Saturday, December 25, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Monday, September 6, 2010
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
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
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
Monday, July 5, 2010
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
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)