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...