival with Johannes (still waiting to find out if I can do it)
July 5: leave for Nice, farm in Puget-Theniers, chez Colette, Claude et Kin
Mid-September: return to Paris, begin my studies with APA (taking general classes in the Parisian university system, live with a host family)
First two weeks of January: break! Come visit! Travels! Couch surfing!
Mid-January: begin my studies with CIEE (taking intensive critical theory classes through the CIEE program, live in student housing)

I expect lots of visitors (that means you), especially second semester because I will be able to give you a place to stay. As it is, I'm still working on getting my visa, packing, learning the subjunctive (I didn't really take French 3), and ironing out plans in Denmark.

Any suggestions? Requests? Thoughts?

Rachel, une américaine (almost) à Paris